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Posted July 3, 2005

NFPC Hosts Consultation on Priests from Other Countries Serving in the United States

Email: nfpc@nfpc.org
January 16, 2001


The National Federation of Priests' Councils (NFPC), in collaboration with two Secretariats of the USCCB, gathered 30 church leaders to discuss the ramifications of priests from other countries serving in the United States. The consultation, held on December 7-8, 2000 at the Maritime Institute in suburban Baltimore, was the first of its kind and was funded through a grant from the Raskob Foundation. Collaborating with the NFPC were the Secretariats for Priestly Life and Ministry (PL&M) and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR).  

The pastoral strategy of receiving priests from other countries is common in many U.S. dioceses. A report commissioned by PL&M and reviewed by the bishops at their June 2000 meeting reported that 16% of all priests ministering in the U.S. are from beyond its borders. (See Fall 2000 edition of Touchstone for research highlights.) Many U.S. Bishops invite priests here to address the decrease in ordained clergy ("coverage"), to serve people of the same language and/or country of origin, and to minister in special situations. Anecdotal experiences appear to indicate that problems and conflicts have arisen, particularly at the presbyteral and parochial levels. Many priests arrive poorly prepared to minister in the parochial assignments in which they find themselves. One example was cited of a priest from India who was received to serve in a Texas diocese. He arrived at the parish on a Friday and discovered on Saturday afternoon, 15 minutes before Mass, that his first Mass in the parish would be in Spanish.

  Typically, these priests are formed in countries that have different cultural practices, ministerial methodologies, and ecclesiologies than those here. One priest explained, "In our specific Latin American situation, our culture and customs are very different from those in the U.S. Our ecclesiology dictates that we be present at large gatherings of our people. We do not engage in as much one-on-one ministerial contact as the priests in U.S. parishes. We do not have committee structures that organize ministerial and parish life. This organizational methodology is very foreign to us." In addition, language differences become a barrier as they exercise their ministerial responsibilities.  

Unfortunately, these priests are often poorly welcomed and received here. Dioceses have provided little or no adequate orientation, acculturation, and language services. Presbyterates have found themselves affected as well, wrestling with unwanted factionalism, unforeseen cultural conflicts, racism, intolerance, and prejudice. Pastors and parochial staffs find themselves ill-prepared to receive their new brothers in Christ. As one pastor lamented, "Any problems that arise, for example in a homily, or during a marriage preparation interview, or in a pastoral counseling situation, will rise to the pastor. We have to deal with every situation that comes up!"  

Aware of these numerous and complex issues, participants discussed ways in which the situation for priests and parochial staffs could be improved. In addition, another pastoral strategy that was discussed was the receiving of men from other countries into U.S. seminaries.  

Those present at the consultation included foreign-born priests, Bishop Robert A. Brucato (representing Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration), USCCB staff, and representatives of diocesan, regional, and national organizations involved with this topic. Among the national organizations included were the National Association of Hispanic Priests, the Catholic Migration Office, the Catholic Mission Association, the Association of Vietnamese Priests, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. However, the majority of attendees were from organizations or dioceses that provide orientation and acculturation programs for priests from other countries. Those gathered provided critical recommendations for programmatic intervention and for areas of further research. The NFPC, in collaboration with Dr. Dean Hoge, Ph.D., director of the Catholic University of America's Life Cycle Institute, is preparing an agenda for further research.

  At the outset, Rev. Cletus Kiley, executive director for the Priestly Life and Ministry Committee, supplied important statistical information about priests from other countries serving in the U.S. that provided the backdrop for the meeting. Following his presentation, Rev. Anthony McGuire, director of the USCCB Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, explained the role of his office in serving these priests and seminarians. Rev. McGuire also explained the USCCB's recently released document entitled Guidelines for Receiving Pastoral Ministers in the United States.  

Those present provided feedback about these realities and data, emphasizing the importance of following items:  

Comprehensive orientation, preparation, and welcoming programs.

  Language and accent acquisition services.

  Clarification of contracts and agreements.  

Continued formation of the priests from other countries.

  Establishment of mentoring programs.  

Skill training in the specific areas of marriage preparation, the role of women, and parish pastoral councils.  

Two separate panel discussions occurred, one in which foreign-born priests described their experiences of arriving and ministering in the U.S. and one in which the experiences of the institutional church in inviting priests from other countries were described. The end of the consultation required participants to identify and prioritize issues, categorizing them as either programmatic or research oriented. The recommendations are described below in order of priority.  

Programmatic Recommendations

Create a national vision for the orientation and training of priests from other countries. This program would build upon the suggested components outlined in PCMR's Guidelines for Receiving Pastoral Ministers in the United States and would not replace the national, regional, and local programs that already exist for foreign-born priests serving in the United States. Program content would include theoretical, pastoral, financial, canonical and spiritual components.

Create a national clearinghouse for sharing information and resources. There are several offices within the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that already address this concern, especially PCMR and Priestly Life and Ministry. Those representing conference offices indicated there is need for better coordination within the conference.

Provide an orientation for pastors (and parishes) who receive foreign-born priests.

Encourage all dioceses to establish agreements with each of the priests from another country whom they receive as a pastoral minister in the U.S.

Recommendations for Further Research

Develop a profile of the foreign-born priests serving in the U.S. Gather basic statistics such as the number, age, country of origin, training, location of training, and the reasons for serving here. It is recognized that priests and seminarians serve here for a variety of reasons but a better understanding of these motives was expressed as a need. It is believed that some leave priestly ministry after serving for a few years. The extent of this phenomenon requires more research.

Evaluate existing orientation and acculturation programs. Survey foreign-born priests who have participated in a program (alumni), bishops, pastors, parish staff, and parish pastoral council members as to the effectiveness of these programs. Perhaps a control group could be identified against which these experiences could be compared.

Identify (through a survey) the perceived needs of the international priests in terms of formation, orientation, and training. Evaluate the effectiveness of this training and orientation three years later.

Develop profiles of receiving parishes in an attempt to understand the effect on parishes, dioceses and the church in the U.S.

An evaluation of this pastoral strategy would be of benefit. What is the reaction and experience of the sending diocese? Of the receiving diocese? Consider surveys of all who participate in the pastoral strategy of receiving priests from other countries; bishops (both of sending and of receiving dioceses); foreign-born priests; presbyterates; diocesan personnel; pastors; parish staffs; and parish pastoral council members.

Conduct a comprehensive study of seminaries. (NFPC conducted a pilot survey of seminaries prior to the consultation. Among 11 seminaries, over the past five years, men from 32 different countries were identified.)

Study the failure to generate priestly vocations in the U.S. Identify the reasons for the decrease as well as strategies for identifying more.

The NFPC is committed to further studying this pastoral strategy, particularly as it pertains to priests from other countries, presbyterates, and receiving pastors. NFPC is exploring those areas above in which research is already occurring.

Participating Organizations/Agencies included:

Archdiocese of New York
Archdiocese of Baltimore
Archdiocese of Detroit
Asociacion Nacional de Sacerdotes Hispanos
Catholic Legal Immigration Network
Center for Continuing Formation in Ministry (Hesburgh Center)
Diocese of Brooklyn
Diocese of Lansing
Diocese of Stockton
Diocese of Worcester
Life Cycle Institute (Catholic University of America)
Loyola Institute of Pastoral Ministry
Maryknoll Cross Cultural Training Institute
Mexican American Cultural Center
National Association of Church Personnel Administrators
National Federation of Priests' Councils
Paulist Foundation for Values & Ministry
Southeast Pastoral Institute
Texas Catholic Conference
US Catholic Mission Association
USCCB Priestly Life & Ministry
USCCB Pastoral Care of Migrants & Refugees
Vietnamese Priests Association


Prepared for the NFPC by:

Joseph G. Verla
N. Uxbridge, MA

January 16, 2001