Echoing a priest’s life — Ongoing formation of priests

May 27, 2014

HOUSTON — Though many Catholics see their parish priest for an hour every Sunday, the life of a priest in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week calling. And while seminary studies can give a man the necessary knowledge, the lived experience of the life of a priest is one that never ends.

The Ongoing Formation of Priests Committee, one of the many ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), exists to help the more than 400 priests in the Archdiocese to further develop the skills and graces necessary to minister to the 1.3 million Catholics who call Galveston-Houston home.

As the shortage of priests Archdiocesan and nationwide increases, and parishes rapidly grow in size and ethnicity, the importance of having ongoing formation available to priests becomes critical. It helps priests successfully deal with the associated challenges, some of which can be stressful, and demands of their vocation.

“The Ongoing Formation of Priests Committee is responsible for assuring that priests in our Archdiocese are afforded the opportunities to continue developing as a person, as well as a pastoral leader,” said Father Norbert Maduzia Jr., E.V., D.Min., co-chairperson of the committee. Our focus, whether workshops, spiritual direction, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, peer support groups, or educational materials, is on four areas essential to these men living balanced, healthy lives — the four pillars of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation. The shortage of vocations, as well as the extreme diversity that is now seen in all parishes across the Archdiocese, can create a lot of pressures if these men are not prepared or focusing on their own health and wellness.”

Father Maduzia believes the background and experience of each committee member must echo the life of a priest. Most members are involved in Archdiocesan ministries that promote, prepare and support the clergy, which include, but are not limited to, the Ministry to Priests, Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services, Office of Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, and Office of Worship. These ministries also are supported by the DSF.

Father Maduzia said international priests representing various countries and ethnicities, as well as lay people familiar with the administration and other business functions of the church, are members and share important viewpoints.

“Besides the shortage of vocations, the cultural diversity of our Archdiocese must be considered, for both the priest and the parish,” Father Maduzia said. “How does an international priest deal with a parish that is so different from the one back home, or the people can’t understand his dialect? We have a special program for international priests that when they first arrive, they are educated about the diverse cultures and demographics in our Archdiocese so they are prepared for the road ahead and can serve the needs of the people.”

“Another issue facing priests today is preparing for retirement, not only with financial planning, but also how to transition out of the role of a busy parish priest to the slower pace of what I call ‘grandpa priests,’” Father Maduzia said. “Just like when a priests is transferred to a new parish, there is a grieving process associated with leaving the old before they can experience the joy of the new. It’s all about helping them prepare for the now and what’s ahead in the future, in so many facets of their lives.”

Father Maduzia said since priests also are human beings, they need to be healed so they can heal others. Through programs, such as the Reconciled Healer, these men look at their own brokenness in order to move forward and help others to recognize their own struggles. In addition, he said, priest support groups have been developed since no one can truly understand the mind of a priest besides another priest. These support groups have helped build friendships and a place where they can be understood and accepted, as both a fellow priest and man.
Another ongoing formation opportunity offered to priests is Good Leaders, Good Shepherds, a 21-month national leadership training program that helps priests better order their lives and ministry. 

“Good Leaders, Good Shepherds assists priest in forming a vision for themselves within their particular ministry so that they can more effectively lead those who are in their pastoral care,” said Father Sean Horrigan, co-chair of the Ongoing Formation of Priests Committee and who is involved in this program on a local and national level. “With a vision that aligns with that of Christ and the Church, an effective pastor can use the latest developments in leadership and management from the secular world and bring it to use in a pastoral setting that benefits the local parish and the Archdiocese as a whole.”

Father Horrigan said more than 70 priests in the Archdiocese have completed Good Leaders, Good Shepherds over the past six years and another cohort is being planned for later this year.