Clergy Trust honors priests at Regina Cleri gathering

WEST END -- Under tents set up on the grounds of Regina Cleri, about 250 people gathered on Sept. 15 for "One Mission, Stronger Communities," a dinner to express gratitude for the Archdiocese of Boston's priests and raise funds for the Clergy Trust.

Clergy Trust supports the health and wellness of the over 500 diocesan priests in good standing. It does this through its intentional living program, its dedicated care team, and Regina Cleri, a facility that is home to about 60 retired priests and provides temporary respite care for priests dealing with health issues.

The event was held as part of a larger "Give Thanks for Priests" campaign throughout September to promote prayer for priests, share testimonies about their ministries, and raise funds for their healthcare. According to an announcement partway through the evening, the dinner raised over $1.2 million.

Current and former Regina Cleri residents were able to mingle with other guests, including active priests and their friends and parishioners. Father Bryan Parrish, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Needham, was the master of ceremonies for the event, which was co-chaired by Mary and Stephen Wessling, and Ellen and Brian Walsh.

In remarks to the guests, Mary Wessling said the diocesan priests "have been an integral part of our family faith journey" at St. Agatha Parish in Milton.

"We feel so incredibly blessed and honored to be here to express our gratitude and to show our support for these wonderful men," she said.

Ellen Walsh explained that the proceeds from the dinner, along with the special collections taken in parishes the following weekend, would go toward Clergy Trust.

"So many priests in Brian and my family's lives and numerous others have dedicated themselves to the service of countless people within the archdiocese. This dinner is a way that we can thank, celebrate, and support that dedication," Ellen Walsh said.

After dinner, guests heard "a resident's perspective" from Father John Mulloy, a Regina Cleri resident who described the facility as "a first-class operation."

"Besides what happens here, I know from my brother senior priests living in parishes and in other places on their own, they enjoy the fine outreach services that the Clergy Trust provides for them," Father Mulloy said.

A video was shown featuring Father Gerald Souza, pastor of Ascension Parish in Sudbury; Msgr. Francis Kelly, a resident of Regina Cleri; and Father Christopher Bae, parochial vicar of St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton.

In the video, Father Souza said Clergy Trust "gives me so much confidence to know there are so many people who are caring for me as I try to care for them."

"As much as we try to care for the community, very often, it's the community that cares for us," he said.

Father Bae emphasized that "vocation does not end with retirement."

"You're still a priest, even after your retiring age. To really live out the vocation to its fullest, you need the community, support from one another, so you can die in peace," he said.

Midway through the speaking program, Sharon McNally, a member of the event committee and chair of Clergy Trust's advancement committee, invited the dinner attendees to fill out the forms at their tables. They could write notes of gratitude to Regina Cleri residents, share intentions for the residents to include in their prayers, and make an additional gift to Clergy Trust.

A highlight of the program was the presentation of the St. Joseph Exemplar Opificum Award by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and Mark Vachon, chair of the board of Clergy Trust. Inaugurated last year, this award is given in recognition of dedication to the diocesan priests, commitment to the archdiocese and the mission of the Catholic Church, leadership, professionalism, and willingness to put the needs of others before one's own.

This year's recipient was Father Gerard Petringa, trustee emeritus of the Clergy Trust, who stayed at Regina Cleri himself for one month after undergoing major surgery in April.

Vachon explained that Father Petringa was involved with the Clergy Trust from its beginning 12 years ago, when it was unclear exactly what form it would take. Vachon called Father Petringa "an example to us all," and said that his advocacy for the priests has been "incredibly formative to what the Clergy Trust is all about."

"Your work and leadership on behalf of the Clergy Trust will never be forgotten," Vachon told Father Petringa before presenting him with the award.

In his acceptance remarks, Father Petringa commended Cardinal O'Malley for having the "foresight and courage" to share the responsibility for priests' wellbeing with a lay board of trustees, as Father Petringa suggested in 2006.

He expressed his thanks to all the invited guests and donors to the Clergy Trust.

"What I have done is out of a sense of duty. What you do is out of your love for God and your love for your priests. In my name and in their name, I say thank you and God bless you," Father Petringa said.

The final speaker was Cardinal O'Malley, who spoke about the gift of the priesthood. He noted that in his time as the Archbishop of Boston, he has ordained about 140 men to the priesthood, who are also provided for by the Clergy Trust.

"It's been a very humbling privilege for almost 20 years to be your archbishop, and to see these extraordinary men in so many different ministries, serving the Church here in Massachusetts, in our armed forces, in the missions in South America, and in so many other responsibilities, and to get to know so many of these men who are truly giants of spirituality and of ministry," the cardinal said.