Program #0138 for Monday, September 19, 2011: Fr. Michael Medas

September 19, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Michael Medas, Director of Clergy Personnel

Today’s topics: Priest Profile: Fr. Michael Medas; How a priest gets assignments

Summary of today’s show: Fr. Michael Medas shares with Scot his many and varied assignments, from parishes to deaf ministry to military chaplaincy and now the clergy personnel office. Fr. Medas also explained the detailed 48-step process that goes into assigning a priest to a parish.

1st segment: Today’s guest is Fr. Michael Medas of the Clergy Personnel Office. We’ll be discussing how priests get assigned to new positions and who gives input to the assignments. But first, Scot offered congratulations to the 13 new permanent deacons ordained by Cardinal Seán at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Saturday. Deacons Jim Leo and Kevin Wynn were our guests on The Good Catholic Life a few weeks ago. Photos of the ordination are at http://www.flickr.com/bostoncatholic.

Fr. Medas’ office also assigns deacons as well as priests. It’s an exciting time for his office, he said. Scot said most of the deacons participated in their first Masses on Sunday along with their first homilies. Fr. Medas said a key element of the diaconate is the ministry of preaching.

Fr. Michael was ordained in 1988. Scot asked him how he came to discern the call to priesthood. Fr. Michael said is experience of the call was unique. When he first entered the seminary after high school, he found many of his fellow seminarians mentioned a priest who said something in their life or saw a particular quality in them in the context of the Church. A number of his classmates mentioned the influence of religious sisters in their schools. But for Fr. Michael, it was a quiet experience. His family would go to Mass and he would feel a quiet attraction to the ministry of the priest. He was thinking of law enforcement or a medical vocation at the time, but a quiet voice told him maybe priesthood was possible for him.

He entered the seminary thinking they were going to kick him out. There was a priest his parish, Fr. Bill Shea, OMI, who gave a homily once about having dinner with a married friend who’d wondered whether he should have considered the priesthood. At the time, he thought that he didn’t want to look back in his old age wondering if he should have considered the priesthood. So he entered the seminary, still planning on another career, waiting for them to decide he should leave.

Fr. Michael said his time in the seminary was divided into undergraduate and graduate years and he finally discerned that calling at the end of his undergrad years. It was still a quiet confirmation, a feeling that it felt right and fit him. It was still very challenging to be conformed to God’s heart, mind, and will, but it still felt comfortable.

Fr. Michael grew up in Bridgewater and it at the time it was still quite rural with many dairy farms. It was a small town with good family values. Two aspects of the parish that influenced him was the great preaching at Masses that helped him understand that Christ is present in the Eucharist. It is interesting to him that so many who are responding to vocational calls today, that the Eucharist was so central to them. They also had First Friday devotions with Eucharistic exposition all day. As altar servers, they were called to participate.

He said the core of what called him to ask if this was what God was asking him to do, was that he had such a great understanding that the Eucharist is Jesus. He knew that whenever he was seeking Christ, he could find him in the Eucharist. As a priest, he wants to continue to share it as gently and firmly as those parish priests.

2nd segment: Fr. Michael’s first assignment was at St. Patrick’s in Watertown, which had many older folks who built the parish and continued to support it. It had a grammar school and high school. Also, being close to Boston, it was a Catholic parish where younger people working in Boston started to locate.

Scot said it’s a beautiful big church and still going strong. CatholicTV has its headquarters in the former convent right behind the parish. Fr. Michael said part of our Catholic life is how older members can share faith with the newer folks, while newer folks share energy and vibrancy with the older folks.

After that, Fr. Michael went to St. Theresa Parish in Billerica. It is a very vibrant family community. There were 2,000 kids just in religious education alone. There were 3,000 people at Mass every weekend. He recalls how the traditions of the faith were passed on within families from one generation to the next.

In 1994, he was invited to prepare himself through study to lead the Office of the Deaf Apostolate. The Clergy Personnel office had sent out a survey to priests listing a series of non-parish ministries to see if they’d be interested. Fr. Michael checked off deaf ministry. When Fr. Michael was in the last four years of seminary, the deaf community came to the seminary with the hopes of attracting the interest of some future priest to work with them. He remembers sitting in the back of the chapel and the Scripture was proclaimed. A seminarian read the Word and a deaf person sat next to him signing the Word. He thought to himself that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the signing. We have a different access to understand God’s Word.

After meeting with a priest in 1994 who worked in the deaf apostolate, he prayed about God’s will for him. Fr. Michael went to Gallaudet University in DC to learn American Sign Language. It is a university specifically for deaf people. It is a place where the language is learn, but also the culture of the deaf is experienced. He earned a degree in social work there and then led the Deaf Apostolate for close to a decade.

On the weekends when he celebrated Mass for hearing communities, he’d lose his voice because he stopped using it during the week serving deaf Catholics. He would travel more than 450 miles per week visiting deaf people throughout the Archdiocese, helping them with pastoral needs.

Scopt said Fr. Sean Carey is the only deaf priest in the Archdiocese and when he celebrates Mass, it helps Scot to appreciate the Mass more. Fr. Michael shared a story of Fr. Shawn’s vocation. He had been with the deaf community praying for a vocation from the deaf Catholic community. They had received a statue of Our Lady from the Archdiocese and each family in the deaf community would bring that statue home and pray every evening at dinner time that God would send them such a vocation. About two years later, Sean Carey stepped forward.

Fr. Michael said God can call anybody because it’s not about the individual, but it’s about God’s ability to work around our sinfulness and weakness. If you hear the Word of God calling you to discernment, it can be a quiet call not a lightning bolt.

He said as a priest learning sign, celebrating Mass, he has to consider carefully what the Church means by the words of the Mass as well as the words as themselves. It was a deepening of the understanding of Mass and it also slowed him down in celebrating the Mass. It was a great gift.

He still celebrates Mass in American Sign Language about once per month. It’s not always with the deaf community. Often if he goes to Mass with a lot of kids, he will pray the Eucharist prayer in Sign. Many children today learn some signs in school and at home so it’s somewhat familiar and they are often intrigued.

After the deaf apostolate, he was assigned to chaplaincy with the Air Force Reserves and then the Air National Guard. Fr. Michael said there’s an even greater shortage of priests within the military communities. There is a sacrifice for a diocese to send a priest to the military, but they are serving people from our own communities who are already serving us in dangerous, life-threatening jobs. Scot said the Archdiocese of Boston has always been a leader in encouraging priests to consider military service.

Fr. Michael said many years the bishop of the military archdiocese asked the dioceses to pledge 3% of their priests to the chaplaincy. When people are in harm’s way, they want the comfort of the sacraments, especially the comfort of Jesus in the Eucharist.

He served at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford. He also served at the National Security Agency, Maguire AFB in New Jersey, and the Air Force Academy. He has served at the academy for three summers now. He said he wishes every American could meet the young men and women who attend the academy. The chapel there seats 350-400 people and overflows when they come for a time of prayer, seeking to serve their country in the context of serving God.

In some ways, his reserve service takes up his regular vacation time. The obligation is two weeks anytime during the year, particularly during the summer, and two days per month. When he finished a prior assignment to the one he is in now, he thought he’d be going back to parish ministry and so he switched to the Air National Guard so that he would have more stability. His ANG assignment is actually in Rhode Island because if their need for a chaplain in North Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Prior to this assignment, Fr. Michael was Director of Pastoral Formation at St. John Seminary. He said it was a privileged moment in his seminary formation to just be in the seminary, but then to be called back, knowing how important seminary formation is for the lives of parishioners. He was pleased to have some role in that, particularly in pastoral formation, to help the men develop their skills for the parish.

3rd segment: One of the most important duties of a bishop is to prayerfully discern the assignment of priests to parishes. Fr. Michael coordinates the process that provides the options for Cardinal Seán to choose from.

Scot said Fr. Michael’s predecessor, Fr. Bob Deehan, once made a presentation that listed 48 steps for assigning a priest. He was shocked at how detailed the the process was.

Fr. Michael has been in the job for a little more than a year. Scot asked for an overview of the process. Fr. Michael said the people in his office give great assistance and play an important role, especially Ruth Cox who has been in the office many years and knows every priest.

When a parish becomes open, the Cardinal makes an announcement in the Pilot that the present pastor is leaving the parish and moving to a new assignment. The Personnel office contacts the old pastor to create a parish profile, including all the projects, goals, and hopes of the parish for now and the future as well as the current state of the parish. At the same time, priests of the Archdiocese would be bringing the assignment to prayer and putting their name forward to be considered. Within two to three weeks, Fr. Michael will respond to contacts from interested priests and give them the results of the parish profile. The priests will also be in touch with the outgoing pastor. Scot asked if others could nominate priest they think will be good for the parish.

Fr. Michael said parishioners do give their input through the parish profile compiled by the outgoing pastor. Another priest can nominate a priest by telling Fr. Michael why a particular priest would be a great fit. Occasionally, a pastor will invite Fr. Michael to meet with the parish pastoral council or parishioners to speak to them in person. It puts people’s names and voices behind the parish profile.

Scot said regional bishops assist Cardinal Seán with relationships with pastors and vicars forane, pastors within those regions who also work with the bishops. Fr. Michael said the bishops and vicars are helpful for considering the needs of a particular town or region or parish cluster when assigning a pastor. Once the process has begun and the Clergy Personnel Board— nine priests who are elected by ordination years and are responsible for knowing the priests in their year-groups— meets and considers those who’ve written in, those whose names have been put in, and every single priest in the Archdiocese. They consider the profile and have lots of discussion, discernment, and prayer. They come up with a list of names for the Cardinal, but first they bring the list to the regional bishop for him to weigh in. They always try to have a list of three names of priests who would be a good next fit. As the Cardinal reviews the three names, Fr. Michael explains the strengths of the three men.

Scot asked when nominated priests find out they’ve been nominated. Fr. Michael said when a priest nominates another, Fr. Michael tells him he should talk to that priest so that when Cardinal Seán asks the priest to be the next pastor, it won’t be a surprise and if there’s a reason not to become pastor they will know it ahead of time.

Scot said Cardinal Seán sometimes chooses a name that wasn’t on the list, but for the most part the Cardinal is understanding of the process of all the work that goes into compiling the list. There’s so much work into understanding the parish and the priests who’ve applied. But the Cardinal is the bishop and the Cardinal has the grace of his office for the Lord to work. There may also be particulars that the Cardinal knows as the bishop, that others might not.

Fr. Michael said the Cardinal has a personnel board too with the vicar general, Fr. Michael, and the secretary of pastoral life and leadership. At the end of the meeting, Fr. Michael’s task is to call the priest that Cardinal Seán has selected. If the priest didn’t know he was being considered, very often he wants to speak to his spiritual director first. There’s a respectfulness on the part of Cardinal Seán for God’s working in the priest’s life. If he accepts the assignment, then it all starts all over again if the priest was already a pastor.

Scot said typically there’s a couple of months before the pastor takes on the new assignment in order to allow him to wrap up his previous ministry and for the new parish to prepare.

Fr. Michael’s office also assigns parochial vicars to prepare them to be pastors someday. How many assignments should a young priest have before becoming a pastor. They hope for two assignments of 3 years apiece. The first assignment they are transitioning from seminary, living with a pastor. In the second assignment they learn how to be a pastor. But today, they are finding that even within 4 years or in one recent case, less than 4 years, they are becoming pastors.

Some pastors are particularly good at forming parochial vicars and being mentors. The younger priest sees from his mentor how to live out his priesthood.

Scot said many priests today are second-vocation priests ordained after a long professional career. They still need to transition to the priesthood, to stop seeing things through his old profession and to see it through the eyes of his priesthood.

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