Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why Priests Work So Hard

Monday night Martha and I had dinner at the parish house of Father Maurice O'Mahoney, priest at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Montecito. His old black Lab, Beebee, greeted us warmly as we walked upstairs into his small sitting room with a fireplace going. Born and raised outside of Dublin, Ireland, Fr. O'Mahoney has a wonderful Irish brogue and a twinkle in his eye. We have become close through the M-4 (the 4 churches of Montecito) and he invited us to dinner with him after our ecumenical Thanksgiving service. His parish celebrated its 150th anniversary last year and we were his guests, meeting Cardinal Mahoney from Los Angeles.
Since both Martha and I are pastor's kids, we roared at the stories he told of parish life in Ireland and here in the USA. He does not pastor his church like I pastor mine. He's clearly the boss in all things. The council serves to advise him, but has no voting power. Authority is a dominant concept in Roman Catholic pastoral authority. He told stories of turning down Hollywood celebrities who wanted to get married in his church because it "was so pretty." He said; "We aren't here to be someone's photo studio. This is a parish!"
But what hit us both as we drove home were the statistics he shared. When he entered the diocese of Los Angeles almost 40 years ago, there were 2 million Catholics and 900 priests. Now, today, there are 5 million Catholics and 400 priests, and many of them are on the verge of retirement.
Father O'Mahoney does not have a pastoral staff for his parish of 1,000 families other than a secretary, custodian, choir director and a nun (whom we also have grown to love) who serves the K-8th grade school attached to the church. This priest says a daily 7:45 am mass plus a Sunday services, with weddings and funerals added, and on-call all day Tuesdays at the hospital. I don't think I will complain of overwork for a while.


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