success stories

Posted May 20, 2003

Seven Top Recommendations Made by Priests to Insure the Future Health and Effectiveness of the Priesthood

This is the THIRD of the seven recommendations that will be posted daily on our website. The recommendations come from the study: Evolving Visions of the Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century by Dr. Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger. For further information please e-mail Dr. Dean Hoge at hoge@cua.edu.

Recommendation 3. Separate work space from living space

The priests, both young and old, were clear that offices and living quarters must be separated. Priests are only human, they told us, and, even if you can live with being on call 24 hours a day, you need a place that's private, where you can count on a measure of peace and quiet.

Rectories at one time housed only priests and a housekeeper, but with an increase in lay involvement and with fewer priests, rectories are being used simultaneously as church offices and priests' homes, a combination for which most rectories weren't designed.

Father Don, a 36-year-old priest:

"Get the rectory away from the church buildings. Live away from the office. If this is not possible, the pastor has to strictly enforce privacy. In my first placement I walked downstairs in my pajamas early one morning and found five people from the parish at the kitchen table having breakfast. I was also once accosted by a Right to Life man right in my own kitchen early one morning. Either architecturally design the space for privacy or enforce some boundaries so that the living space can be protected."

Father Eric, age 32, explained some of the difficulties:

"Separate the rectory from the office. The model of the rectory worked in the past, but as soon as you started bringing in staff, lay pastoral ministers, and religious, they have their own place to go to. We should have a capital campaign in the diocese and new rectories should be built, where it maybe is a cluster rectory, where you're bringing in pastors to live together. Some guys may need to live on their own. I don't think that is the healthiest thing because it comes back to a sense of accountability. Get the residence out of the office environment. Again, it will be good for the people, ultimately, in the end. And ultimately I think resentments build up with the others. You get to go home, you don't have to live in this office. We're human. I don't think we have to be this machine that's on/off."

Forty-nine-year-old Father Jack thinks priests need "down time."

"Living above the store, so to speak, is very unhealthy. Our bishop does not believe in priests living in their own homes, and when guys do live on their own somewhere else, if he finds out, he gets very upset. Part of it is, I think, that he just has this old-fashioned theology that the priest needs to be available 100 percent of the time. I don't agree with that. I think it is extremely unhealthy to live right in your rectory. I think we should be allowed to live in homes separate from the rectory office building itself, whether it is on the same grounds or down the street somewhere. It's a big issue today, especially in the context of overwork and everything, and the person needs a real place to go to relax and rest."

The need for privacy does not mean that priests do not want to be available to parishioners. One priest says he carries two beepers, which give him the freedom to have some private time and space while still being accessible. A 36-year-old priest describes his ideal living situation:

"If I were going to have my ideal, I would definitely have my living arrangements on the church grounds. They would definitely be in some way attached to the offices, but a much more distinct and clear break would be made between those two realms. A lot more privacy, no one crosses over into my private space, etc. This is my house, this is where I live. If I want to have my dirty clothes thrown on the floor, so be it. If I want to go downstairs in my bathrobe at night to get a glass of milk, I could do it and the entire parish doesn't have to know about it. I know some guys want to live completely off the grounds, but I wouldn't want to live that far away."

A 40-year-old religious priests spoke of the benefits of community life:

"We're very public people. Here we really had to insist upon, and we educated our people, that from 5:00 in the evening to 6:30, the friars are just not available. We have our meditation period from 5:00 to 5:45, we have our evening prayer and our dinner. We need that much each day. And so we communicated it to them. When I first arrived, we ate at this table [in the rectory], and we lived down here. We came in and had our coffee in the morning and the staff was walking right through. So we moved up. And in our life, there is a cloister. There is a section where we do not have outsiders come in unless there is permission. So just being able to create ourselves a space. We've finally been able to do it here. It's very important, where you can come down in shorts and a t-shirt and just relax and read the paper without the world walking through. And we're always supposed to be available. But we need to encourage private spaces and vacations and retreats. If you feel you need to go away for a couple of days, you go and that's all right. We do that with one another; if things are tense we say that to one another, (laugh) "Maybe you need to take some time." But a lot of guys, because there aren't too many of us, don't feel that they have that freedom. They'll go a year with no vacation or retreat. It's bound to build up."