Feb. 2, 2016 marked our 57th anniversary to the priesthood. Part of my class was ordained at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross by Cardinal Cushing and the other half by Bishop Jeremiah Minihan at Holy Name in West Roxbury.
This was the beginning of our journey. Over the years we have celebrated thousands of Masses, baptisms, weddings and funerals. We have prepared people for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. We have brought the sacraments to the sick and visited hospitals and nursing homes. We have taught in Catholic schools, high schools and even college.
We met many people in class and committees. We helped build a school and put on an addition to a church. It was a great experience bringing others closer to Christ and witnessing the Church grow.
I really enjoyed teaching. Many in my family were educators. One of the methods that Jesus used in teaching the Gospel was telling stories. He would take a real life situation and apply it to eternal life. Stories were always easy to remember and there was always a gray area where the listener could accept them as true or refuse to do so and remain in the darkness.
Children love them and towards the end of our active ministry I would tell them stories about the saints. I still think the story about St. Nicholas, the real Santa Claus, was one of their favorites. Stories about American saints -- St. Elizabeth Seton, Mother Cabrini, St. Patrick and St. Bernadette -- always held their attention. Most of the saints faced many of the problems that we face today.
For several years the CYO sponsored band, drum and bugle, and color guard competitions. On an average weekend, over 3000 students would compete for the trophies. It was exciting and the competition gave them a chance to develop friendships. It also kept them attached to the Church and off the streets.
Chaplains in high school had a long day. Classes in the morning, Mass for students and faculty. At 3 p.m. most of the students would go home. The chaplain's activities were just beginning, with athletics events, religious events, school plays and concerts. The students wanted you there. The biggest fundraiser was Beano.
You had to keep up with the times. Your own education was important. I was fortunate enough to attend sabbaticals at the University of Notre Dame and Seaton Hall University.
Lecturers from all over the world, biblical scholars and liturgists would make their presentations. They opened up an entire new world for you and your vision of the priesthood expanded.
The clergy shortage was just the beginning. Some of your formal duties were taken over by lay people who did a great job. A group of laymen helped Nativity Parish in Merrimac double in size. They were bankers, architects, craftsmen, fundraisers and it was their parish. They did a remarkable job and that parish and town has grown.
When we were first ordained there was plenty of help and support with the sisters and other assistants. Now times have changed. Parishes are clustering and becoming one. What support does the priest have?
Several years ago many of the priests in the Merrimack Valley would go to Immaculate Conception Parish in Newburyport. Father Bob Connors would host a supper for all of us in the area. It gave us a chance to have a good meal (we had no cooks), great conversation and support. It became one of the highlights of the week, priestly fellowship.
When I retired, Father Louis Bourgeois kept a group going on Saturday night at Danversport Yacht Club. Sometimes he called it the Romeo Club: Retired Old Men Eating Out. It was a great time to get together and have a meal. We enjoyed the company and were home in time to see the Red Sox.
Now I live at Regina Cleri but I am still able to go out and help on a weekend. It is also very nice for people to come up after Mass and say, "Father I know you're retired but thank you for coming today so that we can have Mass."
These are a few thoughts that I have after 57 years in the priesthood. You meet a lot of wonderful people who help you along your journey.
One person said, "Father relax, the first 57 years are the hardest."
FATHER HENRY CUNNEY IS A SENIOR PRIEST OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON. IN ADDITIONAL TO NUMEROUS PARISH ASSIGNMENTS, INCLUDING SERVING AS PASTOR IN MERRIMAC AND NAHANT, FATHER CUNNEY ALSO SERVED AS A HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE CAMPUS CHAPLAIN.
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