Father Cloherty has added a new role to his extensive and impressive resume: senior priest in residence in the Lynn Catholic Collaborative.
The bumper sticker speaks volumes: "God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions." After just a few minutes with Father Frank Cloherty it is obvious that this is not just a slogan, it is his prayer. Time with Father Cloherty is time well spent.
Father Francis Cloherty was ordained February 1962 and has served in many parishes in the archdiocese, north, south, suburban, and urban, by the shore and near the mills. He has been a parochial vicar, pastor, administrator, and Vicar Forane (a priest appointed by the bishop to promote a common pastoral activity in an area of the diocese and provide spiritual and pastoral counsel to priests in that area). Father Cloherty has added a new role to his extensive and impressive resume: senior priest in residence in the Lynn Catholic Collaborative. The collaborative, made up of St. Mary and Sacred Heart Parishes, is one of the 12 Phase I collaboratives of Disciples in Mission, inaugurated in June 2013. Father Cloherty was assisting at St. Ann Parish, Quincy, and moved to Lynn in November at the invitation of Father Brian Flynn, the pastor of the collaborative.
There was no real job description, but he describes a "defined role." The invitation came with two requests: that Father Cloherty be a sounding board for ideas, and that he would be fully part of the parish. He celebrates about five Masses a week, including a weekend Mass, and is available to fill in as needed. Father Cloherty is surprised at how easy it is to work with Father Flynn. When contemplating the move, his biggest concern was if he would be useful. That seems resolved. Father Cloherty laughingly said that he hears from folks, "Father Brian talks about me behind my back -- in a positive way -- and that's always nice to know."
Communication is key to all working arrangements, doubly so when working and living together. Father Cloherty is pleased, "We're on the same page -- we don't necessarily start out on the same page, but we end up on the same page. And, I always defer to the pastor. You have to learn to be part of a team." Part of his work in the collaborative is with ECCO, the Essex County Community Organization.
Father Cloherty says, "The Church has power -- like it or not -- and needs to use it for good." He sees his role as animator, mobilizing parishioners to get involved, inviting people to become leaders.
Father Cloherty is happy in Lynn, describing it as a wonderful city with a beautiful waterfront, good people, and vibrant ecumenical spirit. He likes being around smart people, and, "I like a bit of confusion in my life!" His only regret is the distance now between him and his family, including 30-plus grand nieces and nephews. The clan still gathers, but not as easily as when he was on the south side of the archdiocese.
When discussing challenges, the conversation shifts from collaborative ministry to the aging process. Father Cloherty acknowledges that it is difficult seeing friends face inevitable health issues. He has "all kinds of energy and stamina" and exercises regularly, power walking 30-45 minutes. Setting limits is his challenge. "When can you say you've done enough for the day?" he asks rhetorically. His goal last Lent was setting and keeping limits and he tries to continue this practice. He is a priest of many interests. In June, he resigned as chair of the Archdiocesan Labor Guild to be more available to the collaborative. He participates in an Emmaus group, and his over 30 year commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue has led to writing a book with a rabbi friend.
Asked how long he will remain as the senior priest in residence in the Lynn Collaborative, Father Cloherty shrugs, "Who knows?" He reflects on life from the perspective of 52 years of priestly service, "You're as happy as you want to be -- if you believe in the Resurrection. Sure, there are ups and downs, and some things you can't control, but do you only believe in death? I'm not saying it's easy, but when you give up being the center of things, it's easier. The older you get the more you realize that defining reality is just an illusion. You can't control it all! As you get closer to retirement, everyone wants to be useful but if you insist on defining what that is, you're in for trouble and disappointment."
This senior priest in residence doesn't seem in the least disappointed.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.