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Bishop McManus and priests share joys, challenges

Posted By December 11, 2014 | 6:51 pm | Featured Article #1
Bishop McManus speaks at celebrate Priesthood! event.
Bishop McManus speaks at celebrate Priesthood! event.

By Tanya Connor

Evangelization and catechesis of their people, and their own guidance, spiritual renewal and retirement needs, were among concerns priests raised with Bishop McManus in small group meetings this fall.
In an interview with The Catholic Free Press Monday, the bishop also spoke briefly about the annual pew count and gave updates about pastoral planning and mergers in the Brookfields, Gardner and Barre.
Bishop McManus held four gatherings with priests in different places in the diocese in October and November. The gatherings were prompted by a concern brought up at the presbyteral council meeting last December. He said  that some priests felt they did not have the opportunity to meet with him in a small group; they had no forum to share the joys and challenges of their ministry.
Since he came to the diocese 10 years ago he has had open forums with priests once or twice, but those were open to the whole diocese, he said.
This fall more than 80 of the diocese’s 120 active priests attended one of the informal gatherings, at which the bishop made introductory remarks, then took questions. A few common concerns emerged, he said.
The priests recognized the need for the new evangelization, noting how quickly Catholics are swept up in the “tsunami of secularization,” he said. Because many families are busy with children’s activities, their commitment to church has taken a back seat, he said. There is a decline in Mass attendance, baptisms, confirmations, and sacramental marriages. Couples, many of whom are free to marry in the Church, are living together, not marrying until they are older or having “destination weddings” in exotic places instead of in church, he said.
The bishop asked how effectively the Church is passing on the faith through catechetical programs, and how schools and parishes could be agents of evangelization.
He noted that good things are going on through Marriage Encounter, the Cursillo and John XXIII movements, and youth ministry, which can be an opportunity for youth to grow in the Christian life.
The priests discussed having in local mentoring programs for the newly ordained and preparation programs for those about to become pastors for the first time, he said.
Bishop McManus said he was pleased the priests were also concerned about their own spiritual renewal.
“I think all the priests realized most of the priests are by themselves … and they feel, in their busyness,” that focus on their own spiritual life is compromised, he said.
He said he talked to them about the importance of a daily Mass, rosary and private prayer, and confession, spiritual direction and their annual retreat. And, he noted, they are obliged to pray the Divine Office.
“I was very happy to learn many, if not most, of the priests realized those types of spiritual practices are important,” he said.
The priests were also concerned about where they can go when they retire if they don’t have their own place, Bishop McManus said. There was a fear that the diocese would walk away from them and that they would be isolated if they lived in a rectory with a busy pastor, he said.
The bishop indicated that one thing that contributed to this was his decision to limit the number of independent living apartments for priests at Southgate at Shrewsbury. He said one reason he made the decision was financial. And, he said, some priests would not want to go there. Some might want to live in another part of the diocese.
The diocese is looking for alternatives, he said.
There are plans to hold an annual fundraiser to help provide for retired priests, he said. This year’s reception, called “Celebrate Priesthood!” was held in October.
“I assured them – among the dioceses of New England, we have one of the best” policies for retired priests, Bishop McManus said. “We talked very frankly.” He said he thought the priests were reassured.
“I was very pleased with the tenor of the meetings,” he said. “The frankness … I’m in admiration of the commitment of our priests to serving the people in the Diocese of Worcester.”
He told the priests such gatherings will be held periodically, he said. He said he will look to the presbyteral council to give him direction about how they might respond to concerns raised in these gatherings.
Bishop McManus said he is not making public the statistics from the October pew count of people attending Masses throughout the diocese on a particular weekend. He said he gave them to Elizabeth A.  Marcil, chairwoman of the Diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee, and to the deans to share with other priests in their deaneries.
“I look at the figures – that they’re indicative and not definitive,” he said, noting that there is an ebb and flow of attendance. But, he said, there is much work to be done to bring people back to practicing the faith.
Speaking of pastoral planning, Bishop McManus said, “Right now we’re looking at the Brookfields.” No decision has been made to merge parishes or close buildings, he said.
Father Richard A. Jakubauskas is administrator, and Father Donald C. Ouellette associate pastor, of St. Joseph Parish in North Brookfield and St. John the Baptist Parish in East Brookfield. When Father David B. Galonek, pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish, retired for medical reasons, the bishop said, he appointed Father Patrick Ssekyole administrator. The parish has Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in West Brookfield and St. Mary Oratory in Brookfield.
Bishop McManus said the priests were asked to fill out profiles of the pastoral demands at the parishes for the Pastoral Planning Committee to study.
He said the planning committee being formed in Gardner is to submit to him before summer three possible names for the new parish to be established there July 1.
He accepted the recommendation of the Gardner pastoral planning committee to merge the four parishes, he said.
The two main worship sites are to be Holy Spirit and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary churches. St. Joseph’s and Sacred Heart of Jesus  are to be closed for regular sacramental use. It will be up to the new pastor whether to use them for special occasions such as funerals and devotions, he said.
In Barre a capital campaign to help with St. Francis of Assisi Parish’s debt is going well, Bishop McManus said. He said Father James B. Callahan, the pastor, is now living in the rectory of St. Thomas-a-Becket, which was merged with St. Joseph’s last year to form the new parish. The bishop said the rectory was renovated and blessed and that St. Joseph’s rectory is up for sale. Both church buildings are still used, he said.
The Whitman Road rectory of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, formerly the rectory of Notre Dame/St. Joseph Parish, is also for sale, Bishop McManus said.