Father Tony talks ‘Priest Burnout’ with Gary Zimak on Spirit in the Morning, February 12, 2018

Gary introduced Fr. Tony as the President of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, and welcomed him back to the show. His first question was why burn out is happening in our parishes.  Fr. Tony responded, “It’s actually one of the side effects of the priest shortage.”

Fr. Tony continued, with many priests retiring and dying, and fewer coming up to replace them, those left in the middle take on more responsibilities.  As parishes cluster, it also puts priests physically further away from their brother priests, and with their increased workloads, the amount of time available for brother priests goes down.

“We really build in this kind of loneliness that causes us to lose the support system that we were used to when we were young and in the seminary.”

Fr. Tony is himself in charge of four parishes, and when Gary asks how he does it, he referenced his great staff. But when people point out to him that he works hard, he says he doesn’t feel he is working hard, he feels he is just doing his job. However, research has shown one of the symptoms of burn out is when a very busy person doesn’t even know he is very busy, because it’s become a way of life.

Gary points out that much of priest’s duties are in administration, which most priests are not necessarily trained to do.  Fr. Tony agrees and further says that often when he does meet with brother priests, the administrative struggles are what they talk about, instead of spiritual or pastoral matters.

“I think there’s something missing now because we used to have that leisure to be able to talk about our spiritual lives….” and that contributes to the burnout because they don’t have that time to connect with others. “Very often now we are alone in dealing with these things and they pile up.”

Gary asked what laity can do to help prevent priestly burnout.  Fr. Tony discussed three areas:

  1. One thing that contributes to burn out is feeling unappreciated. Let your priest know you appreciate him and ask if there anything you can do to help.
  2. Make him a meal or invite him to dinner. “That’s an amazing thing, to be able to talk to somebody over dinner.”  If you are concerned your priest is too busy, invite him anyway. “The trick is to keep asking!” If he is too busy and says no, keep asking, suggested Fr. Tony; someday he’ll say yes.
  3. Pray for your priests – that should be the first thing. “… pray for your priest, especially if you don’t like him.” They have still dedicated their life to God, and they deserve our prayers.  If they know you are praying for them, that helps soften hearts.
  4. When there is a need to merge parishes, Fr. Tony said, “My advice would be to really think outside the box, think outside your boundaries. I know it’s hard…” He acknowledged there are emotional connections to the church buildings. “But we have to remember the church is bigger than that. It’s bigger than us. So, we really have to embrace the idea of our new brothers and sisters that worship in another building.” Gary summarized that the key is to remember the bigger picture, and that our attitude should be ‘what can we do to help.’
  5. Another way to prevent burnout and bring priests together is the upcoming NFPC Priests’ Convocation, April 23-26 in Chicago. Father Tony shared that it is NFPC’s flagship product, held once a year, open to all Catholic priests, not just Priests’ Council members. “I personally love it because I’ve met over the years priests from all over the country. And we trade best practices and we pray together and we have dinners together; and it really is that wonderful thing we just talked about…seeing church as bigger than just us.”

Gary encouraged all to check out nfpc.org for more information.