Father Negley returns to Galveston-Houston as ‘priest for priests’

September 13, 2016

HOUSTON – After serving three years as the Provincial Superior of the Missionaries of La Sallette, Father Phil “Skip” Negley returns to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as the Ministry to Priests director. Prior to his tenure in province leadership, he had been pastor of Mary Queen Church in Friendswood.

“The feeling to be back in Houston is amazing,” Father Negley said. “So many confreres from clergy, religious and parishioners have offered warmhearted words of ‘welcome home.’ Of all the places where I lived and ministered as a priest, I served the longest, over 18 years, in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.”

He considered his election and time in province leadership as both a privilege and an honor, giving him a deep understanding of the important commitment to “servant-ministry.” 

“I experienced a refreshing and hopeful outlook on the remarkable contribution religious life offers to the Church universal by the multitude of gifts and gifted men and women who serve Our Lord in the consecrated life,” Father Negley said. “Challenges and difficult decisions always demanded a major portion of my time (and prayer) but I still remember the encouragement found in the words of Pope Saint John XXIII: “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.”

Father Negley believes his recent experience with his religious order – along with his long-time pastoral assignment at Mary Queen – will prove beneficial to him in his role in Ministry to Priests. He also possesses the background in having served in this capacity when the role was founded in Galveston-Houston in 1998. The position collaborates directly with the Office of Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services.

Father Italo Dell’Oro, C.R.S., the Secretariat for Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services director, is grateful for Father Negley’s return to Galveston-Houston, citing their shared history in the role.

“He expertly and gently mentored me when I was called to replace him in the same role back in 2005 through 2012,” Father Dell’Oro said of Father Negley. “I am also quite intrigued about the team that has now formed at the service of priests. I am mostly involved with external forum matters and Sr. Gina Iadanza, MSC, our Associate Director, offers a great deal of knowledge in human formation, Fr. Skip will be busy offering spiritual support to the priests. “

With Father Negley on-board, Father Dell’Oro said his office is well equipped to bring Daniel Cardinal DiNardo’s care toward his priests in an effective way, considering the 440 multinational and multicultural priests who minister in the Archdiocese.

“The three of us already have been working in a collaborative and coordinated way to serve our priests,” Father Dell’Oro said. “I dare say that we are up there with the longer established and better organized dioceses in the country.”

Father Negley discussed this new – yet familiar – opportunity and his call to serve as a priest during a recent interview with the Texas Catholic Herald.

Herald: Please describe your new role as Director of Ministry to Priests. Why is this ministry so vital to our clergy and to the Archdiocese?
Father Negley: Originally the duties were carefully defined, to provide for the ongoing spiritual, fraternal and pastoral support for the priests of the archdiocese, diocesan and religious. In simple terms to be a ‘priest for priests.’

Inevitably the “job description” expanded and now includes providing resources for spiritual direction, sacramental reconciliation, priests support groups, the mentoring of new/early ordained priests, the visitation of elderly and infirm priests, and the acculturation process for international missionary priests who come to the archdiocese. I also collaborate in coordinating days of prayer, annual retreats; and in offering consultation to the Priests Personnel Committee and the Ongoing Formation of Priests Committee. I most enjoy inviting fraternity and sharing hospitality to all priests serving the local Church of Galveston-Houston. 

As the Minister to Priests I am privileged to work collaboratively with the Office of Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services which is served by Rev. Italo Dell’Oro, CRS, the Director, and Sister Gina Iadonza, MSC, the Associate Director. The Ministry to Priests continues to receive the special support and encouragement of the Office of the Archbishop, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, and our Auxiliary Bishop, George Sheltz.

Ask any priest serving the Church today and they will affirm the need for a “priest for priests” ministry, whether it witness to the bonds of fraternal support, the privileged opportunity for reconciliation and/or spiritual direction, the hospitality offered to “homegrown” brother priests or the welcome to international missionary priests. Today the joys of ministry are balanced more than ever with the demands of ministry especially with the increasing “size and shape” of contemporary pastoral life in our Church. This is true for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. I see blessed and gifted priests working with genuine love of God, dedicated to shepherding “the little flock” which in our region is anything but small. The definition and the dynamic of Church ministry for the people of God, laity, religious and priests now includes the continual encounter with transition, challenging our time and energies, sacred and ordinary. The vital need for Ministry to Priests is born out of this reality of transition in the pastoral life and service of our Church and its priests. 

Herald: Are there any specific goals or plans for your ministry that you would like to share with our readers?
Father Negley: Yes, I do have a few specific goals as I begin this service for the Archdiocese:
• To renew the vitality of this ministry and the availability of the Minister to Priests to confreres in the presbyterate;
• To be a resource for reconciliation, prayer, spiritual direction and R & R for brother priests;
• To provide an added presence and support for all priests of the Archdiocese, diocesan and religious, native and international;
• To renew opportunities for priests’ support groups and for ongoing formation and renewal.

Herald: Reflecting on your own priesthood, when did you discern the call to priesthood? Did you have a “heard my calling” type moment?
Father Negley: My vocation is just as special and as ordinary as everyone’s call to ministry in the Church. I became a Catholic during the early years of my Junior High education. Moving from public school to Catholic school I now experienced religious sisters as religious educators and clergy as coaches, confessors and models of priesthood. Both of these groups encouraged me in my vocation journey. One group that especially impacted me was the local Serra Club of my hometown which first posed the important question, “Did you ever think about becoming a priest?” Soon afterwards I met a La Salette Missionary from a vocation rally and the call from God began to take root and direction. Little did I realize at that time, my mother had petitioned the Poor Clares in a nearby monastery to please pray for my budding vocation. Seminary life led to the Novitiate and to the Profession of Vows, graduate studies at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and to Ordination in 1973 at my home parish of St. Cecilia’s Cathedral (Omaha, Nebraska).

Herald: What drew you to the La Salette Missionaries?
Father Negley: To speak about my vocation with the La Salette Missionaries is a privilege and a joy. The La Salette Missionaries are a worldwide congregation with a remarkable heritage, founded from the event and the message of the apparition of the Blessed Mother in a small Alpine mountain site in southeastern France. Mary appeared to two young shepherds in 1846 and spoke a merciful message of reconciliation, prayer and conversion. She gave a mandate to the children “to make this message known to all my people.” As I was a recent convert to Catholicism in my youth, I gained a genuine devotion to the Mother of God, something unfamiliar with my earlier faith life. The words and the appearance of Our Lady of La Salette and the missionary spirit of the community struck a chord in my life. In my formative years the diocesan priests encouraged my vocation and later the La Salettes molded my desire to serve the Church as a missionary in the consecrated life. I continue to look forward with gratitude and zeal.

Herald: What have been some of the most treasured moments for you as a priest and servant of the Church?
Father Negley: For me, hindsight is the best measure of potential and possibilities. Parish ministry, especially in Southwest Louisiana and Texas, yielded so many opportunities for personal growth and the development of pastoral skills. I believe these communities of faith (for example Sulphur, LA, Jasper and Friendswood, TX), especially by their needs and by their support, provided me with the conviction that I could respond as a “good and faithful servant” and priest. I also treasured my years of ministry as a Vocation Director and as the Minister to Priests here in the archdiocese because I could actually bolster others in their vocational discernment, their fraternity and their spiritual journeying. For several years I served as the Shrine Director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Massachusetts. I appreciated the team ministry concept, working collaboratively with committed laity and religious to labor in the creative fields of retreats and days of recollection, Marian devotions and spiritual direction. During the “Year for Priests,” proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI (2009-2010), I remember being asked by a young Franciscan seminarian what are some of these “most treasured moments” in my life as a priest. I recall answering without hesitation: the best is still yet to come.

Herald: What do you do for fun or relaxation in your spare time?
Father Negley: Many priests have to carve out “spare time” in their lives and ministry. I am no different. My interests include sports as a spectator, especially the collegiate Big Ten football (go Cornhuskers), professional NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB (go Red Sox), musical theater, reading historical fiction, sunny beaches and dinners/gatherings with friends. My family members live in the Midwest and northern California. Vacations almost always include trips to the wine country, relaxing on ocean beaches, and a visit to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska in the fall.

Herald: Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for those men and women discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life?
Father Negley: I like to think that the Lord always calls many youth, young adults, and today those in middle years, to a life of service in the Church. The work of inviting laborers to the harvest of the Lord still responds best to three essential endeavors: (1) the witness by religious men and women and clergy deeply in love with the Risen Lord and with their ministry in the Church; (2) the memory of being called and chosen by a God of tenderness and forgiveness; and (3) the grace to move beyond any worldly accomplishments or defeats with a generous heart and bold trust. The preaching of the Gospel is never about one’s own personal fulfillment or priorities. Nor is ministry measured by positions or prestige but by determination to keep journeying faithfully in “the Way of the Lord.” 

Pope Francis reminds us that our service and witness must be steeped in the consciousness of a God of mercy, of second chances (and third, fourth, and so forth). Jesus mathematical formula of 70 times 7 only makes sense when we look within our own hearts to allow and to offer the reconciliation of God through Jesus Christ. The Church will always need zealous ambassadors for Christ, embedded in the grace of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20), accepting ourselves and others as immensely loved, and open to the transforming charism of the Holy Spirit. To all who are discerning a vocation to consecrated life, priesthood and permanent diaconate, calling upon this same Spirit and the intercession of the Communion of Saints, especially Mary, the Mother of God, with a generous heart and bold trust will always be the place to begin and to end.