Late last month the diocesan clergy personnel director informed Fr. Gil and me that Bishop Murphy had decided that it was time for him to leave Our Lady of Grace for a new assignment: The one-year extension of his original appointment would not be renewed for a second year. While a surprise to both of us and a disappointment, we both knew that this is something that happens in the life of priests: We are ordained to serve the diocese, and we go where the diocese needs us. Fr. Gil’s appointment had already been extended here by a year at our request, and this year we made a similar request but the bishop rejected it.
I’m sure many of you who have come to know and admire and even love Fr. Gil will be disappointed; that’s natural, and an understandable response. I encourage you to let him know how you feel, and what you’ve gained from his service here. And I also encourage you to use this as a moment to learn something about the service of priests, for the sake of your own spiritual growth.
This is what I mean: It’s natural to be attracted to the Catholic faith because we find certain believers, well, attractive. If that believer is a priest, the attraction can be even more effective. All that is well and good. But every priest worthy of his ordination knows that he’s not in the business of attracting people to himself: his job is to point people beyond himself, toward Jesus. If the attraction stops at the priest, he’s only done his job half-well. (I showed this column to Fr. Gil before publishing it, and he asked me to include that he wants to emphasize this as well, as you’ve probably regularly heard him preach: Discipleship is not about the priest, it’s about following Christ.)
I certainly will miss Fr. Gil as a colleague in ministry. He worked tirelessly here, often in the background, to make parish life run smoothly and to make my job easier. And he was a fine companion living in the priests’ residence. I am confident that he will make a wonderful contribution in his new assignment, and people will come to know and love Christ through his ministry.
In practical terms: Fr. Gil will be with us here until June, when new assignments for priests take effect. Between now and then the diocesan personnel office has sent him a list of parishes that will receive new associates in June; and I have received a list of potential associates for Our Lady of Grace. We are both now in the midst of interviews (him for positions, me for associates) and will soon make recommendations about preferences to the Clergy Personnel Board. The personnel board then gives its advice to the bishop, who makes the final decisions and informs parishes and priests about post-June assignments.
Our Lady of Grace has had a history of many wonderful priests, and the faith and dedication of people today testifies to that. The best way to thank a priest for his service is to deepen your own commitment to Christ: to love God and neighbor wholeheartedly each day and to build up the life of the parish he served by encouraging fellow-parishioners in their struggles.
Several years ago in a parish consultation we defined our mission to be, “We change lives through the Risen Christ.” I’m sure Fr. Gil will be able to look back on his years of service here and say that he did just that; and we can trust that Christ changed him through his service here as well. We’ll be announcing a farewell Mass sometime in the future. In the meantime offer him your personal thanks. Until next week, peace.