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Report of a Meeting in the Archdiocese of Chicago

Concerning Priests Living and Serving in One-Man Houses


Question 1: What three changes in parish life or structure would dramatically improve the quality of your mission and ministry to your people and the quality of your life (as a priest)?


- public housing for priests. In other words, develop ways of clustering priests, so that they can live together. This would entail some dramatic changes in the way we live together. It would not be as “guests” of the local pastor. Everyone would need to have ownership for the living arrangements.

- non-site housing for priests. It is always difficult to “live above the store.” It is especially difficult if you are the only one on top of the store. All calls, all requests come your way. If clustered housing is not available, at least non-site housing should be.

- serious office hours. Twenty-four hour office availability (not emergency availability) is unrealistic and unhealthy. Clearly posted and followed office hours would be helpful.

- re-do Mass schedules. Mass schedules continue to be problematic. Re-doing them would help immensely. For example, on a set day every week there is no scheduled Mass or funeral to accommodate a day off or a day away for the priest. Of course, the difficulty with this is inconsistent patterns in neighboring parishes. So, this must be an area-wide decision and not the decision of a single parish.

- lay ministry training to lead prayer. If laity were trained and able to “pick up the slack,” it would relieve some pressure. At the same time, parishioners need to be educated to the meaning of communal prayer and helped to understand that it does not always mean the presence of a priest.

- a refuge in the rectory. It is important that there be a place that the priest “can get away to.”

- re-work the scheduling of parish meetings. We need to take a close and clear look at the frequency of parish meetings. Are there too many, too often? Another change ought to include re-shaping expectations about the pastor’s presence at all meetings.

- utilize deacons better, more effectively. They need to know that they are on for regularly scheduled ministry, such as baptisms, marriage prep, and wake services. In many places, it seems that diaconal ministry is conducted on an ad hoc basis as the pastor makes particular requests. It would be far better for deacons (and pastors) to recognize that deacons are regularly available and assigned to work.

- utilize volunteers and parish council members better. Priests need to question themselves regularly: how well am I using the structures and the people who are already in place? At times, pastors need an institutional challenge or nudge to check this out.

- business managers in one-man houses. This is a “must have” for a priest who is serving alone. The difficulty is that it is more likely that the parish with one priest is less able to afford a business manager. As consequence, the diocese (this goes into question two) may need to re-think parish subsidies so that they include provision for business managers in one-man places. Parish size may determine the “sacramental load,” but it has virtually no effect on administrative obligations. In other words, no matter the size of the parish, the same kind of administrative oversight is required for finances, buildings, personnel, and the implementation of diocesan policies.


Question 2: What three changes of diocesan policy or the establishment of policy would have the same effect of dramatically improving your ability to serve and the quality of your life?


- determine reasonable expectations for the availability of Mass. It is the diocese and not the local parish that needs to say what is a reasonable expectation. For example, if daily Mass is not offered at St. X on a given day but St. Y is a five-minute drive away (and most drive to X and Y in any case), is it reasonable to say that people have access to Mass? Sunday Eucharist availability presents its own set of questions. An added factor is accommodation to different languages and cultures. These questions and concerns must be considered at a diocesan level. Their resolution would have a dramatic effect in helping priests who serve in one-man parishes.

- determine reasonable expectations for “special occasion” Masses. Again, this is a matter that can only be dealt with on a diocesan level. Included in the category of “special occasion” would be, for example, quincinieras, special school Masses, devotional groups and pious associations.

- funeral Masses substituting for daily Mass. It might be possible to follow a pattern that has been adopted elsewhere of transferring the daily Mass to a funeral. Parishioners are alerted that on a given day when a funeral is celebrated, that is the daily Mass in the parish. That kind of decision, it seems, needs to be made at a diocesan level. [Editorial note: it seems to me that what is in play is reverence and regard for the Eucharist not only in this particular question but in the other suggestions about the availability of Masses. The mere multiplication of Masses does not signify greater reverence or devotion. In fact, the opposite can happen. Cutting back on the quantity of Masses may be instrumental in upgrading the quality of participation and presiding.]

- explanation of housing alternatives. There are current policies concerning the housing of priests. There are alternatives already in place. It seems tat many priests are unaware. Diocesan communication of what is in place now would be helpful.

- consider a “universal” day off for priests. The diocese, according to this suggestion, would follow the pattern of other dioceses (e.g. Seattle) and establish a single day off for all the priests and determine that no Mass would be offered on that day.

- a letter of policies and procedures from the Cardinal to deal with the growing complexities of one-man houses and fewer priests. The letter might follow the pattern of Bishop Griffin in Columbus, although its specific contents would be quite different because of the Chicago situation. The best modus procedendi would be the following: (1) the Cardinal drafts a letter with policies and procedures; (2) he mails the draft to all the priests of the diocese and asks them to consult with their representative on the presbyteral council; (3) the presbyteral council discusses the draft and the suggested emendations and communicates these to the Cardinal; (4) he re-writes the letter in light of the consultation.

- develop a specific and consistent inventory of questions to be pursued in the annual meeting of a priest and his dean. There is currently some inconsistency in the quality of meetings of deans with priests. Especially for priests in one-man houses, it is crucial that someone (in this case, the dean) check in with the priest concerning specific areas, e.g. his physical health, his spiritual direction, his continuing formation, his rest and relaxation. Again, developing this pattern and procedure belongs to diocesan-wide structures.

- expand the diaconate’s range to a diocesan level. Currently, the diaconate seems to be very much parish-based. It would be better, especially for priests serving in one-man houses, if it had more flexibility and had a diocesan range and were not so limited to a particular parish.

- adopt a policy of no weddings at Mass. This is the policy in Milwaukee. This would mean the possibility of utilizing deacons more extensively in marriage preparation and celebration without the (incorrectly) perceived sense of a “second-class” wedding, if celebrated by a deacon and not a priest. If a couple wished to be married at Mass, Sunday Eucharist or a regularly scheduled Mass would be possible.

- delegate deacons, retired priests, or lay ministers to conduct cemetery services. It places a heavy burden on a priest to go out to the cemetery (often located at some distance) to repeat prayers which he has just prayed in the church. This consumes a half day. Sometimes, if there is a second funeral, he cannot go in any case.

- establishment of a diocesan clearinghouse for parochial assistance. There is no centralized place to find information about available priests and deacons to supplement the ministry of a priest serving in a one-man house. These groups include: senior clergy, religious, externs, priests serving at the seminaries and in the tribunal, deacons. To have names and availability located in a central office would be very helpful. These supplemental ministers could be called upon to serve ad hoc, e.g. for Sunday Mass or a funeral. But, if available, they could free a priest to do his retreat or pursue a study week or take a vacation.


Question 3: What three changes which you could effect in your ministry and life would go far to improve the quality of your ministry and life?


- change in attitude. Priests need to reconfigure what is truly urgent and important. Often, our own sense of priorities is loose and indeterminate. Thinking out what matters most would be very helpful.

- learn to delay responses. Almost everyone approaches us with great urgency and sometimes, with complex requests that contain many consequences. If we can learn how to delay our response, we will be better able to respond well.

- develop consensus among ourselves. As policies and new approaches are developed to respond to changing circumstances. It will be very important that priests are individually and collectively committed to implementation. We need to be willing to give support to new directions.