The psalmist says it well, “Behold how good it is, and how pleasant, when brothers dwell as one!” (Ps. 133:1) That phrase has often found a place in my prayer life dating back to my seminary days. It is evident when the bishop gathers with his priests during the course of the year.
In my own mind, there are three occasions during the year when it is essential for your priests to gather with me in liturgical concelebration. One we celebrated just a few weeks ago at the priestly ordination of Father James A. Schultz. Another occasion is the Chrism Mass when we renew our commitment to priestly service. The third is our gathering at our annual convocation in September.
Three special occasions during the course of a year and how important they are for us as we celebrate and confirm our unity as diocesan priests united with the bishop. I am personally very grateful to our priests when they make every effort to join me on these occasions to celebrate, in a public manner, our unity and to ask God’s blessing on our ministry.
There are also countless times during the year when the priests of our diocese show their unity in serving your needs. Some of them take place in quiet ways. One priest helps another covering a parish so that the assigned priest can get a day off or a vacation. Sometimes a priest visits another when he is experiencing sickness or loneliness or discouragement. Priests reach out in supportive friendship to one another giving life to the words of the psalmist.
A more public way of showing our unity as a presbyterate is what is happening in many rectories across the seven counties of our diocese this weekend. Twenty-one priests have received new assignments; 13 priests have retired. Many parishioners will say goodbye to much-loved priests and wish them well as they assume new responsibilities. It is not easy to let go of people who have become part of the family — priests who have accompanied us in the joys and sorrows of everyday life. But the life of a priest requires “letting go” at times so that he can serve in another area of the diocese. While a priest’s acceptance of a new assignment may be a disappointment for you, it is often a sacrifice for him as well.
Some people have written and asked me how I make these decisions. Why does our priest have to move? Why is our Sunday Mass schedule changed? Why not leave things the way they were?
Let me tell you about the process followed in assigning priests. Generally speaking, whenever there is an opening in a parish information about that parish is posted and shared with all the priests of the diocese. Each priest may express an interest in a transfer to a particular parish. Pastors are appointed for six-year terms which may be renewable for a second six-year term. When the priest reaches a certain age, usually in his mid-60s, he may be exempt from moving to a new parish. It happens that sometimes there is a specific need in a particular parish, and in some instances it is necessary for me to ask a priest to take a particular assignment. It is my responsibility to assess the needs of the diocese and how we can continue to serve our people most effectively. I do this in consultation with a committee of priests elected by their brother priests to assist me.
In the current assignments, a number of priests who already have an assignment are taking on additional responsibilities in order that all might be served and parishes remain open. This requires adjustments on many levels. Mass schedules, for example, may need to be changed to reflect the increased responsibility that our priests have. I trust that parishioners will be supportive of their priests and their parishes as necessary changes take place.
I am extremely grateful to our priests for their faithful and generous service. I thank particularly the 13 priests who have retired from active service while recognizing that many will continue to serve in various ways. I am grateful to the 21 who assume new or additional responsibilities effective July 1. And I am happy to entrust Father Schultz with his first assignment.
It is important to remind you that in the life of the Church, no priest takes an assignment on his own. He is appointed and sent by another, in this case by the bishop. There is a missionary dimension to the assignment of a priest. He is sent to a particular parish or to a specific ministry to preach the Good News, to celebrate Mass and the sacraments and to assist those who come to him for pastoral care.
A period of adjustment, during this time, is natural both for the priest and the people he is called to serve. I can tell you it is never easy to leave an assignment. At the same time, a change in assignment gives both priests and people an opportunity for new beginnings. It can be a time of growth.
Often during the year, I experience the good work and tireless efforts of my brother priests. I know about their generosity and dedication to their ministry. Likewise, I also know that in order for us to continue to meet your pastoral needs, we need to ask the Lord of the harvest to bless our diocese with vocations to the priesthood. I hope that you will join me in fervent prayer that God will bless your family and this diocese with an increase of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.
Editor’s note: The list of priests announcements is on page 5 in this issue.