It happens. Especially for rookie priests fresh off of holy orders. They spend an average of two years at three different parishes before eventually becoming pastor of their own parish after six years.
At my parish, we recently said goodbye to Father Jonathan, who I often joked had been on borrowed time. As things worked out, his first assignment at St. William was an incredible four years. I feel like our parish in that time became closer knit, but that might also been in part due to other factors. Father Dean and Father Jonathan both came on board when Father Joel moved out of state to a new assignment. I could also say the parish started to feel smaller as a result of my own decision to actually get out into parish life and start serving through various ministries but, somehow I don’t think my observation is restricted to just my experience. I think others in my parish would say similar things, that the vibe of the parish shifted after both Father Jonathan and Father Dean’s arrival.
Each year, dioceses shuffle priests from one parish to another. Our parish has been home to a steady stream of rookie priests and with Father Dean leading the charge as of the past four years, these young men have been entrusted with some wonderful responsibilities and experiences that they take with them to their new assignments.
Short of considering bribing the bish into keeping Father Jonathan any longer – and to be serious here for a moment, we all knew it was time for the next chapter, and to want to keep Father J would have been selfish – I started conjuring up a new project in my mind. Friends who know me well know I am constantly looking for my next project. I decided to enlist the help of friends around the parish to do the following and it’s something that I offer as a suggestion for you as well to do for your priests.
I remember reading a letter some years ago from a mother of a priest. She submitted it to my mother-in-law’s newsletter, Les Femmes. In the Fall 2007 newsletter, the mother encouraged parishioners to please send glowing letters to the diocese to let the bishop know of the positive impact the priest has made on your faith, family, etc. She went on to say that more often than not, the diocese hears more from people who complain or have something negative to say about a priest, especially when they speak the truths of the Faith i.e. contraception, abortion, the HHS Mandate, etc. I figured if we couldn’t keep our priest, we could at least send him to his new assignment with some heartfelt letters from parishioners. I added to it by requesting that friends and parishioners make two copies of their letters, one set for the bishop and one set for the priest to keep as a momento of his time at our parish. I have been honored to do this twice now and hope to make it a tradition of our parish before long.
My challenge to you: If your priest has been recently reassigned and he has helped you grow in the Faith, challenging you when you needed it, or has just been a wonderful influence and family friend, please take the time to let your bishop know. You don’t even have to wait until they move to their new assignment. Get started writing today.