“The joy of being an old parochial vicar!” by Father John Mulloy
Thank you for your warm welcome. Dennis and I hope to have an interesting afternoon with you. He and I could not be more unalike in so many ways. He is the scholar and I am whatever the opposite of a scholar is! What unites the two of us though, and what unites all of here; is the precious gift of priesthood’. That is what we are here to discuss with you.
“With you,” I say, because we are both anxious to hear your own thoughts today.
Here’s what we have planned. He and I will take turns sharing our thoughts on this intriguing subject for about ten minutes each. We will approach the topic from very different angles. After that, we want to get some really good experts to speak. The experts, of course, are you who are sitting right here.
We want to hear:
- What are your thoughts?
- What has been your own experience?
- What are some of the negatives, the problems, the challenges?
- What are some of the positives, the blessings, the benefits in your mind?
The topic before us is “The joy of being an old parochial vicar!” I believe that came from Cardinal Sean. Well I thought it a bit strange that the person asking me to talk about being a parochial vicar is the one who took it away from me!!! My plan was to be an old pv; but God’s plan, well at least my bishop’s plan was otherwise. Now I live the mystery of being assigned “emergency response group, strategic need”!!
Actually, a number of times I have been blessed with being a pv: in the early years in Andover and Roxbury and in more recent years in North Andover, Brockton, Jamaica Plain, and Malden. In all these experiences, some better than others, the source of the real joy and deep satisfaction that I experienced is in understanding what is foundational in my life. What is foundational for me is the priority in my spiritual life of Baptism over Ordination. The other day I picked at random one of the memorial cards we receive for our deceased brothers. This one is for Joe Lukas. Notice it points out his birth date, ordination date, and his date of death. Contrary to this image, however, when his body was received at the door of the church, the first thing done was the recollection of his Baptism with holy water and a white pall. I cherish my Baptism on July 30, 1944 at the Immaculate Conception Church in Everett. (Being in Malden at the moment you can see I haven’t gone far in life, only a mile or so). That Baptism is the foundational experience of my life in ways that probably each of you could explain far better than I.
The second great source of joy and satisfaction in my life is ordination. It is the foundational experience of my adult life. It flows from my Baptism. The rich meaning and purpose in my adult life comes from being a priest. As priests we can be given many roles to carry out by our bishop. Some can be satisfying and others not so much. None can provide the rich joy of being a priest. We can be pastors, curial leaders, vicars of this or that. Sometimes you can have great responsibility, lots of power, a huge call to leadership, and the need to control many things and even people. For me, that stuff will never give you the joy of ministering to people, praying for people, and preaching God’s love to people. As we get into the many different roles that are the menu of ministries today, I think that it is helpful for us to see the priority of ordination over whatever the role we might be in at any given time.
I have always loved the Chrism Mass. Well perhaps not the long liturgy (thank God Pope Francis likes to look at his watch). The highlight for me is the renewal of our promises. Listen to these powerful words:
“Are you resolved to be united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?
Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls?”
I am convinced that they refocus us on what is foundational in our ordained lives and what will bring us joy.
Don’t you think that we are so blessed to have Pope Francis? In his very moving Chrism Mass homily, he used the imagery of the oil of anointing pouring over the Old Testament priest’s vestments which had on them the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. He pointed to the flowing oil as a sign of the call to humble service of all the twelve tribes. With his gift for catchy phrases he made clear that the call to ordained service of all the people must come first before any role we might be carrying out at any given time. Pope Francis said: “What counts first of all is the unction, not the function”
In my life I have been a pastor or in administration since I was only seven years ordained beginning back in 1977 at St. Patrick’s in Roxbury. That happened because the other priests older than I assigned to that parish, Fathers Tom McCabe and Larry Borges, felt that youthful me should be their leader. That so impressed me that I enjoy saying to my fellow old-timers: “It’s time for the kids!” Your experience may be very different from that. Yet what we share is that gift of priesthood no matter what function we carry out at any given time. That is the source of joy even for an old guy like me.
Thanks for listening; and now the scholar, Dennis…..
Imagining Priestly Ministry by Monsignor Dennis Sheehan
Many years ago, my seminary classmate David Tracy wrote a book with the baffling title “The Analogous Imagination”. The thought was original and brilliant if decidedly inaccessible. Andrew Greeley undertook to popularize Tracy’s thoughts in a small volume called ‘The Catholic Imagination” Catholics, he claimed, rely a great deal on their imagination of the universe. It is good, full of grace and brimming with the life of God.
I’m going to organize this reflection around that theme, namely, how we can imagine—and re-imagine— our priesthood. Priests are being called in a changing church situation to re-imagine themselves constantly. At times, a new ministry will be the catalyst. Today, in Boston, a change in the shape of parish ministry is also a challenge to our imagining ourselves. In all of this the constant, the bedrock is our identity as a priest. For the building up of the Body of Christ we are sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. How that will take shape now and in years to come is the “imagining” challenge.
To forestall abstraction, I’m going to speak for a moment in autobiography. As I look back, my personal journey through fifty years of priestly life and ministry has called for frequent and sometimes scary “re-imagining”. I managed to succeed in some. In others, I got through alive.
When I reported to Sacred Heart East Boston in 1964, I imagined my future pretty clearly. I would be a curate with three or four others for some twenty five and more years. Then I would be a Senior Curate. Maybe then I would pastor a small parish with one or two curates. If all went well, I might even be pastor of a “plum” parish with three or four curates. I would serve until I breathed my last…
My comfortable imagining was smashed when I was named the first Director of Liturgy in the North American College seminary. I had never pictured myself as a young seminary faculty member but there I was. I was one page ahead of the students in the liturgy department. It was turmoil. Seminaries were re-inventing themselves, seminarians were restless and the faculty trying to keep the ship afloat. The old imagining didn’t work. What did work was the conviction that I was here by the call of Jesus Christ and the Church and that I was graced as a priest to make sense of all this.
I didn’t think of it as re-imagining, but that, in truth was what I was being called to do.
Some years later I found myself a seminary rector. Cardinal Medeiros began by telling me I was too young. I know that. What he didn’t know was that I had not a clue of how to muddle along in the world of formation, accreditation, and Vatican visitation. I survived and the seminary actually made some progress. But what I had to do —again, I would not have named it at the time –was to re-imagine myself within the priesthood. It called for new vision, new skills and a host of new demands. At times, it was even great fun.
You got the drift. So fast forward past the Director of the Office for Worship. By 2007 I had been Pastor of St. Paul’s in Cambridge for eleven years. That, as you know, involves responsibility for directing and maintaining both the Choir School and the Harvard Campus Ministry. Nearing 70 years of age, I would be challenged to summon the drive and energy for fundraising on a large scale. With the natural ebbing of energy and drive that accompanies our ongoing years, I began, —this time deliberately—to think of re-imagining myself. I had plenty left to give in service. I had tons of experience. What could I do?
John Sassani needed a Parochial Vicar. He didn’t collapse laughing when I proposed myself as a possibility, so I approached Cardinal Sean. He was his usual genial and kind self and gave me the green light. So six years ago today I reported to Our Lady help of Christians in Newton as the old Parochial Vicar.
You’ll ask me:am I happier? That’s, I’ll answer, is not the question. Sure, I’m relieved that John does the administration. I’m especially happy that the Pastor does the fundraising. Remember that St. Paul says administration is one of the spiritual gifts to the church. It’s certainly a gift to me and to our Sacred Heart/Our Lady’s collaborative. What I have found (and John Mulloy echoed this) is that I am very much fulfilled as a priest. It took some re-imagining. It took a change in outlook. I have learned with joy to work as a colleague with priests and lay ministers. I have learned that people very much value my ministry as the Parochial Vicar. I have also found that my age is no obstacle except for climbing stairs and moving tables.
I’m more conscious than ever before that our Pastoral Planning calls for the presence and ministry of skilled, generous and committed priests to serve collaboratives as Parochial Vicars. In my case, it called for significant re-imagining. This way of being a priest has been every bit as filled with grace and glory as any in the past. It’s no less true today than fifty years ago. Thanks for listening.