First - apologies for communicating by an insert and not in person - this is the only way I know to be in touch with you all at the same time - although it is much less personal than I would prefer. This past week I received a letter from Bishop Scharfenberger accepting my retirement from active priestly ministry effective February 28, 2019. Although I will still be active in celebrating the sacraments and pastoral ministry in our Diocese, this means that I will no longer be active in any administrative capacity and will be leaving St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart as pastor. I do this with mixed emotions because I have been happy here and all of you have been so wonderfully supportive and incredibly understanding. But I think it is time for me to relinquish administrative duties. I’m 71 and find that I am not on top of things the way I used to be. The past 46 years of priesthood have been incredibly blessed and happy - but let me go back and share the beginning of things -
When I was growing up both my parents were involved in medicine. My father was a hospital administrator and my mother was an ER nurse. Both had served in the Army during WW II in hospitals in England. Additionally, my aunt who was a Sister of Mercy had established in the 1950’s the “new” pediatrics department at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. They were all highly regarded for their outreach to so many and I saw how each of them was able to help people cope with some of life’s most challenging moments. I admired that and thought I would like to imitate their good example. Growing up I wasn’t thinking of becoming a priest – I wanted to pursue medicine, perhaps even become a doctor.
That thought disappeared when my parents separated in 1960. The lives of everyone in my family changed – and as a family we had to face challenges we never anticipated. We moved from Long Island back to Albany to live with my grandmother – a deeply faith-filled woman who was very involved in St. Teresa of Avila Church. Almost immediately upon arriving we were visited by the pastor, welcomed into the parish, enrolled in St. Teresa’s School and found ourselves participating in the social life of the parish. My mother began working at St. Peter’s Hospital (she would later transfer to the Albany VA Hospital). I would later find out that all of this happened due to the timely interventions of the pastor, Msgr. Hart. So many wonderful things happened to me in my high school years because of the priests and sisters at St. Teresa’s and VI. They introduced me to so many good people, took me on many outings, gave me my first “job”, and made me feel very worthwhile. Oh yes, and they encouraged me to pray and have hope. One priest urged me to join the Sodality (a kind of early prayer group), a sister encouraged me to get involved in outreach by tutoring young children, and my aunt was volunteering me to serve mass anywhere and anytime she could. By no means was this extent of my social life – but it certainly formed the backbone of much of what my friends and I did. There still were the nights spent hanging out on the corner by the drugstore, or going to the high school canteens and games, movies, cards, and parties. All of us were trying to decide what we might like to do with our lives. Gradually I realized that I could still help people who faced challenging times in their lives and I could bring to it a spirit of hope – because that is what several priests and sisters had done for me and my family. During my later years in high school I began to think seriously about becoming a priest.
My family could not have been more supportive. In fact, as I think back on it, I was probably very spoiled by all of them for they would adjust their schedules to accommodate mine and make sure that my holidays and celebrations were made to be family occasions. No one really questioned my choice, although my grandfather once asked if I was prepared to deal with not having a family and children of my own. In hindsight I realize I was too young to understand the full import of his question - but over the years I have been blessed to have a huge family who have included me in every aspect of their activities - people like you. As I said, no one questioned my choice – members of my family already were nuns and priests – and they were happy. Everyone wanted me to pursue a way of life that would bring happiness and purpose as well.
And so in 1965, at the tender age of 17, when so many of my classmates were making life decisions about marriage, careers, college, and military service in Viet Nam, I chose to enter the minor seminary and begin studies for the priesthood. And like so many of them who found love, happiness and meaning in their lives - I have found it in priesthood. Like so many of them who faced challenges in their lives and were helped by people who reached out and encouraged them to grow - so in those early years I received great support from people and seminary classmates who encouraged me to face challenges and strive for growth that would bring love, happiness and meaning. I do not think that I’ve strayed too far from childhood goals of helping people – instead of becoming a medical physician I’ve chosen to follow Christ (who is called the divine physician) – the one who heals the brokenhearted. I hope to some extent my sharing in His ministry continues to make that happen.
I have tried to share this type of ministry here in our parish. I am sure sometimes it has been an imperfect sharing and I apologize if I have in any way failed or disappointed you or our parish. What I can assure you of is that you have never failed or disappointed me. I cannot thank you enough for your assistance over the past 6 years and I assure you that you will be a part of my grateful prayers in the future. My time with you has been a privilege and a grace filled moment in my life!! I am sure the Diocese will want to be in touch with some of you as they (and you) chart the future of historic St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart - and, if needed, I will be available to assist in the transitioning. Again, please know how appreciative I am - please pray for me as I will for you.