|15th Sunday In Ordinary Time|
Just so you know, approximately two months ago, I was approached by someone I know on the Priests Personnel Board of the Archdiocese. Stating that it was known that I was finishing up the first-term of a difficult assignment, he asked if I would be willing to put in for Saint Christopher’s Parish in Staten Island. Their pastor was retiring and they were in need of a successor. My response was, “No!” He asked me to think and pray about it, saying if I put in for it, I was sure to get it. I already had an attachment to Saint Christopher’s because it was my previous pastor at Saint Sylvester’s in Staten Island who built the Church there. During his sickness, when I sat with him, we would talk about it often. Therefore, I thought that, no matter what, I should visit the parish, and I did. I met many of the active people. I also visited the school. It was very attractive. You have to understand, Staten Island is over 90% Catholic! This was an older, developed and settled area of the island. I found a respect and a warmness, combined with a certain “Je ne sais quoi,” except that they were a people who were looking to be led, which was very appealing. As you know, on the whole, this has not been my experience in Port Jervis. This is a tough area! People have been quicker to give me a piece of their mind than to ask what they should be doing. And so, in many ways, Saint Christopher’s, the parish and the school, seemed very inviting. Moreover, since I was not actively seeking this, I thought that, just maybe, this was God’s way of leading me somewhere else.
And so, I applied for the parish. I found that I had been recommended by the entire board to go there. And so, I truly believed that I was about to be transferred to Saint Christopher’s on July 1st. Only a few other priest friends, some members of their parish and school staff and my family knew this. I would not and could not speak about this at Saint Mary’s until I had the appointment letter in my hand. Normally, appointment letters come within a week. I waited over seven weeks to get a response from the Priest Personnel Office. It was only the morning of Friday, June 24th that I heard from Msgr. Desmond O’Connor, Director of Priests Personnel, that Cardinal Egan wanted me to stay here and that he was “very strong” about it. I could hardly believe it because my heart was set on going there.
For me, this was part of a stretch in time where I have been discerning what the future held for me in terms of God’s will. I struggled with this because of ongoing trouble and resistance. Many times, I thought that it was time to bring in someone new, with a new vision, new leadership, and also someone who “could not be blamed” for things decisions that have been made that did not suit individual persons. Cardinal Egan, however, is my superior. God speaks through him to me. In his decision, it seems obvious to me, God still has work for me to do in Port Jervis and the Tri-States area, that is, until he decides otherwise. I do not have to look further to find God’s will in this respect. I, therefore, ask for your support. What is more, I ask you to support me in this decision that he (God) has made for me and the parish, knowing that we can all find happiness in God’s will.
You all know that I have been saying for some time now, “I do not want to live the next six years as I did the last seven.” Being reappointed as pastor for another term, does not guarantee me anything like that. The only way it can happen is if I make some decisions; not, however, without the support of others.
Since January, I have prepared the way by forming a Parish Council and Finance Council, comprised of people of both Churches. We have been calling ourselves the Parish Mission Team. The name describes what we have been doing. We have been meeting almost weekly for these past months. If one main accomplishment can be acknowledged, it is that we have agreed on “the mission,” the basic areas of ministry that are needed in the parish. We have agreed on areas where we have needed help to accomplish these things. We have more and more agreed on what my role should be in the future. I suppose that besides all this, the strength is that “we have agreed.” And all of us are willing to work at it to commit ourselves to working in this way towards a common goal. I no longer feel that I have to make decisions alone. We are working as a team that supports me as pastor, and not blindly. In fact, they represent you. We will soon publish their names, and through them, you have a voice, if you feel that you do not already. They are genuinely interested in the physical and spiritual health of our parish. They have not only listened to my concerns, but brought their own. We have listened to each other. I want to thank them for their assistance and enthusiasm. They were the ones who initially offered their support at the beginning of this year. They wanted to find a way to make our parish work in ways that it was not.
I spoke to them about the above “transfer that never happened” at our last meeting. We also discussed things that we need to put in place in order to make the next six years different from the past seven. It means that some changes must be made for the overall good of the entire parish. First of all, we will be turning the Rectory back into a home. We have been living too long with little privacy. I know it has been an inconvenience on all the priests who have come here. More often than not, we cannot even come downstairs, if we are doing work, having breakfast or lunch, accessing files, etc. without running into people. Think about always finding people in your kitchen, dining room, or hallways. What would it be like for you? It also has been too noisy. We are starting on a solution, in which the Parish Office will be moved to the back of the Rectory, where my office currently is. It will be accessible by the back door only. A new door will separate the Parish Office from the rest of the Rectory which will become living space once again. My office will move to the front now. We must also return to having only one person working in the Parish Office each day. It is what most other parishes do, even some that are three times our size. We are going to make changes in the work we do and the way we do it. Just one small example: there is only one other person I know, besides us, whose company has a weekly payroll. We can benefit by going to a bi-weekly payroll. We can profit from many things like this that can be evaluated and changed.
We also must, and will be hiring, a Music Director. This is something that requires someone with some professional training, not only in music, but in Sacred Music, the teaching of the Church on such, and the Church’s Liturgy. Otherwise, it just falls back on me not good! As a non-Catholic organist and member of the Levson team, that rebuilt our organ said, the organist’s job is not being aware just of what is going on in the choir loft, but primarily what is happening on the altar.” How true! Sacred Music exists to provide for a backing for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and only to support this. We also must hire someone who has been trained, at least by the Archdiocese, in the most complex of all Religious Ed, the R.C.I.A. We have been floundering in this area for years. We need to be able to offer those who approach us the opportunity to look into the Catholic Faith, and to become Catholic if they believe God is calling them in this way. There is also a great need for follow-up on people. The members of our Parish Council recognize that we are loosing many of those who register in our parish, and in our Religious Ed program, some of whom may need to be married or have their marriages validated, or family members brought into the Church or catechized to receive the remainder of their Sacraments. This is over and above what we are already doing in Religious Ed with our families and children. There are other things that we plan for the future; but, as you see, running out of room, we will announce these as the time for them approaches.
I also want to mention that Father Peter Susaimanickam (pronounced “soo- say- man- ee- kum”), who was with us last summer, is returning again this summer. He will arrive this week on Tuesday, July 12th. Again, he is Father Antony’s seminary classmate. Father will be with us for about two to three months. He is coming at a good time when Father McDonald is going on vacation, since we will be covering the hospital for him while he is away. He is coming to us from Leuven, Belgium where he has been studying for his diocese. He recently defended his dissertation and was awarded an S.T.L. Pontifical Degree, a licentiate (or license), allowing him to officially teach in the seminary when he returns to India in September. Originally he comes from Tamilnadu, India. He is also coming to us soon after Father Antony celebrated his two-year anniversary of his coming at the end of June (you may want to personally acknowledge this when you see him). It is hard to believe another year has passed so quickly. I am sure that Father Peter will find himself welcomed by you as was Father Antony and all the priests who have visited us as we receive him into the Parish Family of Port Jervis.
P.S. “Je ne sais quoi,” means “I don’t know what!”
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