Cardinal reflects on 40 years of priesthood

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley is pictured with volunteers of the Centro Catolico Hispano in Washington D.C. in this undated file photo. The cardinal ministered to newly arrived immigrants Centro Catolico during his early years as a priest. Pilot photo/Courtesy CardinalSeansBlog.org

SOUTH END -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley marked the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Aug. 29. He was ordained a priest of the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin at St. Augustine Church in Pittsburgh by Bishop John Bernard McDowell in 1970.

The Pilot spoke with Cardinal O'Malley Sept. 1 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross about his vocation to the priesthood and his early years as a priest.

Q: Your Eminence, what inspired you to become a priest?

A: Many different factors. One was the example of the priests in my life: my uncle, my parish priest. Certainly the Capuchin friars, who were a wonderful example to me in my desire to give my life to the service of Christ and his people, loomed very large in my heart as a child. It was just always part of who I was.

Q: Was there a particular moment that you clearly saw your call?

A: Well, I always talk of one moment when my father took me to a Capuchin monastery because my brother was making a retreat there. We met an old friar who was working in the fields there, in the garden hoeing and planting, and after a long conversation with him, returning home my father's words were "That's the happiest man in the world." I reflected on that, that he doesn't have a nice car, a beautiful wife, fine clothes or a fancy house, but truly he was very happy and filled with peace and joy. I thought what a wonderful way to be happy. It did make me think that my life would be happy that way too and I could bring that happiness to other people, the way that holy priest did.

Q: How old were you then?

A: I was probably 8 or 9 years old.

Q: What were your expectations when you were ordained? What did you think your life was going to be like?

A: I had thought I was going to go to one of our missions. That was changed because of the need for priests to work with the immigrants in Washington D.C. I ended up spending my entire priesthood there serving the same community. That was an extraordinary experience because in 20 years you get to know a lot of people. Because it was a very young community, an important part of what I did was catechizing and preparing people for baptism, for weddings, those kinds of events in people's lives that are so important to strengthen families and deepen their commitment to the Church and using that as a special moment of grace to connect people to the community of faith. During my years as a priest one of my great joys has been the Sacrament of Penance. I was one of the confessors at the cathedral, which was one of the centers of confession. So I spent many hours in confessions every Saturday. That was a very special privilege.

A lot of the work as a priest was just works of mercy and organizing programs for immigrants who were coming here; many needed to learn the language, or get a job, or needed medical attention. So it was a time of a lot of energy in the community. I worked with a wonderful cavalry of volunteers and religious who helped us and a lot of wonderful lay people. It was just an extraordinary experience. I cannot imagine doing anything more satisfying or more life-giving than being a priest and serving in that role as people's parish priest. It is always a great joy when I go back to Washington and so many people come up to me and say you baptized me, or you performed our marriage or you gave me my first Communion. It gives me great joy to see these people are still connected to the Church and living their faith and to have been a part of that in an important moment of their lives.

Q: If you had to single out the most important aspect of being a priest, what would it be?

A: Certainly the Eucharist is the center of the priesthood. That is where the priest is most able to serve God's people by making Christ present. The community of faith really gathers around the Eucharist; that is the family table of the Church. It is the most important aspect of being a priest. From the Eucharist comes the strength to be able to go out and do the rest of the mission so that people will be able to discover God's love in the Eucharist.

Q: Can you share one particular moment in these 40 years of priesthood that was especially happy?

A: There are so many it's difficult to narrow it down. I think the happiest moments for a priest are in the celebration of the sacraments.

Q: Can you share with us a difficult moment in those first years?

A: As a priest, the suffering that was brought about because of the wars in Central America and that so many of my people had lost loved ones. Trying to comfort them and help them to find sense in what was happening to them, those are very challenging and difficult moments for a priest. But they are important moments of ministry.

Q: When you were ordained a deacon you promised obedience to the bishop and to live a celibate life. As a friar you also took a vow of poverty. Looking back, how have those vows and promises helped you in your ministry as a priest?

A: I think they give us a freedom to be totally available where the Church needs us to be and I think there is a great freedom in the evangelical councils that make us available for the ministry of service. That is the purpose of them; they are not burdensome. They are something that energizes and facilitates our ministry to God's people.

Q: Who influenced your life as a priest?

A: I think every pope in my lifetime, they have all been so different, each of them made an impact on our lives as Catholics.

The first pope that I met was Paul VI. When I was a young friar I would be called to Rome to be an interpreter at our general chapter. He would always receive the general chapter at a private audience and it was always an extraordinary event because he would address us all so personally. Being Italian he had so many experiences with the Capuchins and so many associations. It was a moving experience.

John Paul II I think captured my imagination and other people's imagination with his strong sense of mission and particularly his dedication to young people and to families. As I read his biographies I came to understand that these were themes in his life as a priest from the time of his ordination and then they blossomed into the wonderful ministry that he did as a pope. I met him also in Washington when he visited in '79. The first time I met him was actually in Mexico, which was his very first trip. That was an extraordinary event. It was my privilege to be with him many, many times over the years, first as a priest, then as a bishop. He was the one who made me a bishop, of course. His great enthusiasm for evangelization, his great confidence and strength that was born of his faith in Christ and Christ's presence in the Church fired all of us and was a source of strength in our own ministry.

I also knew Pope Benedict XVI as a cardinal; I have always been a great fan of his writing. I think my only disappointment when he was elected pope was that he wouldn't be able to write as many books! But he has continued to teach us and to be the brilliant catechist and teacher that he always has been for the Church. I am anxiously waiting for a document to come out now on the Word of God, which I am sure will be splendid.

As I said, each of the Holy Fathers in my time -- beginning with Pius XII, then John XXIII... John Paul I was so meteoric we never had much of a chance to identify with him -- each of them were so different. Each of them made a special contribution to the life of the Church. You see God's loving providence for the Church. The Office of Peter is of utmost importance for the community of the Church to strengthen our faith and to guide us in the midst of all the philosophical turmoil, ideological turmoil in which we live, to keep us grounded in truth and the Gospel.

Q: Do you think it's harder to heed the call to the priesthood today than it was when you were called?

A: Certainly in today's world and with the greater secularization and after the scandals it does require great strength to respond generously and courageously to a vocation. I think in different times it may have been easier to respond. I think the challenges of the vocation are always there in every generation. Even for the apostles; to leave their families and their life and to follow Jesus was difficult. The priesthood is not meant to be easy; it's about doing difficult things out of love for God and counting on his grace and help to do them.

Q: What would you tell others who may be considering a vocation to the priesthood?

A: I think it's the greatest life. It's challenging, there are moments of difficulty. I cannot imagine any other profession, career, way of life or job that even comes near what is the Catholic priesthood. I think if someone embraces it wholeheartedly it will be a source of joy. Certainly the presence of the priest in people's lives, helps them to experience the pastoral love of the Good Shepherd. What can be greater than that?

Nation
Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Nation
Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

World
Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Local
Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Local
Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Local
Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Local
Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Local
Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

Nation
N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

Nation
U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Nation
Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Nation
Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

World
Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

World
Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

World
Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

World
Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

World
Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

World
Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Nation
Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Nation
Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

World
Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Nation
Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Nation
Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Nation
Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Nation
Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Nation
Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Nation
Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

World
Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

World
Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

World
Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Nation
Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

World
Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Nation
Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

World
Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

World
What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

World
Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...