Our Priests

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As I begin to write this column, I am sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for my return flight home to Syracuse. It is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the last day of the spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The last morning of our meeting was devoted to prayer and reflection. In addition to Morning Prayer and Mass, there was a Holy Hour and an opportunity for the sacrament of Penance.  
 

  In recent years, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart has been dedicated in a special way to prayer for the sanctification of priests. As I sat in the Chapel, listening to a thoughtful homily by Bishop Paul Zipfel, the recently retired Bishop of Bismarck, the priests of the Diocese of Syracuse — and other priests I have known, studied and worked with through the years — were very close in prayer. I asked God to strengthen them for their journey of life and faith.  

   I recalled how blessed we have been in our diocese with outstanding and hard-working priests. I thought of the priests who quietly go about their daily duties; about our priests who are retired, sick or absent; about the changes these priests have seen throughout the course of their ministry and about our young priests and seminarians  in the early stages of their priesthood or  formation who will experience many more changes.  

   As I reflected on the priests who serve currently in our diocese, questions came to mind. Who are they? What needs do they have? Are they taking proper care of their health — both physical and spiritual? Particularly, I thought of the priests who will be accepting new assignments at the end of this month, trusting that they will be received warmly in their new parishes. Leaving a parish or ministry may be difficult both for the priest and for those he has been serving. But in accepting a new assignment a priest opens himself to new relationships, new responsibilities and new opportunities to continue the mission for which he was ordained.  

   I take this occasion to share with you some information about the priesthood in the Diocese of Syracuse. At the present time there are:
• 223 diocesan priests
• 133 active priests including seven who work outside the diocese
• 90 priests are retired, but many continue to assist in our parishes
• 15 “extern” priests, meaning they were not ordained for our diocese but they serve here
• 35 priests who are members of religious orders.
   The median age of active diocesan priests is 63. According to Canon Law when a priest reaches his 75th birthday he is requested to submit his resignation from administrative responsibilities to the Bishop. Some priests, however, continue to work beyond that age. In our diocese, 15 priests beyond the age of 75 serve as pastors. Thirteen of our pastors are between 70 and 75 years of age.

   I am grateful to all of our priests. They give themselves day by day to Christ and His mission. I pray daily that they remain available for whatever the Lord needs of them at any given moment. May the Blessed Mother keep them in her tender care and may her Son, the Lord of the harvest, send new workers into His vineyard.

   As I conclude this column, I am reminded of a custom from my seminary days. When the seminarians completed their course of studies and were about to leave the seminary, there was a banquet the night before their departure. In those days, seminarians remained at the seminary until Ordination Day and then left there for the ordination ceremony at the Cathedral. As the deacons were leaving and emotions were running high, the other seminarians joined in a beautiful hymn for them.  

A Priestly Heart The Sacred Heart

A priestly heart the Sacred Heart!
For sins of men the burden bearing
Seeks everywhere in loving care
To bring back home the sheep when erring.

O Sacred Heart with love benign
Make of our hearts Thy altar shrine.
May we always with hearts like Thine
Be holy priests Oh Heart Divine.
May we always with hearts like Thine
Be holy priests Oh Heart Divine.

A priestly heart the Sacred Heart!
Its heavy cross a sad life story.
It takes the weight of human guilt
And gives in turn celestial glory.

O Sacred Heart with love benign
Make of our hearts Thy altar shrine.
May we always with hearts like Thine
Be holy priests Oh Heart Divine.
May we always with hearts like Thine
Be holy priests Oh Heart Divine.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.
  

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