Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell
Today’s guest(s): Fr. Kevin Sepe, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Braintree
Today’s topics: Fr. Kevin Sepe shares his path to the priesthood, the wonderful community at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Braintree, how the clergy personnel board assigns priests, and what does a vicar forane do?
1st segment: Scot welcome Fr. Mark back to the show and Fr. Mark says he was in Bermuda this past week. Boston has been appointed by the Vatican for many years as the tribunal for the Catholic Church in Bermuda and Fr. Mark made a pastoral visit with the priests on the island. He also spoke to laypeople on the topic of annulments. He said Bermuda is at the same latitude as North Carolina and only two hours by plane.
Scot was at St. Michael’s in Andover, the largest parish in the Archdiocese, for a vicariate meeting on the work of Catholic media. Also tomorrow is the priestly ordination for six men in the Archdiocese of Boston, at the Holy Cross Cathedral at 9am. Fr. Mark taught them canon law in the seminary and said they are a very fine group. They will receive their assignments tonight from Cardinal Sean.
Fr. Mark resides at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Braintree, where the pastor is today’s guest, Fr. Kevin Sepe.
2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome Fr. Sepe to the show. He is also pastor of the geographic region in which the Pastoral Center resides. The first day the Pastoral Center was open, Fr. Sepe brought collection envelopes to the Chancellor.
Fr. Sepe grew up in St. Michael’s in Lowell and attended high school. In 1977 there was a graduating class of 17 men, 3 of whom are now pastors in the archdiocese. They never discussed the seminary in high school, but they all came to the seminary later. He believes its the foundations they received from the priests in the parish. Scot said he was stunned to learn that Fr. Kevin grew up in the same parish Scot grew up in.
When Fr. Kevin was in high school, he admired the headmaster of St. Michael’s school, who was also his Latin teacher. One day at the end of school, the priest asked him, “Sepe, did you ever think of the priesthood?” He said, “No”, and the priest replied, “Start.” Fr. Kevin said that seed developed and grew and he couldn’t escape it. It wasn’t in his brain, so much as his heart.
After that, he talked to a parish priest who recommended he talked to someone at the seminary who offered a weekend retreat for college-age men. While he was a little rambunctious on the weekend, it was a foundation.
Fr. Kevin’s father was a classic WWII vet and while he had a profound faith, he was no theologian. To have a son as a priest was an honor. His mother was a registered nurse and had worked in a psychiatric hospital and seen many difficulties in people’s lives so she wanted to make sure he would be happy.
Scot said Fr. Kevin is celebrating 25 years in the priesthood this year. His experience is far different from the day of his ordination. At the time, you couldn’t expect to be pastor for 25 years, but that quickly changed. His first assignment was St. Joseph, Quincy, where had a wonderful five years with the pastor and a parish school in a city. He stayed friends with the pastor afterward. After that assignment he went to Middleboro and learned how large the archdiocese is. The parish itself is 75 square mile and is the southernmost part of the archdiocese. On a communion call one time he got lost on the back roads and it took him all day to get back home. After that assignment, he was at St. Mary in Randolph with Fr. Richard Harrington.
Fr. Kevin has been a pastor for 14 years this coming August. He remembers being on a board that investigated making rectories separate from the church’s offices, which has turned out to be a good respite for many priests to enable them to have a place of prayer apart from the work place. It’s a relief to leave the office, come home, and rest and have a prayerful place. At St. Francis, the rectory has the parish offices in the building, but there’s a clear separation. It’s a former convent and it had a cloistered area built into the architecture.
3rd segment: Scot said St. Francis is known as a busy parish. He said they have a parochial school with 360 students and they provide them with a Mass once per month and he’s in the school regularly. Their religious education program has 700 students. They have an active sacramental life, they have about 100 funerals per year and about 120 baptisms.
With the school, there is an access to a percentage of parents you would not normally connect with during the week. About 50% of the students live within Braintree and the rest are commuters from other parishes or other towns.
Fr. Mark said there is a lot of charitable activity in the parish. There is an active St. Vincent de Paul Society. On Thursdays, there is a food pantry day serving a number of people in the parish. They have a monthly canned food drive to stock the pantry. There is also an agreement with Panera Bread where they receive the day-old bread that would normally be thrown away. It allows them to give baked goods to families who not have access to them. They help on the average of about 60 to 120 families and that number has increased in recent years, as well as requests for assistance with rent, fuel, and clothing. The parish has an annual giving tree at Christmas where parishioners supply gifts for specific children.
Fr. Mark said they also help parishes overseas. Each week 10% of the parish’s offertory is sent to organizations locally and globally. The parish is involved with the SMA Fathers, where they host a priest for 2 months from Africa, giving them a respite from the missionary labors. At the end of their stay, there is a collection from parishioners. Last year, the provided a roof and a generator for a parish in Northern Nigeria and even a motorcycle for the catechists to reach remote parishioners.
After Hurricane Katrina, the parish collected $60,000 for relief efforts to the people of the Gulf region. The parishioners are very aware of their need to give of their time, talent, and treasure. Fr. MArk said this comes from the leadership of a priest like Fr. Sepe who models the behavior and encourages.
Scot said the numbers of kids involved in religious ed and the school makes it sound like it’s a very young parish. What works to bring them to the parish? Fr. Kevin said they have a weekly family Mass on Sunday at 9am and encourage families to bring them. The kids come up to sit near the altar during the homily and the homily is geared to the children. At baptisms, they make them prayerful liturgies and they encourage parents to bring the kids even if they make noise. It’s how the kids become comfortable in the church. They also have religious education meeting on a Sunday in order to invite them to the 9am Mass and the 10:30 Mass. They do their First Communions at their Sunday Masses, small groups at every Mass over two weekends. It reminds them of the importance of coming to Mass as a family. He wants to draw them back to the Church on Sundays.
They have a unique ministry called the prayer shawl ministry. Fr. Kevin said there are many women who gather to pray as they crochet or knit. They do it in silence as they listen to meditative music and pray for people. They then give the shawls to the homebound or people in hospice or to expectant mothers who know they are connected to a parish that cares for them.
4th segment: Fr. Kevin is also a vicar forane and serves on the clergy personnel board and is a fire and police chaplain. Scot asked Fr. Kevin how Cardinal Sean assigns a priest.
For the newly ordained, they are interviewed by the board. They are asked questions and the board gets to know them, their talents, and more mundane matters like allergies to pets or the like. Whether they’d like to be near a school or in a city or if they need to be assigned near a relative who needs their care. Also, their language abilities. Meanwhile, the board has prepared a list of parishes that would be suitable assignments for new priests. Their first assignment is only 3 years. They might become pastors in only 8 years, but recently one priest was made a pastor after his first assignment. They want the priest to be able to learn quickly how to become a pastor. They’re thinking of making them only two year assignments.
When a pastorate opens, a priest can submit his name for a particular parish. Or one of his friends can nominate him. Or his name can be generated by members of the clergy personnel board. They look at the statistics of the parish: demographics, financials, and the ministerial staffing. They then look at the list of the priests of the archdiocese, their current assignments, and when they were ordained and maybe find a name of a parochial vicar who might be a good fit. They come up with a slate of three names recommended to the Cardinal. they put them in order of who they believe would best fit.
Fr. Kevin has been on the board for 6 or 7 years. Today, they consider assignments with pastoral planning in mind and they consider not just the parish, but the whole region and the whole archdiocese. They now use GPS and mapping technology to show the locations of parishes around the open pastorate and see, for example, priests who are close to retirement in nearby parishes and thus affect who they will assign in the currently open assignment.
The slate of candidates goes to the cardinal and he can choose one of the names or he can choose anyone he wants. The cardinal usually runs the list by several other priests as well. But he typically goes with the recommendation even if he changes the order of the priests on the list.
Fr. Michael Medas of the Clergy Personnel Office calls the priest and meets with him to talk about the parish and to encourage him to accept the assignment.
A new wrinkle is that pastors are now being asked to be pastors of more than one parish at a time. They’ve asked pastors of nearby parishes to take on neighboring parishes as well.
Scot said the Archdiocese is divided in 5 regions and each region is divided in vicariates, sub-regions. The vicar forane helps the Cardinal in administering the vicariate. He hosts meetings of the pastors and allows for an avenue of communication from the archbishop to the priests and back. As vicar forane he coordinates that communication. At a vicariate meeting today they had the vicariate’s representative the presbyteral council give a report on the recent meeting of the council. The priests give their feedback to the representative and then he brings it back to the cardinal and the council. The vicariate meets about every 4-6 weeks. Fr. Kevin tries to schedule them for just after the presbyteral council meetings.
Fr. Mark said the Church works with principle of subsidiarity, pushing all activity to the lowest level applicable.
5th segment: We look at this coming Sunday’s Gospel as we do every Friday.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.”
Fr. Kevin said many priests would select this Gospel for a funeral Mass. He dwells on the Lord saying, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” What does he mean? Is this like a giant house at the beach.
Scot said his kids are at the stage of asking him what heaven will be like and he tells them we cannot know, but that it will be greater than we can imagine. Fr. Kevin tells them to dream and imagine what they would like to be there. He recalled the graveside ceremony prayer: “Inflame in our hearts a desire for heaven.” What does it mean for heaven to be like a banquet? It’s a giant feast that we never have t o get up from, we’re never full and we move from table to table to be with one another.
Scot notes Jesus’s response to Philip, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” He imagines what Jesus might say to himself: Have I been with you in prayer and in Mass and in the people you love, do you still not know Me? We have to make sure to be aware of the ways in which Jesus is present to us every day.
Fr. Mark notes that in John’s Gospel that Philip is often portrayed as not having a clue and always needs a little reassurance and yet does great things in his life later on. Scot said to imagine being Philip, and how confused Philip must have been to hear these teachings for the first time without the benefit of two thousand years of trinitarian theology to help him. Fr. Mark likes to have a role model in Philip who needs some help and may not be the best student.
That will conclude today’s presentation of The Good Catholic Life. On Monday, Michael Miller from the Acton Institute and Andreas Widmer from the Seven Fund will talk about entrepreneurial solutions to poverty and on Tuesday, Fr. Robert Reed of CatholicTV will be on the show to tell us about all their great programming. For recordings and photos of today’s show and all previous shows, please visit our website: TheGoodCatholicLife.com. You can also download the app for your iPhone or Android device at WQOM.org to listen to the show wherever you may be. We thank our guest, Father Kevin Sepe. For our co-host, Father Mark O’Connell, our Production team of Rick Heil, Anna Johnson, Justin Bell, Dom Bettinelli, and George Martell, this is Scot Landry saying thank YOU for listening, God bless you and have a wonderful evening!