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Reflections of a senior priest -- Father Joseph K. Fagan

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With grit and determination, I adapted to certain human limitations. Since then, my mantra has been: "If He leads you to it, He'll lead you through it."

I was ordained to the priesthood on June 7, 1967. For this, I give credit to my family, schools, and parish community at St. Augustine's in South Boston, which influenced me early on to be drawn to the priesthood.

My first assignment was at St. Richard Parish in Danvers. The pastor, Msgr. John Cusack, was a wonderful mentor and a dedicated priest who taught by example with gentleness and empathy. His empathy for the elderly and concern for the sick influenced me greatly.

In 1970, I left Danvers to join the Society of St. James the Apostle. After completing language school in Peru, I was sent to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where I took the challenge of missionary life with vim and vigor. Unfortunately, only halfway through my five-year commitment, I became ill and had to return to Boston where I would spend the next seven years as a parochial vicar at Holy Ghost Parish in Whitman. It was in this parochial setting that I adjusted to the winds of change occasioned by the Second Vatican Council, and I realized that collaboration with staff and parishioners would be essential in my next assignment.

In October 1979, Father John "Jack" Crowley and I began our team ministry at St. John Chrysostom Parish in West Roxbury. Team ministry demands collaboration and constant communication, and with the help of a facilitator, we were growing and enjoying our ministry together. However, our progress came to a crashing halt in 1981 when Father Jack contracted viral encephalitis. Our parish at St. John's struggled until we were able to form a new team under the leadership of Father Garrett Barry. When my assignment ended in 1985, I went to Rome for a three-month sabbatical.

Upon returning from Rome, I was eager to begin a new assignment at Sacred Heart Parish in Quincy. Within weeks, however, I began to experience terrible back pain that was affecting my gait and balance. At the behest of many doctors, I ultimately decided to have surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. The operation was considered a risk, but I agreed to it because the pain was unbearable. My prayer was that I would have the grace and courage to live with the consequences.

Thankfully, the operation was a success, but it was a long road to recovery. With grit and determination, I adapted to certain human limitations. Since then, my mantra has been: "If He leads you to it, He'll lead you through it." Ultimately, I was able to return to Sacred Heart with the support and love of the pastor, an exceptional friend named Father Cornelius "Neal" Heery. It was at Sacred Heart that I celebrated my silver anniversary of ordination in 1992 and began to sense the need for another change and an opportunity to grow.

In 1993, I began serving as the Parochial Vicar at Immaculate Conception Parish in Stoughton, a culturally diverse parish with vibrant English and Portuguese-speaking communities. My last parish assignment was at St. Lucy in Methuen, where I spent only five months.

I am convinced the Lord saved the best for last when I was asked to be spiritual director at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston. My last 10 years of ministry prepared me to accept an early retirement with my brother priests at Regina Cleri, a residence for senior priests in Boston. Now I have an additional mantra -- the words high above our chapel altar that greet me every morning as we gather to celebrate Mass: "Tu es Sacerdos in Aeternum" -- "You are a Priest Forever."

FATHER FAGAN IS A SENIOR PRIEST OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

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