Father Tony spoke on December 14, 2017, with Bruce and Jen on Spirit Mornings, Spirit Catholic Radio

Father Tony talks with Bruce and Jen on Spirit Mornings, Spirit Catholic Radio, December 14, 2017 about NFPC, priestly ministry, and the National Convocation of Priests

The conversation opened with a discussion about NFPC and its mission and purpose, which is, according to Fr. Tony, “to gather priests, bishops and presbyterates for communion, brotherhood and solidarity. Our purpose is to connect priests, through their Priests’ Councils, both to the bishops and to each other, and also, for the diocesan priests across the country to be able to share best practices and priestly brotherhood.”

They discussed exactly what a Priests’ Council is, with Fr. Tony elaborating, “In Vatican II, the bishops agreed that every bishop must have a council of priests who advise him in all matters, helping with the governance of the diocese.”

Bruce brought the topic around to NFPC’s 50th anniversary celebration next spring and the National Convocation of Priests, April 23-26 at the Millennium Knickerbocker, downtown Chicago. Fr. Tony explained the focus of this year’s Convocation, “…we’re looking back at what happened, how did we get here.  We’re looking a little bit at today, what are the challenges for priests and the priesthood today. And then looking to the future, based on what we have seen and what we are experiencing now, what can we expect.”

Fr. Tony emphasized, any priest in the United States is welcome to come to the Convocation; it truly is a National Convocation of all priests, not just members of councils. “It’s a great time, because you get to come away and be with your brother priests for four days. We’ve got great talks, great food, and you’re in Chicago, so there’s lots to do…. I always tell people, it’s like going to a family reunion where I get to see all of my cousins that I don’t see all year.”

The discussion continued, talking about the Convocation speakers, with Fr. Tony listing the speakers and discussing the panels that will be a part of the presentations.

They spoke about how because there are fewer priests now, those who are serving have an increased workload and it gets hard for them to get away from their parishes.

The challenge of multi-parish pastoring makes it even more difficult. “But that’s the great thing about our Convocation, guys from all over the country are in the discussion, we open the discussion up to the group….and we really come away with some good insights.”

Jen continued the topic of fewer priests by asking what the laity could do to help with multi-parish pastoring, as well as vocations and priests’ ministries. Fr. Tony responded that first and foremost, prayer is essential. Then second, make sure to speak up if you know someone that you think exhibits the qualities you would like in a priest. It was why Fr. Tony began to consider the priesthood. “I have found that if three unrelated people say something to me in a short period of time, that’s usually God telling me I need to do this. And that’s what happened in my life; there was a period of time around 1988 when a number of people came up to me and they said, ‘You know you’d be a good priest’ and I began to discern very seriously about that…it always leads to prayer.”

Fr. Tony said that another important thing that helps him is “to know that my parish is being taken care of… the lay people have to say, ‘Father you can get away.’” He explained, many priests say they would love to come to the Convocation, but they just can’t get away from the parish. The Convocation is always scheduled from Monday through Thursday, so they can be back for weekend Masses. The laity needs to tell their priests “’Father, we can do this for four days. Take care of yourself, go, have fun.’ We really need that kind of respite.”

Jen reflected that with multi-parish pastoring, not only do priests have the potential to burn out, but parishioners don’t feel they have the care they need. Fr. Tony deals with that in his four parishes and their cluster process.  He encourages the laity to “separate your emotional response from practicalities….you have to see yourselves as a bigger unit now, that’s a huge piece. And to accept it and actually help Father with it.”

Jen replied that she usually asks anyone upset with mergers, “Are you praying for priests? Are you praying for vocations? And are you inviting someone to go to church with you?” Father Tony agreed, that often “…it’s not just a shortage of priests…it’s a shortage of parishioners.”

Fr. Tony warned priests to make sure they take care of themselves in the short term, so they can continue to take care of everyone else long-term. “It’s part of our make up, it’s part of our vocation to be care givers. It’s just what we do. And so, we always feel selfish when we take that time for us. But unless we do, we won’t have the energy and time for them at the other end. That’s why I think things like our Convocation are so important, just to come away and talk to other priests.”

Bruce continued the conversation talking about resources to help priests, like the St. John Vianney Center, which Fr. Tony works for in their Continuing Education program. Fr. Tony discussed some of these programs, as well as in-patient programs there, and at the St. Luke Institute as well.

Jen closed by encouraging people to learn more at nfpc.org and prodded parishioners to give a gift to their priests by paying for their trip to the Convocation. Fr. Tony agreed, “It’s the best thing you can give him: the confidence that he can be away and the donation to be able to do it.”

Father Tony spoke on December 13, 2017, with John Harper on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air

Fr. Tony spoke on Relevant Radio with John Harper (Morning Air), December 13, 2017 about ideas for gifts to give to your parish priest for Christmas.

John began with the thought that we obviously want to pray for our parish priest, but the next thought that comes to mind is “maybe a little companionship.” That could be dinner or a gift certificate or a food delivery service.

“I always love a dinner invitation,” says Fr. Tony.  He continued that although he loves to cook, there is often just no time.  His parish has begun a wonderful ministry of collaborating with a number of parishioners to have a meal delivered to the rectory every Thursday night, and “it’s amazing.”

John asked about “the companionship…the witness of my family… It’s not only a gift for my kids to see that you’re just a regular guy who’s coming over for dinner, but I’m sure that helps you and your ministry as well.”

Fr. Tony agreed, “You are absolutely right. For me, it’s being in a normal family for a while…. sitting down and watching the family dynamic and being part of the family life.”

John asked about maybe gas cards for your traveling needs. “An excellent gift,” says Fr. Tony, especially because it often has to come out of pocket.

John asked if parishioners should be concerned about invitations to dinner or anything that involves the pastor’s time. Father Tony assured, “I always tell people…please ask and keep asking, even if I say no a half a dozen times because I’m booked.  Sooner or later I will say yes.”

John continued, how about subscriptions to great Catholic periodicals?  Fr. Tony explained that priests usually get copies for those as a part of their jobs.

Then John wondered, what type of Catholic gift might you want, beyond our prayers?

Fr. Tony responded, “That’s hard because if you get your priest any sort of Catholic icons or things like that, very quickly our houses turn into Catholic museums.”

John summarized that he felt the Holy Spirit was at work as what was emerging from the conversation was giving the gift of time: to get to know who priests are as a human being, to connect with them on a more personal level. John said, “That’s going to be a stronger bond in you helping me on the way to heaven and I’m going to help you as well.”

Father Tony added, “It also helps that there are people out there who know me outside of my role so that when they’re in conversation with other people who don’t, and there is an opinion about me that is clearly out of whack, then the people that I am closer to can say ‘Well that’s not him at all – you really need to get to know him.’”

He continued, “But isn’t that what we’re about in our relationship with God even. The more time we spend with Him, the more we know about Him, the closer we can bring other people to Him.”

Father Tony concluded, “But…priests are just as different from one coast to the other just like everybody is. You do have guys who are true introverts and so the thing to get them is not time with them, but to give them the ability to have time away and alone.”

John reminded everyone that the Morning Air website had more resources for Christmas gifts, and offered his thanks to Fr. Tony.

Fr. Tony speaks with Dina Marie Hale on the Morning Drive Show about vocations and NFPC’s support of priests

Dina Marie opened the conversation by asking about Fr. Tony’s personal vocation call. He recalled the biggest influence on his decision to discern the priesthood was his parish priest. From watching his charismatic and caring example, Fr. Tony concluded, “I can do that, and I want to do that. That’s what the Lord put on my heart.”

They moved into discussing his seminary formation, where another priest, the Dean of Spiritual Formation, was instrumental in showing Fr. Tony a way to be a down-to-earth type of priest, able “to be authentic to yourself, and still be able to do God’s bidding,” the importance of discovering that through his vocation, he could now be fully ‘me.’ Fr. Tony summarized, “When we finally answer the call, it just feels like home.”

Fr. Tony spoke about all vocations, and that Vocation Awareness Week’s goal was to stop the world’s noise long enough to hear God’s voice and discover what we are each called to do, and “you’ll know it when it feels like home.”

In answer to Dina Marie’s question concerning ways to grow stronger in the life of holiness, Fr. Tony stressed to surround yourself with like-minded people.  It’s one of the strengths of the seminary life, and a benefit of small-group participation in parishes.

Talk switched focus to the National Federation of Priests’ Council and its mission: the communion, brotherhood and solidarity of priests and bishops. Once you’ve committed to your vocation, it is important to be supported in that life-style, surrounded with like-minded people. “At the NFPC, through Priests’ Councils, we want priests to feel connected to one another so that we can continue to support each other in our on-going vocations…”

They discussed the four pillars of formation presented in seminary (spiritual, human, pastoral, intellectual), and Fr. Tony said that the NFPC focuses on the human and the pastoral, to give men a way to keep in touch with other priests on maintaining their health and sharing ways to be good pastors.

The annual Convocation of Priests is a great way to connect priests. It will be April 23-26, 2018 at the Millennium Knickerbocker hotel in downtown Chicago.  Fr. Tony said that we have great speakers lined up but “the thing for me is the camaraderie,” with guys from all over the country. “It really feels like a family reunion because these are brothers…”  He continues, “The new ones see the established relationships and we just kind of grab them and bring them in to the fold. It’s wonderful. I just love being around my brothers.” More information on the Convocation can be found at nfpc.org.

Dina Marie concluded their talk by asking Fr. Tony what the laity should be aware of concerning vocations.  Fr. Tony said first, pray, for those discerning, for those who are already priests. Secondly, be on the lookout, for young men and young women, and look for “that heart of service.” Then don’t be shy about talking to them about a future religious vocation.

Fr. Tony closed in prayer for vocations and with a blessing for all those in the Portland area.

Father Tony spoke on October 5, 2017, with John Harper on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air

Their discussion explored how listeners could help overloaded priests with their workload.  Father Tony said that often, because priests feel it is their ministry to serve and help, they feel unsure when asked the open-ended question, ‘do you need help?’  But they can always use help.

First and foremost, Father Tony said, pray for your priest.  Then he reminded listeners, as he remembered from his time in the Navy, “one critical comment wipes out ten pats on the back.” Speak positively to your priests and encourage them.

Father Tony is a proponent of “Let the laity do what the laity is called to do,” and said many tasks priests are doing can be accomplished by lay people. From help with the business work, to volunteers for mailings, to a group that takes care of the flower beds around the church – find ways that you can help around the parish.

Always appreciated is to find out which is our priest’s busiest day and make him a meal.

He continued, let the priest know it’s okay to ask for help, that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.

John Harper encouraged one other great way a parish community can help and that is to donate the funds to send their parish priest to the NFPC National Convocation of Priests so they can get together with their brother priests, share stories, share difficulties and talk through solutions. Father Tony agreed, “There’s just something about being with 80 or 100 of your brother priests where you can share your triumphs and your sorrows.”

He continued, “I love going because it’s like going to a family reunion with all these cousins I haven’t seen in a while…  And the new people who come…say it feels like I’ve gone to a family reunion and I’m the new in-law!”  All are welcomed warmly.

John and Father Tony then discussed the 2018 50th Anniversary Convocation, where NFPC will look at their past, what is happening now, and take a look into the future, April 23-26 at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel in downtown Chicago.  Although hosted by the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Cupich will be in Rome that week.  Father Tony reviewed the list of speakers and general outline including the keynote speaker, Archbishop Wilton Gregory.

John closed by encouraging all to make sure their parish priests know about the NFPC, and to consider raising the funds to send their priest to the Convocation.

ACP Coordinating Board Award presented to NFPC

In accepting one of the 2017 Association of Chicago Priests Coordinating Board Awards on Feb. 26, NFPC president, Father Tony Cutcher, thanked ACP for charting the course for the founding of NFPC.  Father Cutcher, who drove in from Dayton, Ohio to receive the award, acknowledged the thrust of Vatican II, especially its Decree on Priestly Life and Ministry, Presbyterorum Ordinis, to form “a body or Senate …. to give the bishop effective assistance in the administration of the diocese.” This was Vatican II’s call for the formation of diocesan presbyteral councils. NFPC took ACP’s idea and made it national forming a National Federation of Priests’ Councils. The award was presented at ACP’s 50th annual Mardi Gras.

NFPC was founded in Chicago in 1968. Father Pat O’Malley, a founder of ACP was NFPC’s first president. Father O’Malley died in 2013 at the age of 81.

Many services in place today that affect bishops and priests in their lives and work are present because of the prompting, sharing of resources, and advocacy of NFPC including: due process, priest personnel assignment, priests’ compensation, income tax and retirement issues and much more.

The Association of Chicago Priests, a charter member of NFPC, took the first steps in bringing these issues front and center in light of Vatican II’s teaching. NFPC took the ball and moved it up the court and currently represents 69 diocesan presbyteral councils.

The Coordinating Board awards are presented to individuals and groups within the Archdiocese in recognition and appreciation for their outstanding contributions to the life of the Church of Chicago.

Fr. Tony talks with Mary Woods on the Archbishop’s Hour from Santa Fe, February 13, 2017

Mary opens by asking about Fr. Tony’s four parishes in Dayton and their cultural identity. Although currently living in Dayton, he is able to maintain his position as President of the NFPC through constant electronic communication with the Chicago based NFPC staff.

The conversation moved to the NFPC Priest-Labor Initiative.  Father Tony described it as a way to educate priests in the history of Catholic social justice and supporting workers in the U.S.  It allows priests to be instrumental in this area in their parishes without adding anything to their work loads.  It’s not an additional task but part of the gospel mandate, to stand with and for working people.  More information on the Priest-Labor Initiative will be available at the Convocation.

Fr. Tony then gave a shout out to Fr. Adam Ortega, a former NFPC Board Chairman, and also to Fr. Tim Martinez who is currently serving on the NFPC Board, both from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Mary brought the topic to the NFPC National Convocation. Fr. Tony stressed that all priests are welcome to attend the Convocation. ‘Forging a Future with Pope Francis’ follows up last year’s theme of ‘Keeping Up With Pope Francis.’  This year the Convocation topics will follow three of the Pope’s main themes: Priestly Ministry, Immigration, and Millennials.

When asked what the priests who attend can expect to receive from the convocation, Fr. Tony answered “First and foremost, what I want them to do is relax, rest, get some sleep and talk to their brother priests. I just want fellowship, and fraternity, and a respite from the everyday parish life.”  Then he hopes they return to their parishes and dioceses with some fresh ideas and a new perspective of what the Pope is asking of priests, plus some concrete ways they can implement the Pope’s vision.

Mary asked if Pope Francis’ theology was presenting a challenge to priests. Fr. Tony said yes, because unfortunately priests are caught in the middle.  In the U.S., many priests are asked to be administrators, almost HR professionals and manage sometimes multi-million-dollar organizations, and that’s not what they were ordained to do, or trained to do. “We end up being administrators when the Pope is calling us to get out of our rectories and be with our people. That is our heart’s desire, we want to do that. But the necessity is we have to do the paperwork. So there is a real tension there….”

At the Convocation, priests discuss their ministries and their strategies amongst themselves and, according to Fr. Tony, it’s especially enjoyable to watch priests from different parts of the country share ideas with each other; it energizes them, with answers they didn’t have before.

Mary reviewed with Fr. Tony the speaker lineup for the Convocation and each speakers’ topic of focus: Bishop McElroy, Priestly Theology; Kevin Appleby, Immigration; Fr. Ken Simpson, Millennials; Fr. Luke Ballman, USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations’ report.

The CCLV report brought them to a discussion of vocations and the difficulty of cultivating vocations with the added pressures on priests today, including their positions as managers of the parish. Parish priests that are overworked and exhausted aren’t able to show a positive face on the priesthood that would attract young men.

In this area, Fr. Tony encourages all priests “to let the laity do what the laity is called to do.”  Let people trained to be HR professionals and book keepers do those jobs; that, he said, “is life-giving” for priests.  It brings back the joy of being a priest. That will make an impact on young men to inspire them to the priesthood.  Right now a large number of priests ordained one to five years leave the priesthood because it isn’t what they imagined.  We need to address this.  Mary encouraged prayer for the inspiration of parish councils and all parish workers to create an environment to support their priests to do their sacramental work.

They finished the discussion on the Convocation speakers with Bishop Arturo Cepeda, Episcopal Liaison to NFPC, who will be the main celebrant and homilist at the Convocation liturgy.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the organization, and the Convocation will be held in Chicago, “the city where we were founded” and Fr. Tony promised NFPC would have “something big in the offing for our 50th.

Once again, he stressed the Convocation is open to any priest in the US, and there is still plenty of time to make reservations. April 24-27, Majestic Garden Hotel, Anaheim, CA.  Go to the NFPC website, nfpc.org.  Send your pastor!

EWTN Vocation Boom Radio’s Nic Scott talks with Fr. Tony, March 4, 2017

Nic Scott, with Vocation Boom Radio, talked to Fr. Tony for an hour on March 4th  about Fr. Tony’s vocation and his current work as President of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC).

Fr. Tony began the conversation, in answer to Nic’s question about NFPC, by reviewing its history and founding nearly 50 years ago, in 1968, when Vatican II called for greater consultation between bishops and priests for diocesan governance.  NFPC was formed when a group of priests gathered in Chicago to share their best practices for how they were setting up and running these councils of priests and their bishops.

According to NFPC by-laws, all dioceses are members. Active members, who financially support NFPC’s work, grew to a high of 124 dioceses at one point. NFPC uses the councils as a vehicle to deliver goods and services to help all priests feel connected to one another so they don’t feel alone and can be more effective for their people.

Fr. Tony stressed that priests need support from brother priests as well as the laity.  Today’s priests have to do so much managing people and facilities that often all their energy “gets sucked right out” of them by these administrative tasks. They need to periodically get away and be with brother priests, who “understand us on a different level than our lay friends,” and talk and relax “and just not be the pastor for a while.”

When asked about his greatest joy in being a priest, Fr. Tony answered, “It always starts for me with the Eucharist….I get to do that every day.”  And also to bring love and fatherly care to the world, representing God: an amazing honor but also a heavy responsibility.

Fr. Tony provided helpful answers to two callers who had questions, one about the dynamic with a priest in the family, and another about being called to priesthood from pastoring in another denomination.

Then Nic asked Fr. Tony to share his vocation story, which he recounted from his youth through his ordination. “Soon as you know what God wants you to do and do it, the doors open. God has put me where I needed to be every step of the way.”

When asked if he ever had any doubts, Fr. Tony said, “..there’s always been doubts.  A vocation I think, is a constant calling, a constant yes.” Like with marriage, every morning you get up and you say yes all over again. “Every day I get up and say, Yes God I will be your priest again today. And it is only with his grace that I can do that. On the days I don’t particularly feel like it, I rely on his grace to get me through the day.”

Fr. Tony stressed that this is not just a singlular journey. Priests are on this journey with other men and this is where the fraternity comes in: communion, brotherhood, solidarity, NFPC’s mission. He said it is why he took the job as President of the NFPC.  “I knew from personal experience that I can’t keep this going alone.”

At 44:35 in the recording, talk moved to the NFPC convocation, this year in Anaheim, CA.  It is designed to provide relaxation, liturgy and prayer, and top notch speakers. The theme is Forging a Future with Pope Francis and speakers will include Bishop McElroy speaking on Priestly Ministry, Kevin Appleby on Immigration & Refugees, and Fr. Ken Simpson on reaching Millennials.  Fr. Luke Ballman will give an overview of vocations. Bishop Arturo Cepeda, our episcopal moderator, will celebrate the Convocation Liturgy.

There is more information on the Convocation and all aspects of NFPC at nfpc.org.  Fr. Tony encouraged all to sign up for our weekly e-letter, that includes news articles and thought provoking web blogs plus other helpful information, in a weekly post.

The Convocation is open to every priest in the US. Fr. Tony especially welcomed “our younger brothers,” the newly ordained, to hear their views.  For the laity listening to the broadcast, he encouraged them to go tell their pastor to take a few days off, and that the parish will be fine. If a matter of money, he urged parishioners to get a few people together and collect money and send your priest to Anaheim.

Nic asked Fr. Tony how to help motivate a man in taking the initial step when God is calling them to the priesthood.  Fr. Tony’s best advice was that until the bishop lays hands on you, nothing is irreversible.  Many think that if they start down the path, they can’t change their minds.  But the seminary is a place for discernment, and it’s okay to discern out. “God always holds the call until you’re ready to receive it.”

Fr. Tony interviewed for ‘In Person’ with Dina Marie Hale on Mater Dei Radio

Mater Dei Radio logoIn a conversational and informative hour long interview, Dina Marie Hale led Father Tony through a detailed discussion about his vocation journey, the rewards and struggles of priestly life, plus how the laity can support their priests and how the NFPC National Convocation of Priests plays a part in that support.

Fr. Tony discussed his life in the Catholic Church during his youth, his Navy service where he also worked as a lay minister and first felt God nudging him, and his work in Nashville after the Navy where he finally accepted the call in 1998. Although he admits his journey to the priesthood included saying “No” to his vocation several times, once he made the decision to enter the seminary, he wasn’t restless or searching anymore, it “just felt right.”

He attended seminary in his home diocese, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Dina guided Fr. Tony through an interesting discussion on his time in the seminary and his discernment and development toward the priesthood, including the involvement of the Blessed Sacrament and Mary, as well as the response of his family and friends. Fr. Tony encouraged all listeners to not only pray for vocations, but to look out for young men 25 or 26 years old who seem restless and invite them to consider God’s call in their life and the possibility of the priesthood.

The talk moved into Fr. Tony’s serving as a professional consultant for St. John Vianney Center and the importance of retreats and time away for priests.  Fr. Tony is often called on to give talks at priestly diocesan retreats on various topics of interest.  Fr. Tony discussed how laity can help care for their priests.  “First and foremost.” says Fr. Tony, “always pray for your priests, every day.” And let them know they are being prayed for, it’s very encouraging. Priestly brotherhood is vitally important, and the laity need to assure the priest that it’s okay to leave the rectory, that they will take care of the parish and he can get away to be with brother priests.

Dina asked about the NFPC National Convocation of Priests, April 24-27 in Anaheim, CA.  Father Tony talked about the theme, the presenters and the practical topics designed so the priests will be able to take ideas back to their parishes. He stressed the importance of the priestly brotherhood at the Convocation and the warm welcome from priests across the country.  He was excited about a new addition to this year’s convocation: a panel discussion on topics of interest to priests, to share experiences and ideas and trade information.  The convocation is open to and for all Catholic priests and Fr. Tony welcomed all priests to come!

Fr. Tony closed with a prayer and a priestly blessing.

Jen Brown and Bruce McGregor on Spirit Radio’s “Spirit Mornings” discuss with Fr. Tony parish priests and what they face, February 13, 2017

Spirit Mornings JPEG (1)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.

Father Tony speaks about the NFPC Convocation and some of the challenges of parish life with John Harper on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air, January 31, 2017

morning-air-thumb-270 (1)In a short interview that covered a lot of ground, Fr. Tony began by summarizing, “A lot of people, I think, aren’t really aware of all the things that we can provide on an ongoing basis…. We are a great resource for any sort of research that priests or a presbyterate needs to have done on just about any issue within the church.”

The discussion moved to the NFPC’s National Convocation of Priests, and Fr. Tony defined the focus based on the theme, Forging a Future with Pope Francis, as taking a look at how we move forward using Pope Francis’ vision. Presentations will include Bishop McElroy from San Diego to talk about the pastoral theology of Pope Francis, as well as presentations on immigration, millennials, and also CARA’s latest research on Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century.

John asks if there is a sense of hope among Catholics that church attendance will grow.  Fr. Tony suggests the challenge is in keeping the people focused forward “…show them there is hope in what God is asking us to do at this moment.”

As far as the younger generation, Fr. Tony believes millennials are “very focused on social justice issues, like the March for Life, and when we can provide them an opportunity to express their faith in a way that is substantial like that, they respond and they respond well.”

When asked how to incorporate new generations with those who want to hold on to the past, Father Tony summarizes, “We have to get past the incidentals and get back to the essentials.  That is the trick as a pastor, to remind people that it’s not about [the little incidentals] but really focus on the Eucharist, get our people back to what is the core of our Catholic faith. And once you can do that then they begin to dialog about… which incidentals feed [the essentials] and which are just fluff.

Fr. Tony explains he handles running the NFPC and four parishes in Ohio because of two sets of amazing staff! Dedicated lay people are so important to his work. The Diocese of Pittsburgh is starting a 2-year program to develop lay ecclesial ministers as part of management teams for their parishes. Fr. Tony hopes to spend time with them as this develops to see if NFPC can promote this process to other dioceses.

With the broad scope of Relevant Radio’s base, John asks how can those listening outside the U.S. help the NFPC? Fr. Tony encourages them to help their local priests and their national organizations for priests. He says encourage your priest to leave for a couple of days and go to annual meetings or meet with their brothers inside their diocese, that the parish won’t fall apart if they leave for a couple of days.  John says maybe even help fund a trip for your priest to the National Convocation. Agreed!

John and Fr. Tony dialogue about how this can build a vibrant parish community. The parish learns they can take over some of the priest’s workload and it makes for a more involved parish even when he gets back, helping build a great two-way exchange.

Fr. Tony: “When you do that, when you are in that dialog, then it builds a bond of love between the pastor and his people. You are no longer just a functionary for a group of people. You really are their spiritual father.”

Learn more about the NFPC and the National Convocation of Priests, April 24-27, 2017 in Anaheim, CA at nfpc.org