A little over a month ago, on May 28th, I celebrated my thirty-fourth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. That, in and of itself, amazed me greatly. I have a hard time thinking that thirty-four years have gone by since that day of my ordination.
As anniversaries (and birthdays) usually do, it set me on a “trip down memory lane”. I usually think about my assignments every year my ordination anniversary comes around.
When I was first ordained, I was assigned to be an instructor at Bishop Noll Institute. I spent three years in that position (1983-1986). Concurrent with that assignment, I was also the full time associate pastor of St. John Bosco Church in Hammond, my first parish assignment as a priest. That assignment lasted two years. My third year of my teaching assignment, I was the chaplain at the Carmelite Home for Boys in Hammond. That lasted one year as, at the end of my teaching assignment, I was transferred to another parish.
I went to Holy Trinity Church in Gary for five years (1986-1991). After my stint at Holy Trinity, I went to Indiana State Prison and Lakeside Prison (one inside the wall, the other outside the wall) in Michigan City. I was the chaplain there for almost three years (1991-1994). I left in March of 1994 to help my father take care of my mother who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
My mother passed away in May of 1994 and, on July 1st of that year, I was assigned the pastor of St. Maria Goretti in Dyer. I was sent to “jump start” the parish, in the bishop’s words. It had a pastor who had been the founding pastor and was there for seventeen years. It is hard to get a parish moving again once it settles into a rut; but, we managed to do so in short order.
After two years at St. Maria Goretti, on July 1, 1996, I was assigned as pastor of Queen of All Saints in Michigan, Indiana to replace a pastor who had been there for twenty-seven years. If I thought moving a community who had a pastor of seventeen years was tough, I was really in for a surprise! But, after a couple of years, the parish community was thriving again.
I had been moved from place to place, as the bishop told me, because I was good at “putting out fires”. However, when I took the assignment in Michigan City for him, I did so under the “deal” that I would stay there for the equivalent of two terms (twelve years) as I was tired of moving from one place to the next. Not only did I want to get things straightened out; but, I also wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labor. The bishop agreed. When a parish opened up after five years in at Queen of All Saints, the personnel board recommended that I be assigned to it. The bishop told them that he promised me some longevity. That worked for two more years.
After seven years at Queen of All Saints, I was asked to come to St. Thomas More in Munster. On July 1, 2003, I became the pastor of St. Thomas More. There were many issues that needed to be dealt with immediately. That presented a delicate problem. There is an unwritten “rule” that the first year of a pastorate, the only thing you change is your underwear and that’s only if necessary. 🙂
I had to lay off personnel and restructure the parish and school. The parish had been leaking money like a sieve and needed to be tightened up considerably. As one of the largest parishes in our diocese, we were also one of the most financially vulnerable. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears but we finally began moving forward and planning for our future.
Yesterday, I began my fifteenth year at St. Thomas More. When I was first ordained, I never thought I would be anywhere that long. I also never thought I would be the pastor of one of the largest parishes in our diocese. I never thought I would be a dean or have as many obligations as I have. It is tiring and a rush all at the same time.
Fourteen years here have gone already. If I were asked, I could easily write down the accomplishments and improvements made throughout the years. We are financially stable and have been able to make many needed repairs and improvements. At the present time, we are in the middle of a 6.3 million dollar capital improvement project that will bring in new electric service, new internet/phone cabling, new bathrooms, and new furnaces and air conditioning. The air conditioning will be throughout the entire building. People are jumping for joy about that.
I will be sixty-two this October. I have eight and a half years left before retirement. As I look back at my assignments, I still think to myself, “I’ve done what?!” They have been so varied and given me an opportunity to do so many things. From a chaplain at an orphanage to a teacher at a high school to a pastor of an inner city parish to a pastor of a more rural setting to a pastor of an extremely large parish to a chaplain at a maximum facility prison, the “job” has been extensive and stressful and tiring.
And, I would have had it no other way! Here’s to whatever I have left…