Nurturing the ministry of ‘brother priests’ to live happy, healthy and holy lives
September 26, 2023
A line of priests process to the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for a recent Mass. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)
HOUSTON — In the heart of the Archdiocese, a strong foundation of unwavering support and commitment to its priests exists, guiding them through the intricacies of their calling while ensuring they remain in good spiritual, mental and physical health along the journey.
The ministry that is focused on strengthening the spiritual, fraternal and pastoral well-being of all diocesan and religious priests within the Archdiocese is the Ministry to Priests.
“If our priests are happy, healthy and leading holy lives, they are better prepared to support and care for the people in the pews,” said Father Thomas “Tom” Rafferty, the ministry’s new director. “My number one priority is to support them as a fellow priest as they navigate through life’s daily challenges and issues, very much like those faced by the people they serve every day.”
Father Rafferty said the Ministry to Priests offers regular opportunities for confession, spiritual direction and retreats to help priests deepen their faith and maintain their spiritual health, including a bi-annual Convocation Week event held in May in Galveston.
The ministry also organizes workshops, seminars, and provides additional resources to enhance the priests’ pastoral skills and address everyday challenges or complex issues faced in their roles. This includes helping newly ordained and international priests become better acquainted with each other and assimilated into the presbyterium of the Archdiocese. Additionally, the ministry creates a supportive community where priests can connect, share experiences and find encouragement through hospitality and fraternity with one another.
This past July, Father Rafferty was chosen as the new director of the Ministry to Priests by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo upon the retirement of Father Phil “Skip” Negley, M.S. He was chosen because of his four decades of devoted service to six parishes across the Archdiocese, including 14 years as pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands before becoming director of the Secretariat for Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services in 2021. He also was the dean of the San Jacinto Deanery and episcopal vicar for Clergy, all of which underline his dedication and commitment to priestly well-being.
“In my role as director of the Ministry to Priests, it’s important to be mindful of the priests’ needs, to inspire them, to lend an ear, and to reach out to those in need, either with a phone call or in-person visit,” Father Rafferty said. “I want my brother priests to know they have someone in their corner to look after their overall spiritual health and pastoral care. I will even come to their parish to celebrate Mass for them if they are sick, need a vacation or just have to be away from the parish for personal or work reasons.”
Some have said that because Father Rafferty grew up in the Greater Heights neighborhood and has lived here his entire life, he knows Houston — and Houston knows him.
To name a few, his vast network of resources available for priests includes medical professionals that he personally knows and can recommend if a priest gets sick or requires a medical specialist. He also has experience with many resources, offering assistance with accounting, bookkeeping and other administrative tasks to successfully operate a parish.
Despite geographical distance, Father Rafferty said he makes a point to visit with priests in parishes located in rural areas and on the outskirts of the Archdiocese to check on their needs and to get to know them better.
“Staying connected with each other is paramount for all priests in the Archdiocese, especially those outside of Harris County,” Father Rafferty said. “We priests are a support network, always watching out for one another. If a priest comes across another priest in need, I want them to know they can reach out to me anytime and I will contact them.”
Father Rafferty also likes to remind the priests of the importance of self-care, with the understanding that taking a day for themselves is acceptable. During COVID-19-related shutdowns, although challenging in many ways, he said priests and deacons alike found a silver lining: They had time to reassess priorities in both their personal lives and work in parishes to find some balance moving forward.
In his role as director, Father Rafferty said while keeping strict confidentiality on what he is told by the priests as if in a confessional, he maintains an open line of communication with Cardinal DiNardo to provide a general report on how well the priests are doing across the Archdiocese. This gives him the opportunity to discuss emerging or evolving situations that require attention, as well as offer suggestions for instances where direct outreach from the cardinal to a priest may be warranted.
“It’s reassuring for priests to know that the cardinal and Ministry to Priests are deeply invested and supportive of them, that they don’t carry their burdens alone,” Father Rafferty said. “We care about them as individuals, about their spiritual and mental health and satisfaction in living out their lifelong vocation to serve the people of God.”
As one of 64 ministries funded by the DSF, Father Rafferty encourages the faithful to give to the annual appeal, which directly supports the approximate 400 diocesan and religious priests in the Galveston-Houston area.
“The why you give to the DSF is important,” Father Rafferty said. “The faithful are essentially supporting over 60 ministries in the Archdiocese that would otherwise have to go without, and the faithful would ultimately be impacted. Because the Ministry to Priests receives funding for all the services and programs mentioned, the faithful have the opportunity to directly support and care for their priests.”
To support the work of the Ministry to Priests, visit www.archgh.org/ministrytopriests. To donate and support this ministry and 63 others, go to www.archgh.org/DSF.
The DSF supports each of these ministries, whether direct service or education, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.