This week’s issue of the Catholic Sun acknowledges the priests of our diocese who are celebrating significant anniversaries. These priests, indeed all our priests, are a wonderful gift to our diocese. My first article in the Catholic Sun appeared in the August 13, 2009, issue. It spoke about the “wonderful gift that priests are to all of us.” The article is reprinted below. The statistics have changed since it first appeared in “My Place in the Sun,” but profound sentiments of gratitude for our priests and their ministry and the need to pray for vocations remain as important today as they were ten years ago. Join me in thanking our priests for their service among us and in praying for vocations to the priesthood.
This is my first column for The Catholic Sun and I am delighted to have “My Place in the Sun!” I hope that my column will provide a regular means of communication by which I can speak to you about issues of interest and concern. This first column is occasioned by the celebration of the Feast of St. John Vianney (on August 4), the patron saint of parish priests.
As you may know, our Holy Father has designated this year as a special Year for Priests coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney. During this year, the Pope invites all priests through the world to deepen their relationship with Christ.
As a student for the priesthood, I was privileged to study at a seminary dedicated to St. John Vianney. It was there that I learned about the saintly Curé (parish Priest) of Ars, who ministered in the years following the French Revolution, when the clergy were generally not held in high esteem. For his entire priesthood John Vianney ministered in Ars, a small rural village, where the people were indifferent to religion. It is said that he would spend 12 to 16 hours a day in the confessional, attracting people from all over France, who wanted to hear him preach and to confess their sins. This saintly parish priest was determined to bring his people closer to Christ.
Through a period of 40 years, with prayer, fasting, preaching and good example, the Curé of Ars ministered to his parishioners and commended them to God. In time, their hearts were softened and they drew closer to Christ. To this day Ars is a famous place of pilgrimage. Each year thousands of people visit the village and are drawn to Christ by this experience.
As we begin the Year for Priests, I think it is fitting that in my initial column I write about the wonderful gift that priests are to all of us. I am happy to acknowledge our priests, to tell you about them and their work and to share some information about the priesthood in the Diocese of Syracuse.
Who is the priest of Syracuse? He comes from a family much like yours. He is a son, brother, nephew, uncle and to the people he serves, he is “Father.” There was a period in his life when he wondered what God wanted of him. He prayed and listened for the whisper of God’s voice. Very likely someone, a relative or friend, a priest or a sister who taught him in a Catholic school or a religious education class, invited him to consider the priesthood. Eventually, he decided that perhaps God was calling him to the priesthood. He responded and after a period of formation, usually four to six years after college, he was ordained a priest to serve you.
If you are like many Catholic families, a priest has been with you in times of joy and sorrow. Look back for a moment and recall the occasions when a priest was present for you. It began with the priest who baptized you, heard your confession, gave you your First Holy Communion and through the years, has been with you for Sunday Mass. A priest has officiated at family weddings, anointed the sick, consoled you when a loved one has been called home to God and celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for family and friends.
The Diocese of Syracuse has 253 priests; 165 active and 88 who are retired. [Editor’s note: See box at bottom for current statistics.] At the present time, our active priests serve in parishes, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, schools and diocesan administration. They are responsible for 137 parishes, 11 missions and 4 oratories. Freed from the ministry of administration, our retired priests, health permitting, continue to bring the message of Christ to people throughout the diocese. They serve in countless ways, filling in when priests are sick or on vacation and providing counseling and spiritual direction. They are a special blessing to us! The median age of our priests continues to rise: 19 of our active priests are over 75 years of age and 19 are under 45. Priests are receiving more responsibilities at a younger age. All our priests count on the continued support of our prayers as they work to serve your needs.
During this Year for Priests, we will provide opportunities for your priests to grow spiritually. I hope that you will also thank them for their priestly service. So often our priests and the work they do are taken for granted. As we look to the future, we recognize the need for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our diocese and throughout the Church. I am encouraging our priests to have a Holy Hour for vocations or to celebrate Mass for that intention on the First Friday of each month. In addition, I encourage all of you to join me in the traditional practice of fasting on Friday for this intention.
Before I conclude this column, I want to thank the young men of our diocese who, responding to God’s call, are discerning a vocation at the present time in the seminary. It is anticipated that in September there will be 12 men from our diocese studying for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, at the Theological College of Catholic University of America, and at blessed John XXIII Seminary in Boston. I ask you to support them with your prayers so that they may become priests formed in the image of Christ and eventually stand among you as true servants. I pray, through the intercession of St. John Vianney, that these young men will persevere and that God will strengthen all our priests for their ministry.
Please join me in prayer for our priests. The recommendation found in the Chrism Mass expressed it beautifully: “My brothers and sisters pray for your priests. Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of His love, to help them be faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest, so that they will be able to lead you to Him, the fountain of your salvation.”
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.
It is anticipated that on July 1, 2019, the Diocese of Syracuse will have 171 priests; 94 active and 77 retired. They are responsible for 114 parishes, 6 missions, and 6 oratories. Eighteen of our active priests are over 75 and 18 are under 45. By that date, Bishop Cunningham will have ordained 11 men to the priesthood for the Diocese of Syracuse during his tenure.