Fr. Tony’s interview about NFPC, priestly life, the Convocation and how they all fit together

On the Archbishop’s Hour with Mary Woods, Fr. Tony explains NFPC and how our National Convocation of Priests makes a difference.

This forty-minute interview allowed for a deeper discussion about both NFPC and the National Convocation of Priests and began to explore the importance of parishioner encouragement and support for all parish priests.

Mary began by asking Fr. Tony how he balanced being an Archdiocese of Cincinnati parish priest of four parishes and the President of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, headquartered in Chicago. He praised his “amazing staffs in both places,” plus modern electronics via Skype, email and text connections.

Mary then asked Fr. Tony about NFPC membership numbers, and he explained that by NFPC constitutional definition, every diocese in the United States, every priest council, is a member of NFPC, serving the entire US presbyterate.

He continued, NFPC was founded 50 years ago in 1968, in a response to Vatican II when every bishop was required to have a council of priests to help him in the governance of the diocese.  Several representatives of these councils got together in Chicago with a desire to share best practices and other ideas and invited all other Councils to join them, forming the National Federation of Priests’ Councils.

Fr. Tony praised the Archdiocese of Santa Fe who have been faithful contributing members for all these years both financially and with personnel, for example  Archdiocesan priests Fr. Tim Martinez (current Board member) and Fr. Adam Ortega (former Board Chairman). Fr. Tony described the Archdiocese of Santa Fe as “our outpost in the southwest.” Mary expressed pleasure that the Archdiocese was a positive part of helping promote and support NFPC, benefitting “all the people who are served by those NPFC serves.”

The conversation moved on to the Convocation and began with a review of the logo, with the theme “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” a 50th anniversary reflection time to look back on what NFPC has accomplished for priests in the past 50 years, and then forward to our future.

Fr. Tony discussed some of NFPC’s past accomplishments, including being the voice of the priest to the bishops’ conference with discussions leading to implementation of various needs such as a just wage, housing allowances, and professional standards for priests.  The Convocation will include a historical panel of some that were there from the early days of NFPC, to reminisce and field questions.  Then the Convocation topics will move to talking about the priesthood of today and the future.

Fr. Tony described the National Convocation of Priests as our “big thing,” with all NFPC’s products and services, “we love our convocation the most.”  He stressed that it’s a time for all priests, not just priests’ council members, “to come away from their parish life for a few days, relax, enjoy the company of brother priests, …it is so vitally important to have good priest friends.”

Mary reviewed each speaker and topic and how relevant they are to today’s life of the church.  Fr. Tony agreed the speakers were something he was looking forward to hearing, but he also said what he is looking most forward to is the downtime spent with brother priests, to “… just be with my brother priests. That’s my favorite part of the whole thing.”

Mary brought up that Fr. Tony has been involved with NFPC since 2010 and asked why he felt his work with NFPC was important. He shared that he has always felt that within his priestly vocational calling, he has always felt drawn to a secondary calling to help take care of his brother priests, and NFPC allows him to do that.

Mary continued that line of thought on the care of priests and stressed the importance of the laity realizing the amount that priests do for us, not only the sacramental life but also the administrative and maintenance, and all other aspects of running a parish. She wondered if seminarians get a realistic view of what will be their life as a parish priest.  Fr. Tony replied that although it was a difficult to say because seminary formation varies widely, some in the Midwest contain a pastoral year in the middle of their training, so they do get a taste of it.

But from many conversations through the years, Fr. Tony realizes that if seminaries tried to teach everything that a priest would need to know, no one would ever get ordained!  So, there must be a balance between what is taught and what might happen in practical life.  Fr. Tony compared it to “there is no master’s level course on how to be a parent.”

Fr. Tony showed how NFPC helps in this area, “…as a parent…when you come up against something with one of your children, when you come up against an issue that you’ve not dealt with, you check the sources of wisdom around you, your mother or your parents, perhaps a neighbor with older children, people you trust. And that’s the genius of the NPFC: we have that community of priests ready to help brother priests who are going through something that perhaps they have already navigated.”

Mary asked about NFPC recruiting more dioceses for active participation, and Fr. Tony replied that basically that was his job description, to continue the dialog with all and encourage them to become supporting members. Fr. Tony emphasized that all priests who have a pastoral assignment in the US are encouraged to come to the Convocation and enjoy their time and maybe return to their dioceses and share what they have learned about NFPC.

Mary asked about how the finances work for membership and Fr. Tony explained that the financial commitment right now is $35/priest/year, billed to the diocese.  If you are in a diocese that is not a supporting member, you can send $35 to become an individual member.

The conversation made its way to how the laity can help their parish priests feel comfortable leaving for a few days to attend the Convocation. Fr. Tony encouraged the laity to say, go and refresh yourself and get new ideas, the parish will be fine.  Mary recognized that we realize how important our priests are to us, but probably don’t think about offering them encouragement and support. We talk more about encouraging and supporting seminarians, but it’s important to continue that support.

Fr. Tony stressed the importance of praying for your pastor “even if you don’t get along with him.” Secondly, encourage him. “Just say we’re glad you’re here; is there something we can do for you? Those moments of positive regard are really what we use as fuel for the week.”

Fr. Tony notices that many parishes have a phenomenon that he calls “communication by complaint.” Americans seem to be trained to communicate that way. Instead of hearing a complaint, priests need to hear, I’m watching and I’m aware of what is happening.  But we should all take responsibility for being a part of parish life, instead of following the programming to be consumers. Parishioners need to stay aware that a parish is a family with everyone contributing. And, he said, these are the type of conversations priests at the Convocation can and do have when they all get together.

Fr. Tony concluded: “Be good to your priests and encourage them to come to the Convocation.”