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.

http://nfpc.org/audio-visual/8230/

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.

Avoiding Priest Burnout – What the Laity Can Do

On March 5th, 2018 Relevant Radio Morning Air host John Harper interviewed Fr. Tony Cutcher about Priest Burnout. Below is the radio interview and the Relevant Radio write up.

March 6, 2018, Relevant RadioStephanie Foley

Our parish priests have a staggering amount of responsibilities. Between Mass, confessions, baptisms, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, and managing the parish staff, their days are filled to the brim. And that doesn’t even take into account their own need for prayer, rest, and building relationships with their parishioners.

With so many responsibilities, it is easy for a priest to overextend himself and burnout.  So what can the laity do to help? Rev. Tony Cutcher, President of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, stopped by Morning Air® to discuss priest burnout, and how to avoid it.

“We have to change our mindset, I think,” Fr. Tony said. “In modern America, we’re very much in a consumer mindset. And they look at me as a purveyor of goods and services – so I’m peddling grace and all that sort of thing. But there really isn’t that relational aspect of ministry.”

Fr. Tony suggested that parishioners change their mindset, and rather than seeing their parish as a grace dispensary, see it instead as a family.

“In Scripture and even in Church laws we talk about the feeling of family,” said Fr. Tony. “That’s why we’re called ‘Father.’ Father is not really our title, our title is ‘Reverend.’ Father came out a few centuries ago as a spiritual fatherhood. But the idea is that it should be a loving family environment. And if you approach it from that point of view then burnout doesn’t happen because it doesn’t feel like it’s a professional situation, it feels like it’s a family.”

Fr. Tony also pointed out that priest burnout can happen simply because a priest is unwilling to accept help from others. He said, “People say, ‘Father, can I help you?’ and we’re always reticent to say, ‘Yes, I need help.’ I think it has to do that it’s kind of ingrained in us in our training – and probably by personality – that we need to be the caregiver. And it’s hard for a caregiver to be a caretaker.”

But there are some simple ways that parishioners can ease the burden of a priest’s heavy load. Fr. Tony gave some examples of how the laity have helped him in his own parish.

“I love to cook, but I can’t find time to,” he said. “So we have some folks in the parish who got together and made a ministry so that every Thursday someone brings a meal for the three of us who live in the parish. And it’s great, because I never know what’s going to be for dinner before it gets here. It’s such an easy, simple act of love for your priest, because we are so busy.”

An often unseen aspect of a priest’s responsibilities are their role in taking care of our church buildings. Between the church, the parish hall, the church grounds, and perhaps a school, there is a lot of maintenance that must be overseen – and a tight budget in which to operate. But here a change of mindset is also helpful. If the parish is a family, then the church buildings are the family’s home. And we parishioners can do our part to keep it beautiful.

“I have about a dozen flower beds on the church property here, and I don’t have a green thumb,” explained Fr. Tony. “Luckily, there’s a group of women who have taken it upon themselves to look after the flower beds so that our campus looks wonderful.”

But it’s not just your time and talent that can help your priest. He needs your treasure too, and the treasure of knowledge can be incredibly valuable to a priest who is overseeing so much. Fr. Tony shared how helpful this is for him in his life.

“There are people with expertise in the parish that I can trust – they don’t have to be able to do it – but I need to say, ‘Do I really need this? Or is this contractor trying to get more money out of us?’

But what if your priest is already burnt out? What if you can see his need for help but he hasn’t accepted any of your offers?

“It’s so hard to finally say, ‘Father, it’s OK to need help,’ Fr. Tony said. “Just keep asking. Point out to him, ‘Father, you’re running ragged. We can see it, we can feel it. If you don’t do something soon, you’re going to wind up in the hospital.’

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/3:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.

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.

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.

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.