Many of you know the priests who have come to Our Lady of Grace each summer to help us out while regular staff priests are on vacation. For July this year, Fr. John Furgose will be returning. But for the rest of the summer, we’ve had a problem.
Each year I start in September to try to recruit and invite priests to be with us for the summer, so that we have time to get their U.S. Visa (which takes about six months under the best of circumstances). This year I did the same – but the Ebola virus intervened. There was a priest from West Africa who was eager to come, but our diocese imposed special regulations on travel from and to there this past fall. At first it was an absolute ban, but around Easter the restrictions were modified – but included the possibility of quarantine on short notice. In discussions with the Pastoral and Finance Councils, we decided that our parish couldn’t run the risk of having to support a quarantined priest (who could not live in the priests’ residence) for the required three weeks, so I had to withdraw the invitation. And by that time it was too late to invite someone else and obtain the required visa. So we’re going to be short-handed for much of the summer, and will have to make some changes to make sure essential services don’t suffer.
After discussion with the Pastoral Council, here’s what we’re going to do:
Attendance at the 5:30pm Sunday Mass goes ‘way down from average during the summer (average through the year is about 225, which can drop to about 165 for July and August). We regularly modify the scheduling of Funeral Masses as described above when priests are away for other obligations, and only rarely does this inconvenience a family. And our deacons have been very generous in accepting these additional responsibilities when I asked them.
While this is only a short-term and temporary change, it may also be a taste of our future.
I wrote a few weeks ago (May 3) about the changes I’ve seen in the availability of priests for service in parishes. When I started my ministry there were eight of us each weekend in the parish I served in (including two retired priests and three who came in from other ministries of teaching and administration). Now retired priests who are well enough to cover Masses on a schedule are nearly impossible to find. Priests in specialized ministries all also have regular assignments to parishes on weekends. If not for international priests coming here for sabbatical (like Fr. Ruben and Fr. Eugene) or for summer help (like Fr. John), we would be seeing a massive reduction in the availability of Mass – as some places in our country are seeing already. (You may remember that in the U.S. there were, in 2014, 3496 parishes without even one priest in residence. Many of these parishes may not have even one Sunday Mass each week.) And international priests are more difficult to find and invite each year.
Next week I’ll have more to say about the larger-scale consequences of our church’s difficulties in fostering vocations. Until then, peace.
Lectors and EMHCs who serve at the 5:30pm Mass: If you would like to be scheduled for another hour of Mass during July and August, please let me know by June 1.