Boston priests happier than peers, study finds

A study conducted late last year finds that Boston priests are, in general, more content and well-adjusted than many of their peers.

The report, which was issued in early May, contains the results from a Priest Wellness Survey distributed to archdiocesan priests in November 2008 by the Saint Luke Institute of Silver Spring, Md.

The evaluative survey, completed by all dioceses in the U.S., consists of spiritual, psychological, and physical assessments to provide an overall picture of the presbyterate and to help assess the difficulties faced by those who minister in the Church.

Father Stephen J. Rossetti, president of the institute and author of the report, said that overall the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston compare very favorably to the general population on measures of psychological wellness. The results of the survey’s four psychological tests were assessed against a sample group drawn from all U.S. priests.

According to the report, Boston priests, “are more satisfied with their lives, experience more positive affect and are less burned out than the general population.”

“They report less cynical feelings, are less emotionally exhausted, and have higher levels of personal accomplishment,” it also said.

The Boston presbyterate reported exceptionally high levels of satisfaction with priestly life and morale, a good relationship with the archbishop and support for his leadership, as well as a very strong spiritual life and connection with God.

Father Rossetti called the results from the survey’s priestly life and spiritual life sections, “major strengths of the Archdiocese and quite striking,” which he suggests, “is sustaining them and contributing very positively to their sense of well-being and happiness.”

At the same time, their physical health and physical self-care ought to be looked at more closely, wrote Father Rossetti.

“Given the increasing workloads and stress upon a dwindling number of priests, it might be good to stress the importance of self-care,” he suggested.

According to the archdiocese’s director of Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation, Father William Kelly, the report’s “overall strong and positive outcome” is encouraging news and helps identify “areas that we can keep building on.”

Other areas that the reports suggests could be improved are: increasing time for personal prayer and confession, strengthening priestly support and interpersonal relationships and assisting those who might be struggling with their sexuality or commitment to celibacy.

“There is work to be done,” said Father Kelly. “But I think we are starting to see an improved connection between priest self-understanding and the way they lead and serve their people,” he said, calling the Boston presbyterate a good model of leadership of how to live the Catholic faith.

A real commitment to the promises made by priests upon ordination, good prayer life, good health, and good friendships can ensure a happy and healthy lifestyle, he said.

“When any of those start to fall away we have to pay attention because things will start to get out of balance,” said Father Kelly.

“My hope would be that (priests) would look at the places where we are strong and continue to nurture those, and note the places where we have room to grow,” he said, adding that priests should, “take advantage of those insights and put them into place so that we can really serve the Church as fully and wholesomely as we can.”

With the Year of the Priest beginning this month, Father Kelly said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley is hopeful that more priests will get involved with priest support groups and prayer groups--a call he will likely underscore at a convocation of all the priests of the archdiocese scheduled for June 10.

“We look forward to taking a closer look at the results of the survey and to seeing how we can, in a more ongoing way, put (the recommendations) into the general program of care for priests,” said Father Kelly.