BRIGHTON — Over 100 priests, some ordained just this year and others more than 50 years ago, along with seminarians gathered with Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley for an evening of fraternity and prayer at St. John’s Seminary on Aug. 4, the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.
"In the human heart there is a great hunger, hunger for meaning, hunger for mercy, hunger for God. The priest in his ministry, in the halls, in the confessional, at the altar offers the objects of those hungers," Archbishop O'Malley said, addressing his brother priests and seminarians.
"The icon is an image of the invisible, which makes the invisible present," he said. "In the Catholic Church the most important icon of all is the priest."
St. John, a French priest ordained in 1815, was a man of “limited capacities” but “great spiritual insight” who was an icon for many, said the archbishop. St. John was drafted into the army while a seminarian and became lost on his way to meeting the other troops. He was accused of being a draft dodger and was forced to go into hiding.
"From a human point of view he didn't have a lot to offer," said Archbishop O'Malley.
But in his last 40 years of parish ministry, 100,000 people came to see him preach, and he spent 14 hours a day hearing confessions, he added.
"His life and ministry transformed a parish where people had stopped going to church, where there was great religious ignorance and where the people were in constant pursuit of pleasure -- not terribly different from our current landscape. Prayer and repentance and teaching and preaching and the Sacrament of Penance transformed the parish," he said.
St. John once said that if we only understood the priesthood, we would die of love, he added.
Archbishop O’Malley closed by encouraging the priests and seminarians to love and to pray.
"Only if we pray, will we begin to love, and only if we love, will we be able to be icons of the Good Shepherd," he said.
"We hope this will be the start of the kinds of events we'll have together in the future," said Father William Kelly, recently appointed director of The Office for Pastoral Support and Ongoing Formation. The office, formerly called the Pastoral Institute, runs a yearly spiritual retreat, and educational programs for archdiocesan priests.
Father Kelly along with Father Dan Hennessey, assistant vocation director for the archdiocese, came up with the idea for the gathering, also meant to honor St. John, Father Kelly said.
Upcoming days of prayer and workshops on different topics are also planned, he added.
"It's a great day to celebrate the gift of the priesthood for the Church and to be together as priests," said Father Hennessey.
Father John Currie, vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Norwood and assistant director of the Vocations Office, said hopefully seminarians would be inspired by the priests they met and the priests would be encouraged by those studying at the seminary.
"The idea of priestly fraternity was appealing to me," Father Ken Cannon, pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Hopkinton, said about the event. Boston priests do not often have the opportunity to all gather together, he added.
Michael Farrell is a seminarian who is studying at St. Charles Boromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where the archdiocese sends seminarians for undergraduate studies. Farrell said he does not often have the chance to “touch base” or even meet priests in Boston. The evening was a good opportunity to meet those he will later serve with.
"It's great to meet priests who have helped inspire my vocation -- directly or indirectly," he added.