February 17, 2006
August 11, 1992,
December 30, 1996,
February 5, 2002,
April 4, 2005 and
July 3, 2005.
Do these dates mean anything to you? No, they probably dont at first glance. These are dates on which some of our priests died by suicide. And there are others. No words of distress can adequately express our dismay and sorrow over such horrendous deeds. Suicides among clergy and religious men are rare and oftentimes unexplainable. It is true that some of these fathers and brothers were accused, and possibly guilty of serious misdeeds, but not all of them.
These men sometimes suffered from depression, mental illness, or loneliness. The burdens of priesthood and religious life are much heavier today than in the past when your numbers were greater and your burdens were shared with coworkers.
Today, many of you are often responsible for multiple parishes. You not only say Mass and administer the Sacraments; you must also catechize, visit parishioners, fund-raise, and be the all around caretaker of the properties, most of which you were not prepared for in the seminary or novitiate. Our Religious who live in Community need support and strength from their brothers, but are often sent to missions where the numbers are few, unrealistic demands are made, and the sources of personal fulfillment are drying up.
Many of us know that you, our religious ministers, our priests and brothers, are in crisis. To whom do you turn when you need help in keeping yourself together? Your natural support system, your Bishop or Religious Superiors, are themselves being attacked on every side and often cannot give full attention or time to the needs of every individual in their care. Certainly they mean well when they claim to be always available to those priests and brothers under their care. But it is naïve and unrealistic to think they can be available to you 24/7. They cant work all day and be available all night. To go to a therapist is not feasible for several reasons and to confide in another close friend is not always possible or appropriate.
To whom, then, can you go? If your response is, Well, surely we can find some one in whom to trust, then why do we still have our men depressed, confused, and disillusioned with their life and ministry?
Remember that you are individuals with specific needs, desires and aspirations. By your calling you are tending toward a life of prayer and deeper spirituality. But grace builds on nature and if you are in pain and confused, prayer cannot be totally supportive.
For this reason The Upper Room Crisis Hotline (TURCH), proposes to serve you, our priests and religious brothers, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week with services that are supportive to your personal, individual needs. These include counseling, information and referral, suicide prevention, and reassurance calls to the elderly. It is important to know that TURCH is strictly confidential, no identification will ever be asked of the callers except when dealing with an emergency, and all volunteers, priests, brothers, and sisters, will be anonymous. TURCH has a Board of Directors consisting of clergy, men religious, and lay men and women. Many of you who know about the hotline are already supportive and have provided us with letters of support in anticipation of these services. If you are interested in serving in any capacity, as a Board member or volunteer, please contact me at your convenience.
You, our priests and brothers, need to help one another in brotherly respect and affection. You have struggled long and hard, and continue to do so in a difficult climate today. Currently we are requesting funding from Foundations and other granting agencies that will allow us to provide a national telephone hotline system sometime this spring or summer. This will provide a listening, supportive ear when you need it. Can you help us? Do you have a favorite and well-loved priest or brother who mentored or helped you or a family member thru a difficult time? Can you give something in his memory? Each call will cost the hotline about $0.75. Could you sponsor a number of calls? We expect, from past experience to initially receive about 100 calls a month and make another 100 outgoing calls for reassurance. Our total budget is approximately $300,000, which includes an 800 number for national availability. Your generosity will assure the support our brothers need when they feel isolated or depressed. Please dont let them feel alone. Let them know you care and that they are important to you, to their ministry, and to the Church at large. Help us to help them. Give a generous donation; as a famous card says, When you care enough to send the very best give a part of yourself. Helping renew the spirit and life of our priests and brothers, and ultimately, the life of the Church today will richly reward you.
May God bless you.
Sr. Mary Frances Seeley, Ph.D.