Paulist leadership has immediate, future priorities
by Stefani Manowski
August 16, 2010
The near-entirety of the Paulist Fathers gather outside St. Paul's CollegeThe near-entirety of the Paulist Fathers gather outside St. Paul’s College
Father Michael B McGarry, CSP
Father Michael B McGarry, CSP

The new Paulist administration has identified immediate and long-range goals for the community. The presidential board – president Father Michael B. McGarry, CSP, vice president Father John Foley, CSP, and first consultor Father Larry Rice, CSP – took up their new posts at the 2010 Paulist General Assembly held in May at St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C. The presidential board is responsible for the day-to-day management of the community.

The agenda for the new administration was guided by resolutions passed by the General Assembly, the Paulist constitution and the Paulist Mission Direction Statement. The mission committee of the General Assembly addressed the challenges and blessings in contemporary ministry in its statement titled Mission in an Era of Dramatic Changes.

“We believe that the Holy Spirit calls us to a radical missionary identity and imagination,” the committee wrote. “This demands a change of heart as a community and individually. We invoke the Spirit to continue to convert our lives and our ministry. This will require new initiatives. It may entail letting go of some ministries. Either way, the Spirit calls us to refocus our time and energy. …we see before us a crisis in mission. Yet this crisis for us is more blessing and opportunity than simply challenge.”

Welcoming new men into ordained Paulist ministry is “job number one,” according to Father McGarry.

“On a theoretical level, it is incomprehensible why men in their 20s, 30s and 40s are not entering the Paulist seminary because our mission is so exciting, so challenging and so fulfilling,” he said. “However, you look at the reality and realize the need to address the practical challenges to men entering the seminary. It is a dream to think of 20 or so men in formation, but we can never let go of the dream. Our mission is too big, too important to dream less.”

Father Larry Rice, CSP.Father Larry Rice, CSP.

One General Council resolution recommended the Paulist vocation director and General Council “to work with local Paulist foundations to develop a variety of residential and/or other discernment programs.”

Another immediate priority is the “faithful and complete staffing of our foundations,” said Father McGarry.

“We need to put our priests in positions that fulfill the needs of the foundations, of the Paulist community and of the individual Paulist,” he said. The presidential board has already announced more than 15 changes in clergy personnel. (Click here for a complete listing of new appointments.)

Clergy staffing issues will continue through the next 5-10 years, according to Father McGarry, but with some added twists.

“Paulists in major leadership positions are in their 60s and 70s, so we need to fully and thoughtfully prepare the next generation to take over these key roles,” said Father McGarry. “And we must find creative ways of having our men continue in ministry beyond the traditional retirement age.”

Once they enter retirement, or senior ministry, the issue of having the finances to take care of elderly Paulists with the “love and respect” they deserve is another key issue for Father McGarry.

Father John Foley, CSP
Father John Foley, CSP

The General Council recognized formation as an ongoing process, and recommended a “committee be organized to provide a periodic reading list offering a variety of perspectives on topics such as theology, scripture, history, spirituality, arts, etc.”; that Paulists continue formal ongoing education through online learning, workshops and courses; and affirmed the importance of the retreat options for Paulists offered throughout the year. The council also recommended a “program of in-service ongoing education addressing the expressed needs of the newly-ordained Paulists.”

Resolving the staffing, financial and other issues facing the community will call for strategic planning that is both traditional and outside the box, he said, noting the large amount of work already done by the previous administration with regards to such planning.

“We will no doubt have to make some painful choices about curtailing ministries in some areas, but that might invite opportunity to expand Paulist ministry in other areas,” Father McGarry said.

“The Paulists are like other communities in that change is often difficult,” he said. “As the men hit a certain age, the challenge of change is multiplied. This may mean rethinking the Paulist corporate culture in order to free the men to think creatively. The most important thing is that the Paulist mission will not become diluted. Our mission is first and foremost, remains the evangelization of North America, the reconciliation of people who have left the church, the unity of Christian faiths and the reaching out in understanding to those of non-Christian faiths.”