In the middle of many of these celebrations is the parish priest -- pastor or parochial vicar -- who knows the family, always has a smile and a kind word, and sometimes a funny story. When he leaves to serve at another parish, it really is a loss.
The "Official" section of The Pilot is usually on the left side of page 2, a small column, approximately two-and-a-half inches wide and five inches long. This is where clergy changes and moves are officially announced. In a recent issue of the paper, the Official section covered almost the entire second page. It's that time of year. On June 1, most of the 45 priests listed there began a new assignment. A few will begin their assignments in July. Five pastors will shepherd Phase IV collaboratives, another is stepping in to a Phase III collaborative. And the Phase I collaborative of St. Jerome and Immaculate Conception parishes in Weymouth will welcome Bishop John Dooher, Auxiliary Bishop for the South Region, as their new pastor. Bishop Dooher has been in residence in Weymouth so this is familiar territory for him, and he is a familiar face for parishioners. Assisting Bishop Dooher will be Father John Ronaghan, who moved from administrator of St. Mary Parish in Randolph, to parochial vicar in Weymouth. Father Tom Macdonald was ordained in 2013. All of his priestly service has been in collaboratives. His first assignment as parochial vicar was in the Phase II Dorchester Collaborative of St. Ann and St. Brendan parishes, and this month he moved to another Phase II collaborative -- the parishes of St. Agnes, Middleton, and St. Rose in Topsfield.
Like Father Macdonald, four of the nine newly ordained priests will begin their priestly ministry in a collaborative -- one in each of the four collaborative phases. Father Huan Ngo will serve in the Phase I Lynn collaborative as they begin their second year implementing their local pastoral plan. Father Matt Conley is serving in the Watertown collaborative -- Sacred Heart and St. Patrick parishes -- a Phase IV collaborative that was inaugurated less than two weeks after his ordination. There's a lot of moving, a lot happening!
June is a busy month all around -- and not without emotion. Families celebrate graduations, and some parishes still have First Communions and confirmations scheduled. These are milestone moments. In the middle of many of these celebrations is the parish priest -- pastor or parochial vicar -- who knows the family, always has a smile and a kind word, and sometimes a funny story. When he leaves to serve at another parish, it really is a loss. To say that there is grieving involved is, in some cases, no exaggeration.
Feelings of sadness and loss go both ways. Last month the Pastoral Planning Office facilitated meetings between visitors from the Archdiocese of Chicago and collaboratives pastors from Phases I, II, and III. Several of the pastors spoke tenderly about how hard it was to leave a parish and the people they loved, and move to a new place with a new mode of leadership. Coming in as the "new guy" isn't easy. Parishioners have to learn one new name and one new face. The new priest has to get to know a new staff and new parishioners. If he is serving in a collaborative, the number of new faces is multiplied by the number of parishes. And nothing can be taken for granted. The "route" of the entrance procession, from sacristy to sanctuary, and where the liturgical ministers sit can vary from parish to parish. How is it done here? Is there music at every liturgy? Are announcements read? When? By whom? How many verses of the recessional are usually sung? These seem like such little things -- and surely they are -- but they are all part of the learning curve for the new priest. And, sooner or later, he may want to modify some practices. The Church has rubrics, and sacred, foundational texts, but beyond the scope of these documents, there is "wiggle room." Some things may change. Change can be hard. During these times of transition, excitement, and yes, some sadness, it is important for the new priests and the new parishioners to presume the best and pray for open hearts and open minds. Let's see where the Holy Spirit takes us.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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