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Ordination Challenges: Out of the Seminary, Into the Fire
National Catholic Register ^ | January 9, 2005 | Tim Drake

Posted on 01/09/2006 1:22:57 PM PST by NYer

NORTHBORO, Mass. — As waves of new ordinands make their transition from the seminary into parish life, the challenges are many. Some, who began their studies on fire for their vocation, find themselves being baptized by fire.

In a time of priest shortages, dioceses are facing the need to fill pastors’ and administrators’ positions with younger priests. New priests are also facing larger territories, and sometimes unfortunate personality clashes.

Ordained in 2002 for the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., Father Stephen Gemme, age 35, became pastor of St. Bernadette parish only 14 months after his ordination. He said he wasn’t entirely prepared for all of the challenges.

“As the chief administrator, not only for the parish, but also for the largest elementary school in the diocese, that’s a heavy responsibility,” said Father Gemme, who oversees a staff of 47. “Training in how to do a budget wasn’t part of the seminary curriculum.”

Gemme relied upon the resources of his finance committee to help him manage the multi-million dollar operation. He also hired a certified public accountant.

Some priests aren’t as fortunate. In fact, the challenges facing the newly ordained can drive some men out of the priesthood. The First Five Years of the Priesthood, a 2002 book by Catholic University of America professor of sociology Dean Hoge, found that 21% of diocesan priests and 7% of religious priests were pastors even though they had been ordained an average of only three years.

Hoge’s study also found that about one in seven newly ordained men resigns within the first five years, citing loneliness or under-appreciation as their primary reason. The challenges can be overwhelming. They include large deficits, responsibilities in multiple parishes, personality conflicts, and in some cases a lack of support.

How do newly ordained priests meet such challenges?

Father Christopher Beaudet said one of the major challenges facing newly ordained priests is working with pastors whose ecclesiology and sense of the priestly life is quite different from their own. Two years after his ordination for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2000, the 34-year-old priest found himself working — and at times disagreeing — with the new pastor assigned to his suburban Minneapolis parish. At times, such differences led to conflicts and tension, especially since their style of communication also differed. While both men were honest with one another, Father Beaudet said it wasn’t always comfortable.

“The new pastor had a pastoral style and vision for the parish that differed from the previous pastor, in my estimation, and whose approach differed from mine,” said Father Beaudet, who was ordained in 2000. “We definitely had some head-to-head conversations.”

“A celebrant must enjoy complete freedom to choose options which the rite provides him, whether the options are the pastor’s preference or not,” said Father Beaudet. “Conversely, a celebrant of the Mass is not permitted to ad lib when the rite does not provide options for the text presented for the liturgy.”

Father Ron Schmelzer, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in St. Anthony, Minn., has seen both sides. The 61-year-old priest was ordained in 2002.

“Older priests can tend to be more inventive with the liturgy,” said Father Schmelzer, a former educational psychology professor. “They may see the young priests as too dogmatic and not creative thinkers.

“New priests can be overly sensitive and insecure in their profession because they are so new,” said Father Schmelzer. “Sometimes they misread what is being said.

“Sometimes the separation in view of each other’s theologies can get exaggerated,” he continued. “The older guys are merely acting out of their training.”

Saginaw, Mich., Bishop Robert Carlson put the personality clash question into perspective.

“Every time you put two priests together, you’re dealing with two people who have been trained in different eras. There are strata of priests, and each era has great strengths, besides saying Mass every day,” said Bishop Carlson. “If they were ordained in the 1950s, the emphasis was social justice. Today, it’s orthodox teaching.”


Bishop Carlson said it is “crucial” to have strong mentoring programs for the newly ordained.

“You know you’re going to place them into places of responsibility earlier than you should,” he said. “A new priest needs to have a priest mentor that he can go talk to.”

He also emphasized the bishop’s availability to new priests. Bishop Carlson asks that all newly ordained priests spend a day with him twice a year.

“The relationship the bishop has with his seminarians begins before they are ordained,” said Bishop Carlson. “That way, if there is a problem, they call you. I get calls from priests all around the U.S.”

Challenges or not, Father Beaudet cited two sources of support that have helped him deal with conflicts — friendship and prayer.

“My friendships with brother priests sustained me,” said Father Beaudet. “There is a growing sense of unity in the presbyterate — unity on the essentials and a common love for the Church, the liturgy, a common docility toward the magisterium and an excitement and enthusiasm because of that.”

Father Beaudet, who is studying canon law at The Catholic University of America, said that even though he is away from his diocese, his friendships keep him deeply rooted in his vocation. He gathers with priests every time he returns to the Twin Cities.

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, one group of priests has been very purposeful about offering such mutual support. Called the Companions of Christ, they consist of a group of 17 diocesan priests who live in fraternities of three or four members. They share a home, morning prayer, evening meals, monthly Eucharistic adoration and an annual retreat and summer conference.

Father Michael Becker, pastor of St. Michael’s parish in St. Michael, Minn., and a Companion of Christ, found this priestly support enormously helpful in a difficult first assignment.

“The pastor thought differently than I on key doctrinal issues, and that caused tension,” said Father Becker, 40. “We tried to build a bridge and to work together on a mission for Christ cordially, but at times there were definitely differences, and stress came with that. I found the Companions helpful, as well as the consolation I received from the Holy Spirit in my daily prayer life.”

Father Becker said that the Companions of Christ offer both spiritual and pastoral support.

“The Companions of Christ is a group of men striving for an ideal to live a holy, prayerful life,” said Father Becker. “They strengthen and support me and hold me accountable in that journey.”

The Companions offer practical support as well, sharing ideas for homilies, advice on how to deal with staff, and pastoral wisdom.

“I appreciate hearing their ideas so that I’m not alone on an island,” said Father Becker.

‘He Carries You’

Newer priests cite the importance of an active spiritual life in facing the challenges.

“We had nearly perpetual Eucharistic adoration at our parish,” said Father Beaudet. “I found that to be enriching.”

“Some guys get so caught up in the administrative side of things and the busy-ness that they don’t make prayer a priority,” said Father Gemme. “I couldn’t do what I do without a strong prayer life rooted in the Eucharist. For a newly ordained priest, his spiritual health is critical.

“I can’t preach if I have nothing to give,” Father Gemme added. “When you pray, you stay faithful to your promises, and God sustains and strengthens you.”

Although a priest has much to learn, as a priest of Jesus Christ he also has much to offer, Fr. Beaudet said.

“A pastor cannot reduce his assistant to another ‘professional minister’ on his staff without doing damage to their priestly fraternity,” said Father Beaudet. “It is important for a parochial vicar to be treated as an equal by his pastor, at least when it comes to sharing in the dignity and fraternity of the priesthood.”

“Some [priests] quit, but the first thing that goes is their prayer life,” said Father Gemme. “There is a correlation between the prayer life of a priest and his ability to function as a priest.

“The more we make it about Jesus Christ, the more he carries and sustains you. If a (priest) is going to regular confession and adoration, if he has a prayer life and prays the office, he’s going to be okay,” he said. “If he doesn’t do that and thinks of himself as some kind of glorified social worker, he’ll probably fail because he’s making it more about himself than about Jesus Christ.”

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Current Events; General Discusssion; Ministry/Outreach; Religion & Culture
    Tim Drake is based
in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
1 posted on 01/09/2006 1:22:58 PM PST by NYer
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To: american colleen; Lady In Blue; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; ...
There is a correlation between the prayer life of a priest and his ability to function as a priest.

Understatement of the new year!

2 posted on 01/09/2006 1:25:01 PM PST by NYer (Discover the beauty of the Eastern Catholic Churches - freepmail me for more information.)
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To: NYer
“Older priests can tend to be more inventive with the liturgy,” said Father Schmelzer, a former educational psychology professor. “They may see the young priests as too dogmatic and not creative thinkers.

...said Bishop Carlson[:] “If they were ordained in the 1950s, the emphasis was social justice. Today, it’s orthodox teaching.”

Sounds like we're going in the right direction.

3 posted on 01/09/2006 1:31:03 PM PST by ClearCase_guy
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To: NYer

The one thing the article didn't mention was the laity praying for their priests. I can not stress enough praying, by name, for each priest in your (plural your) parish, and in the parish next door to you. This both strengthens the priests and strengthens your own love of the Church.
4 posted on 01/09/2006 1:42:11 PM PST by Talking_Mouse (Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just... Thomas Jefferson)
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To: NYer

Fr. Gemme is Pastor at my Uncle's Parish and did my cousin's wedding.

The first thing he did when he got to St. Bernadettes' was put the Tabernacle back where it belongs then stop that stupid redundant hand holding.

Before it looked like a Unitarian Church, now (at least more so than before) it looks less like a suburban prayer barn and more like a Catholic Church.

He has a wonderful Marian Devotion.....hmmm orthodox and Marian and a good Priest....could they be related???

5 posted on 01/09/2006 1:42:55 PM PST by Cheverus
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To: Cheverus
"orthodox and Marian and a good Priest"

His parishoners are fortunate!
6 posted on 01/09/2006 1:56:43 PM PST by voiceinthewind
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To: voiceinthewind; Cheverus
Let's all pray for him . . . sounds like he could use the help. That's a BIG job to fall right into out of school!

(our archdiocese has a mentoring program for all our seminarians, both while they are in seminary and upon their ordination. It's a great program and it really helps everybody - priests and parishioners and the diocese. We loved our seminarian so much . . . we were THRILLED to get him back as our parochial vicar when our former vicar got his own parish.)

7 posted on 01/09/2006 3:05:46 PM PST by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of Ye Chase, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: Theoden; Straight Vermonter

8 posted on 01/13/2006 6:50:17 PM PST by Coleus (IMHO, The IVF procedure is immoral & kills many embryos/children and should be outlawed)
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To: Talking_Mouse

Our diocese has a calendar with a different priest to be prayed for each day.

Our family tries to pray for these priests at meal time.

9 posted on 01/13/2006 7:17:30 PM PST by Straight Vermonter (John 6: 31-69)
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To: Coleus

Thanx for the ping.

10 posted on 01/13/2006 7:18:13 PM PST by Straight Vermonter (John 6: 31-69)
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To: Straight Vermonter

That is a great idea.

11 posted on 01/13/2006 9:08:32 PM PST by Talking_Mouse (Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just... Thomas Jefferson)
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