Archbishop concludes initial meetings with priests

"I would like to meet with each priest of the diocese. This is something I was able to do in the [Virgin] Islands. Of course, there I had as many priests as I now have auxiliary bishops." When the laughter of the priests subsided, Archbishop O'Malley then began the second of his meetings with priests of the archdiocese on Sept. 5 at Immaculate Conception Church in Malden.

The format of this meeting, as well the one held at St. Elizabeth in Milton on Sept. 2 and the final one at St. Ann in Wayland on Sept. 8, was the same. The priests gathered with their new archbishop for midday prayer, they assembled in the meeting hall of the parish, Archbishop O’Malley spoke for about 20 minutes and then remained for about a half-hour for questions and comments.

The Malden meeting was the largest of three. Father Richard Mehm, the pastor of the host parish as well as dean of the Medford vicariate, said “we set up for 300 priests and I noticed maybe five empty chairs.” As reported last week, some 250 attended the meeting at Milton and approximately 200 attended the final meeting at Wayland.

The archbishop’s talk focused the priests on some key areas of responsibility, acknowledging that there are trials and difficulties for all in the archdiocese, and no less for priests.

He urged the priests to be diligent in their present duties and to be especially attentive to the main source of their support — their own personal prayer lives.

Citing the need for fraternal support among priests, he noted that this was especially true when there are so many priests who live alone. “We need to be attentive to one another. We need to minister to one another.”

"I am not holding up the 'workaholic' as the model for priests." The archbishop stressed that there must be a balance among the various aspects of priestly life: work, prayer, relaxation, hobbies, and physical well being.

The archbishop addressed the crucial issue of vocations — both to the priesthood and to the married life. He reminded the priests that they are vocation directors — usually the first examples of priestly life who inspire others to consider the call to priestly ministry. At the same time, priests have a crucial role to play in the promotion of the other vocation crucial to the Church, namely, marriage. He asked his priests to be generous in their “remote preparation — in schools and religious education programs, and proximate preparation as couples come to celebrate their weddings.” With a widespread “culture of divorce,” young, recently married couples also need our support and encouragement.

Reminding the priests that there are many good people in the parishes, the archbishop urged them to involve the laity, especially in parish councils and on finance boards.

He also offered encouragement to his priests, reminding them that, in spite of the crisis we presently face, there is a great history of priestly service in Boston. He noted not only in the parishes and various agencies, but also in “educational settings and in health care, in the service of the Holy See and the episcopal conference, in the Society of St. James the Apostle and the military services.” In these and many other places, the priests of the archdiocese have rendered great service and that we can and must still do so.

At both Malden and Wayland the questions and concerns the priests expressed to their archbishop tended to be along similar lines. There was a call for wide consultation of the priests when important decisions are to be made, perhaps a reconfiguring of the presbyteral council.

A special concern of the priests was the status and condition of those priests who are presently on “administrative leave.” The concerns expressed interest not only in their canonical or civil rights, but as much in their personal needs, their housing and their emotional and psychological states. The archbishop indicated that he was aware of the problems being faced by these priests and offered assurances that there would be extra effort to resolve the issues.

There was clearly a hopeful attitude about these meetings. The priests seemed to take to their new archbishop and were put at ease with his forthright presentation, his willingness to listen and respond, and his quick wit and ability to weave his own personal and pastoral experiences with the points he wanted to present.

Concluding as he had begun on a prayerful note, Archbishop O’Malley admitted that he was humbled to lead the archdiocese. He asked all of us priests, “When you mention my name at each Mass, please make it a fervent prayer. I promise to lift you up each day in my prayer, as well.”