Hope in the Lord — Planning for priest changes

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Every Lent one of my very important tasks in serving the pastoral needs of the archdiocese is to prepare for priest changes. It is also one of the most difficult tasks of an archbishop, both because of the effect such changes have on the priest and the impact on the faithful within a parish or apostolate.

I recall my first assignment change, which happened just five months after I was ordained a priest in 1972. Our class was ordained in March, and I was so pleased to be assigned as the associate pastor of the parish in which I had served the summer before as deacon. It was a perfect assignment. I still think the idea of continuing in the parish in which you served as a deacon is a great idea for the newly ordained priest.

Imagine my surprise and even shock when that June I received a letter from the bishop appointing me to another parish. I recall calling the chancery and receiving a kind response that pastoral needs in the other parish required it, and the bishop was grateful for my generosity. I smile now as I reflect on all my assignments over these 47 years. Each one has been a great adventure and a wonderful opportunity to learn, to serve and to come closer to Christ and to the people He has called me to serve.  At the time, this first assignment change was a big adjustment for me. I learned that while stability is important, at times pastoral circumstances require bishops to make unexpected changes.

That brings me to this summer. Priests have all handed in their stewardship forms expressing their insights and desires. Members of the elected Priest Personnel Board have assisted our Vicar for Priests, Father Jeff Shooner, in his mighty task of recommending changes to me, and there have been meetings in which I have participated throughout the year as we seek the best decisions about new assignments.

This summer will be filled with challenges and blessings. Five pastors will be completing their service as pastors. I resist calling these priests “retired,” since so many serve with even more energy after “retirement.” I thank them for this.

The five pastors who are completing their service as pastors are Father Pat Dolan, Father Pepper Elliot, Father Tony Smith, Father Bob Stuempel and Father Dick Sullivan — all fine priests who will not be easy to replace. The good news: there are 10 new priests coming to the Archdiocese this summer. Of course, three will be our transitional deacons, Tony Cecil, Kirby Rust and Steven Reeves, who will be ordained to the priesthood on May 25. In addition, two sons of the archdiocese who have been ordained for religious communities are discerning a possible return to the archdiocese as diocesan clergy and have the permission of their superiors to explore this change. Father Scott Murphy, who is a Legionary of Christ, grew up in St. Rose Parish in Springfield and Fr. Richard Goodin, a Franciscan, is from St. Augustine Parish in Lebanon. Both have already begun assisting at parishes in the Archdiocese.

In addition, we hope soon to welcome two priests from the Archdiocese of Leon in Mexico who will continue the work of Fathers Carlos Conde-Gonzalez and Ismael Hernandez, who completed their three years of service last summer and returned to their home diocese.

We also hope to welcome two additional Franciscan Conventual Friars from India who will come soon to work in parishes and live in the Ashram (former rectory) at Holy Family Parish.

Finally, Father Benni Pengiparambil, CMI, will join us and begin his studies for an MBA at Bellarmine University for eventual return to service in India.

Please pray for our five retiring priests who have served with great distinction as you also pray for the new priests who will arrive, either through the great Sacrament of Holy Orders or by assignment from their superiors. In all cases, we seek to serve the pastoral needs of the archdiocese and benefit by the richness that each will bring.

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