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Chicago’s Cardinal Cupich welcomes
NFPC’s National Convocation of Priests
encouraging NFPC’s work & stressing
“No Bowling Alone”

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Welcome to NFPC’s
50th Anniversary
National Convocation of Priests
April 23-26, Chicago

Fr. Tony spent on-air time again with Mary Woods on Santa Fe’s Archbishop’s Hour, March 20, 2018

Mary and Fr. Tony had an informational forty-minute discussion about Priests’ Councils and how they serve, as well as why NFPC offers a National Convocation of Priests, the importance of priests attending, and how the laity can encourage their priests.

As the President of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC), Fr. Tony serves, “all of the priests and the bishops of the United States,” through their priests’ councils: “Every bishop has a council of priests who represent the priests of their diocese to the bishop and help him in the governance of the diocese.”

Mary suggested that many people aren’t aware of this aspect of diocesan organization and stressed that the Church works from the ground up, bringing information up to the hierarchy. Fr. Tony said that description is what Pope Francis refers to as a Synodal Church, one that works in synods or groups of people who get larger and larger as they get to the top. The second Vatican council envisioned a much more collaborative hierarchy, so the leader has much more involvement from those he pastors.

Fr. Tony elaborated, at the parish level there is the Pastoral Council and Finance Council, and others to help priests.  In the same way, bishops rely on priests to help them stay in touch with the entire diocese. Most dioceses have a Pastoral Council with lay and clergy, but the bishop also has a council of priests that he can go to for pastoral advice.  “They give their input, he takes it into account, and then he makes his decision.”  Priests’ Councils are strictly advisory.

Fr. Tony continued that after Vatican II when bishops were called to be more collaborative, they turned to their priests and formed presbyteral or priests’ councils.  As the U.S. was developing these councils, “In 1968 a number of these groups got together and said, ‘Let’s share some information: who is doing this well, who is struggling, what sort of resources can we share.’ And that’s where the Federation came from, that mutual sharing of responsibility and information.”

Mary asked if the use of the internet helps priests connect.  Fr. Tony said that technology is great, and he relies on it to live and work at his parishes in Dayton, Ohio and still be the President of the NFPC, located in Chicago. But he stressed he still goes to Chicago at least once a quarter just to be with his staff and go through things with them in person. “The same is true when it comes to our brother priests. There is something about presence.”  There’s an intangible there.  “That’s why we love our Convocation, because it really is that chance to just be with my brother priests in one location.”  He said that the more technology we use sometimes the lonelier we feel.

They spoke about the issue of burnout with parish priests. Even with internet connections, they feel more isolated without personal contact.  “The more isolated you feel, the more ripe you are for burnout.”

Fr. Tony said part of that isolation is the ‘mystique’ we’ve put around priests, making it difficult to just invite him over to dinner. “For me, I don’t want to be holed up in my house all the time. And when I do go out, I don’t want you to have to put on a four-course meal and everybody gets dressed up. I just want to feel part of the family for a little while.”

Mary asked why people feel shy about interacting with the priest.  Fr. Tony said he thought part of it was they only see the priest for that hour a week, during which the priest is talking about holy things and celebrating a Mass.  So, they become intimidated by his spirituality.  Mary said, we set our priest up on a pedestal, but we are also afraid of judgement by the guy on the pedestal, so we keep our distance to feel safe.

Fr. Tony explained that priests, in acting like Christ, do what Jesus did and take people where they are, never judging or expecting holiness.

Being present to your priest and allowing him to be present to you is a big factor in preventing priest burn-out, according to Fr. Tony.  “But the other piece is creating time and space for brother priests.” There is something special about someone who is living the exact same life, have taken the same vows, have the same prayer life… ”nobody knows a priest like a brother priest.” As the priest shortage continues to grow, priests live further and further apart. and each has more and more parishes, so there is less and less time when they can get together.

Mary encouraged parishioners to include their priest in social activity, like going to a baseball game. Fr. Tony said another thought is to give your priest “the gift of time.”  Give him a chance to have time off from everything.  He encourages priests to “let the laity do what the laity can do.” Then the priest will have more time. The laity can help by letting Father know what they are good at and volunteering to help.

One of the number one reasons Father Tony hears why priests can’t come to the Convocation is “I can’t leave the parish.”  Mary said it’s like moms who are overworked and need a break but don’t think they can leave. But the husband and children should encourage her to take that break. The same in parishes when the laity should encourage their priest to get away and refresh themselves.

They reviewed the Convocation details. Fr. Tony stressed Chicago as a great location, but said the big draw is the excellent speakers. There will also be great times for prayer, great meals, and an afternoon/evening off to explore downtown Chicago.

Fr. Tony repeated that this is for all parish priests.  He encouraged the laity to go on the NFPC website and click on the donate button and donate toward their priest’s attendance fee (put in the comment section) and then inform their priest and encourage him to attend.

Fr. Tony continued, numbers around 100 allow for great fraternity, old friends, and new. It’s a feeling of a family reunion – a rare time for priests to get together and it quite possibly is easier to relax with priests outside of your diocese. You also get a more national perspective on the priesthood.

For more information, go to nfpc.org.


NFPC This Week, #753: March 25 – March 31, 2018









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.”

Fr. Tony joins Bruce and Jen on Spirit Mornings for a talk about encouraging parish priests, March 7, 2018

Bruce and Jen opened the discussion by asking why parish priests feel burnt out, and Fr. Tony cited two causes 1) less priests so they are working longer hours and have less time with brother priests, and 2) more administrative work than they are trained to do or should have to do.  “Burnout is not caused by doing the sacraments or hearing Confessions.  I never hear priests say how burdensome that is. As a matter of fact, that is the joy of our life.  It’s always the administration part.”

Fr. Tony explained, priests aren’t trained to do all the administrative work that running a parish requires, and that tends to put a strain on their energy. In addition, there comes a feeling of isolation, like “I’m the only one working on this problem.” He continued, part of that comes from our consumeristic society; so many of the laity tend to look at their priest as a purveyor of goods and services, instead of seeing their priest as a spiritual father of the parish family.

Fr. Tony stated that the laity has many gifts that can assist their priests for the betterment of the parish, but especially in larger or multi-parish settings, the priest may not know about your gifts, so make sure you let him know how you can help.  He stressed to keep offering your help even if the priest is hesitant; he may use your help in the future.

Priests also benefit from the support of other brother priests. Fr. Tony explained, “…there is something about talking to another brother priest – they’re living our life, they’re walking in the same shoes we walk in, there is something about that connection. I’d like to think it’s that common priesthood and that connection is Jesus himself…” He continued, it is so refreshing to get together with brother priests, whether in a small group, or a diocesan convocation, or on a national level such as NFPC’s National Convocation of Priests.  Upon Bruce’s request, Fr. Tony shared the overview and details of the NFPC Convocation, and reviewed dates and speakers [see NFPC Convocation tab]. 

Jen talked about the importance of praying for your priest, and your bishop, and Pope Francis, and that most of the laity probably need to do more of that.  Fr. Tony said “Trust me, we feel it. We know when we are being prayed for and we know when we are being criticized.” He encouraged that if you don’t get along with your priest or always agree, that’s even more reason to pray for him.

Fr. Tony shared an idea for great surprise gift to give a priest. He suggested that if his mother has passed, have a mass intention at your parish for his mother on the day of her death. “Personally, I don’t see the mass books, so I don’t know what my intention is until I get to church that morning. And what a gift it is for a priest to know that someone thought enough of him to have a mass said for his mother…or father.”

Bruce said that many people think their priest is so busy that he couldn’t come to dinner or even just get together.  Fr. Tony said that the answer to that is, just keep offering, and don’t assume he will never have time.  He continued, some times of the liturgical year it is virtually impossible for the priest to have a few hours free in the evening, but for the most part there are high times and low times like everyone else.  He thought that the lull after Easter would be a wonderful time to invite your priest over, maybe for a cookout. “Father doesn’t want a big old spread, you don’t have to put on the dog, Put on a hotdog! We just want to have that feeling of being part of a family for a couple of hours.”  It helps prevent burnout because “1) we don’t feel isolated, 2) we feel valued and 3) we feel a part of the family.”  So just keep asking.

Jen said that when things are going good, priests need to hear that too.  Fr. Tony agreed, “Priests are tough to give a compliment to. It’s kind of embarrassing. But it does feel good.”

Jen continued that being with brother priests can help spiritually, intellectually, and pastorally.  The NFPC Convocation is a great way to do that. Fr. Tony promoted that statement, “In addition to the great speakers that we are going to have, that I just mentioned, we really have some great times of just fellowship… That’s really where the fun part of the convocation is, over the meals and during the liturgies…just to be with your brother priests, to share some stories, possibly get some networking, some fresh ideas on maybe a challenge that both of you have and how someone else worked on it….just to sit and be with your brother priests is really a great thing, and the fact that there is a number of them from all over the country, you get to really feel the flavor of the universality of the church.”

Bruce encouraged all laity that have been blessed financially to learn more about the Convocation on the NFPC website and tell their priest about it: tell him that you want to send him to Chicago and make a donation to pay for registration or the plane or whatever it takes to get your priest to attend this wonderful event. That way you’ve taken away all his objections. The NFPC Convocation doesn’t even conflict with weekend masses. It is so important to encourage your priest to take that time for rejuvenation.

Jen and Bruce reminded all to pray for their priests and pray for more vocations to the priesthood.  Fr. Tony closed at Jen’s request with a blessing for all.

Video of Fr. Clete Kiley’s Remarks at the Chicago Labor Rally, February 24, 2018

As the local union President in the city of Phoenix for AFSCME I was wondering if there was a labor friendly priest in this or a nearby diocese that we can contact? Someone who can come talk to our members and perhaps be a chaplain as well.
Thanks for any help you can give us.

Frank Piccioli
President AFSCME 2960


Alan Szafraniec

Alan Szafraniec
2018 Mandatum Award Recipient

The award is presented to an individual or organization whose service in the Gospel of Jesus Christ exemplifies the purpose and goals of the Federation. In particular, the leadership of this individual or organization enhances the ministry of presbyteral councils, seeks to expound on the issues and concerns of priests, and champions NFPC’s mission and goals in the public square. The award’s scriptural reference is: “I have given you a model to follow, so as I have done for you, you should do also.” [John 13:15]

Biography – Alan Szafraniec

Alan Szafraniec began his ministry with NFPC in January 1997, hired for a part-time position as a publications assistant by then Executive Director, Marianist Brother Bernie Stratman. Alan had graduated a year earlier from Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS) and was in the process of discerning his future ministry. In 1998, Alan was asked to work full time at NFPC and he accepted this ministerial calling. Although his title has changed many times over his 20 plus years with NFPC, most recently Managing Director, he has served in whatever capacity was needed to promote NFPC’s mission.

Although his main responsibility became editing various print publications, including the Touchstone periodical and many of NFPC’s commissioned studies, Alan also became an important reference person to many dioceses and Catholic organizations. His developed connections with Catholic personalities across the U.S. became invaluable in NFPC’s ability to connect and support the U.S. presbyterate. In addition, in 2002, he began compiling and editing the weekly digital e-letter, NFPC This Week, and had produced over 700 by the time of his 2017 retirement.

Alan believes firmly in his IPS professor Dr. Ann O’Hara Graff’s definition that pastoral ministry is mainly about “making God accessible.” He sought to live that in his work in what he referred to as a “theology of presence – being present, being there to listen, help, and serve in whatever area we are called.” With an outstanding memory for names and places, and a heart for service, Alan became known as the “history and the heart of NFPC.”

Fr. Tony on CC Radio talks NFPC & Convocation

Fr. Tony introduced NFPC to New Orleans/Baton Rouge on Catholic Community Radio’s Wake Up show, February 19, 2018

Catholic Community Radio’s Jeff Blackwell in Baton Rouge and Gaby Smith in New Orleans welcomed Fr. Tony to his first interview on the Wake Up morning show. Fr. Tony responded to Gaby’s opening inquiry by defining both Priests’ Councils and the NFPC. “Fifty years ago this year, those newly formed Councils that came out of Vatican II, got together and formed a Federation so that they could share best practices and take care of things on a national level.”

He continued, stating that every diocese in the U.S. is a member of NFPC, and some are also active or supporting dioceses who help by sending resources, like men to be a part of the Board, and also finances for NFPC’s operation.

Gaby asked about the National Convocation of Priests coming up in April in Chicago and she marveled at the “power house” of speakers.  Father Tony responded that this year is our 50th anniversary and Chicago is where NFPC was founded, so we are “back home” for this celebration. He gave a brief overview of what NFPC offers for priests and encouraged anyone who wanted more details to go to nfpc.org, but he said, “the thing I am most proud of is always our Convocation.”

He reviewed the “amazing” speaker line-up including Archbishop Wilton Gregory and NFPC Episcopal Liaison Bishop Cepeda.  With the Convocation theme of Looking Back – Looking Forward, “we really wanted to kind of recap what happened over the last 50 years, what has the NFPC been responsible for in the lives of priests over the last 50 years.”

Fr. Tony reviewed the Monday evening Historical Reminiscing Panel and contrasted it with the Wednesday morning State of the Presbyterate meeting where talk will be what’s going on in the church today.  Then Sister Katarina Schuth will look forward, speaking on seminary formation and what priests will look like in the future.

Gaby turned the conversation to how NFPC’s services have benefitted priests through the years.  Fr. Tony offered that because the NFPC President is the liaison to the USCCB, NFPC can bring issues to the bishops.  Early on, NFPC lobbied and obtained a just wage for priests. Before that, priests received $30-$50 per month for pay.  NFPC also helped institute Priest Personnel Boards so more people than just the bishop had some say in where a priest went. He stated that he often jokingly tells priests, “We’re responsible for the money in your pocket and the roof over your head.”

A code of ministerial conduct for priests exists because of NFPC, as does due process for both priests and the laity in church courts. Today NFPC has a program called Bishops and Priests in Council to help Priests’ Councils be the best instrument they can be to help their bishop.  NFPC also has an annual Income Tax Guide for priests addressing their very specific tax needs.

Jeff asked about how the future looked for priests and the faithful.  Fr. Tony shared that there is an uptick in seminary formation. Then in the northeast, Catholics face merging parishes as parishioners move south, in the south Catholics face building new parishes for the overflow.

Jeff concluded,”50 years of shepherding the shepherd, we’re very grateful for what you do.” Upon his request, Fr. Tony closed with a blessing.