Program #0067 for Friday, June 10, 2011: Fr. John Sheridan

June 10, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Fr. John Sheridan, pastor of St. James and St. Thomas the Apostle parishes in Salem

Today’s topics: Fr. John Sheridan, the parishes he leads in Salem and Peabody; the Mass readings for Pentecost Sunday

A summary of today’s show: Fr. John Sheridan joined Scot and Fr. Mark to talk about his journey to the priesthood and the experience of being pastor of two very different parishes in Salem as well helping another parish with a merger. Also, they discussed the Mass readings for Pentecost and a very special saint of the day for Scot.

1st segment: Scot welcomes Fr. Mark back to the show. Fr. Mark said this week he was excited to be part of the opening of the cause for canonization of Fr. Joseph Muzquiz. His role in this process is vice-chancellor and he notarizes documents for the Archdiocese. He signs many different documents, and this particular day he was the notary for that meeting. He received the Acts, signed them, sealed them, and handed them.

Scot said it’s must be special to be with a group of people who all knew and lived with someone who may be a saint. Fr. Mark said there were a lot of saintly people in that room as well.

Scot welcomes Fr. John Sheridan to the show. Both Fr. John and Fr. Mark attended the clergy convocation yesterday, a gathering of the priests of the archdiocese. Fr. John said it’s great to be with so many priests. It was like being at Chrism Mass. It’s unusual for all of them to be together and share their stories. It is unusual to gather so many priests from the geographically diverse archdiocese. This meeting was about the new translation of the Mass that will go into effect this Advent.

Fr. Mark said Msgr. Jim Moroney is one of the Church’s experts on liturgy and he spoke about the Missal. The priests at Fr. Mark’s table at the convocation agreed within the first 30-seconds of his talk that this was going to be good. Msgr. Moroney is working on a new series for CatholicTV on the Mass.

Fr. Mark asked Scot to have Fr. John on the how during the Stanley Cup finals because he is the biggest Bruins fan. He predicts that the Bruins will win, that they have momentum on their side, and that they have woken up since game 3.

Scot said June 10 is his favorite saint’s day of the year. He asked Fr. Mark and Fr. John what the special saint of the day is. He said there isn’t a St. Scot, but there is a St. Landry, whose feast if June 10. He was a bishop of Paris in the 17th century. There is also a Landry Parish (county) in Louisiana and there is a St. Landry Parish in Opelousas.

2nd segment: Fr. John is pastor of two parishes in Salem. Scot asked him what led him to first hear the call and to respond by entering the seminary. Fr. John said he grew up in Newton in a large family with 4 brothers and 4 sisters. He was the eighth of the nine. His parents were extraordinary. He has 19 nieces and nephews and 1 great-niece and 1 great-nephew. Their Catholic faith was part of their everyday life, not just for Sundays. His brothers and sisters are very active in their parishes and active in helping their children to understand what they believe.

He was an altar server at his parish Mary Immaculate of Lourdes in Newton Upper Falls. Fr. Bob Connors was a great influence on him. He was struck by the examnples of the laypeople in his parish, who encouraged him to look at his faith as something that is ingrained in everything you do. That’s what inspired him to look at his life and see what he could do.

Pope John Paul II’s visit to Boston in 1979 was the first nudge for him. The Pope’s words were written on his heart, especially the call that whatever you do with your life, do something extraordinary. He’d wanted to be a sportswriter before. He says that God didn’t take away his calling, just made it bigger. He went to St. Clements Hall at St. John’s Seminary College in 1982.

Fr. Mark and Fr. John are classmates, but Fr. Mark went to Boston College. When they first met Fr. Mark was struck by Fr. John’s joy and passion. He’s been ordained for 20 years. He’s had many assignments: St. Joseph, Salem; St. Ann, Neponset; Marian High School, Framingham; St. Cecilia, Ashland; St. Matthew, Dorchester; St. Thomas Aquinas, Jamaica Plain; St. Benedict, Somerville; St. James, Salem; St. Thomas the Apostle, Peabody. The Salem-Peabody town line splits St. Thomas church right down the middle. Peabody residents sit on one side and Salem residents on the Salem side.

Among the joys of his priesthood are the devotion that people have. This is a great time of year for First Communion and Confirmation and he loves to see the look in the eyes of the parents as they see their children receive their sacraments. He has a number of priests who live in his parish rectory, including a hospital chaplain, a senior priest, and a Nigerian priest.

Fr. Mark and Fr. John talked about the joy of the priesthood to see the happy kids and be around families. Fr. John said the greatest honor he could ever have is the trust that parents give. He has worked closely with parents in all his assignments.

He is pastor of St. James and St. Thomas at the same time. Scot asked him if he feels stretched between the parishes. He said he’s grateful for the patience of both parishes. They are less than a mile apart, but very different. St. James is an enormous church and campus, while St. Thomas is small and picturesque. The priests who work with him is an enormous help. Each parish has its own personality and joys and challenges and driving between them helps him to adapt for the parish.

Some days he feels very stretched, but other days he’s just delighted. St. James also welcomed the community of people who used to be in the parish of St. Joseph in Salem that was closed. He worked for six years at St. Joseph many years ago and when he came to St. James, many of the staff from St. Joseph and people who worked at the parish now work at St. James.

Parishioners brought the crucifix from St. Joseph to St. James after St. Joseph closed and on the way over the corpus broke in several places. They put the cross in St. James with the broken corpus to symbolize that they are a broken people and that Christ will heal them. A talented artist put the corpus back together and they placed the crucifix in St. James again to symbolize how the parishes have joined to become one community.

3rd segment: Fr. John has had many assignments helping people deal with and adjust to changes. Scot was struck by the different cultures at St. James and St. Thomas and instead of making them similar to make it easier for Fr. John, he adapts himself to each of the parishes. He thought it significant as a way to help parishes deal with change.

He works with an extraordinary staff in the parishes. He relies on them for their experience of the communities and their vision for their parishes. The two parishes have different perspectives, understandings, liturgies, even though they are so close.

Fr. Mark said some people say that when merging parishes there should be a new pastor, but in his case, he was a familiar presence for the parishes. Fr. John believes the Holy Spirit led him back to Salem. Much of the good from the merger was due to Fr. Larry Rondeau, who had been pastor of St. Joseph’s for 24 years. He was willing to let go and let his former parochial vicar run everything. He said Fr. Anselm Nwagbara is from Nigeria and is an extremely holy priest. Fr. Louis Bourgeois is a senior priest who was former pastor of St. Ann in Salem, so people know him as well.

Fr. Mark asked Fr. John how he keeps St. Thomas parish from feeling like the minor parish or an afterthought. He builds on what was already there, built up by those who were there before him. He told the staff that he wasn’t there to change anything, but to build from where they were at that time. It’s the pastor’s job is to make sure that the job of the pastor who comes after is easy.

He said the people of the parishes have many ministries and people have a remarkable sense of mission. At St. James the focus is on religious education and at St. Thomas the focus is on service.

Fr. John had the unfortunate duty to close St. Joseph School at St. James. It was a difficult time, but they got through it by understanding that they were all sad about it like a death in the family, but the family remains.

Fr. John said Salem was one of the centers of the abuse crisis and St. James was the bullseye. A filmmaker did a documentary on the abuse that took place there. He went to the opening of the film because he had been personally invited by the filmmaker, but not face to face. He was not the only priest there. It was difficult for him to watch. After the film, there was a question and answer period with the producer and director. The producer claimed that the pastor had been invited but did not show up, but Fr. John stood up and was willing to be recognized as such.

Scot said the Church can never forget about the abuse crisis and continually learn from it and continually reach out to victims and their families. It’s never going to go away, so we have to lead people through it.

4th segment:

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Pentecost is one of the central feast of the Church year. The Apostles, who had been confused and fearful, were empowered with the Holy Spirit to go out and proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.

Fr. John said this Sunday is one his favorite celebrations. People are making all kinds of new beginnings, new possibilities, new opportunities at this time of year. Fr. John recalls that on the feast of the Ascension was the big storm that brought tornadoes to western Mass., and so many went from looking to the sky to rush to help out those stricken by the weather.

Fr. Mark said he got his first look at Cardinal Sean’s new pastoral letter called “The New Pentecost”:

Pentecost is born out of an intense experience of prayer in union with Mary and with Peter. The experience of Pentecost is one of unity and joy that transcends all ethnic and linguistic differences and is an expression of God’s universal love.

He was struck by that first sentence. He’d always thought of Pentecost as something God does, but he thinks now about how Peter and the Apotles prepared for the Holy Spirit with intense prayer.

Fr. John makes a connection between the tongues of fire with the fire of the Easter vigil. It is the light given to us at our baptism and we are called to spread that light to others. Fr. Mark said it is something tangible, something you feel. We have to be the new Pentecost, we have to be the new apostles through real, tangible love and feeling, through smells and hearing. We have to use all of these tools to spread the light of Christ. We don’t go alone. Whatever good we’re able to do is done through grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Cardinal Seán also makes a distinction between evangelization and proselytization.

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