In an opening reference to NFPC, Fr. Tony begins by explaining that NFPC was founded almost 50 years ago to support priests’ councils, which were developed to promote greater consultation between the bishop and priests in the organization and governance of the diocese.
Jen moved on to discuss parish priests, asking about how many priests today have more than one parish. Fr. Tony discussed his four parishes and explained that as we progressively have fewer priests in the US, more priests begin with multiple parishes.
Different bishops approach this in different ways: some close small parishes and larger parishes absorb them, others have pastor sharing arrangements. The thought is that people will be able to drive a little further to get to a church. The problem is people get emotionally attached to their church building. Priests have to refocus them and remind them that “it is the gospel of Jesus that we rally around and not a particular building.”
Bruce asked Fr. Tony, when do priests find the time to care for their health, pray, spend time with their family and friends, care for their personal needs? Fr. Tony said he shares with his parishioners, “The thing that makes us Catholic is the Eucharist; and it is the person who can give us the Eucharist who actually is a most valuable resource. So we have to take care of that resource just like any other.”
He continued, “You have to have your day off and it has to be sacrosanct…. The parish needs to know that the priest needs that day desperately to go visit his family, to go be with friends, to go lay on the beach, to throw a line into the water to fish.”
It is also important to have a healthy balance of good relationships, including a special connection with priest friends. Fr. Tony mentioned NFPC’s annual Convocation in April, this year in Anaheim, that is for him like a reunion: energizing to talk to brother priests and exchange ideas, to share information and relax with each other.
They talked about how often priests get together in their local dioceses. Then when asked what are the biggest strains on parish priests, Fr. Tony replied “hands down” it is trying to be a Human Resources professional with no training for all the state and federal regulations. “I was trained for Sacraments. I was trained to be with my people. That’s what God’s is calling me to do, not to sit behind a desk and fill out forms.”
He recommends to parish priests that if administration is not your gift, find someone else that has that gift and let them do the paperwork so you can be with your people. It’s a way that the laity can help. He firmly believes “Let the laity do what they are called to do, so I can do what I am called to do.”
They discussed international priests, why so many are currently in the United States, and the importance of prayers for vocations. Fr. Tony said in addition to prayer, the laity should keep their eyes open and invite a young man to consider priesthood. “There is that wonderful gospel where Jesus goes out that last time to get workers and says why have you been standing here, and they said nobody’s called us. And I think it’s important for the church to be on the lookout, the whole church to be on the lookout, and ask someone to think about it. Plant the seed.”
Fr. Tony recommends that you best support your parish priest when you make sure he knows that he can leave for his day off and that things are not going to fall apart, that he can take his vacation and you’ll take care of things while he’s gone, that he can go to the NFPC Convocation even. If it’s a matter of money, chip in $10 or $20 so their priest can have this time to relax with brother priests. Let your priest know “Father, we got this, Go. We want you to be healthy. We want you to be happy. Go.”
NFPC supports priests by supporting their councils. If the councils work well, then priests feel connected in their work and supported by their bishop, which is a priest’s number one relationship of importance. NFPC works to keep that relationship cultivated. In their weekly news e-letter and in many other ways NFPC works to keep priests connected.