The great evangelist Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “When we surrender to God, we get ourselves back ennobled and enriched” (The Priest Is Not His Own). Every May I experience this truth when new men are ordained priests and others retire after years of loving, dedicated service to Christ and his Church.
This ebb and flow of priestly life is wonderful to celebrate, but it also impacts many parishes as new clergy appointments are made to adjust for these changes.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that many Gentiles and Jews became believers in Antioch, the place where they were first called Christians. The Scriptures say, “News of this came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:23). Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” urged the local Church to remain faithful to the Lord and then brought Paul to preach to them, steadily increasing their numbers.
When Barnabas was sent to Antioch, the Church in Jerusalem must have missed his charism of encouragement. But the Christians in Antioch were blessed by his gifts, too. This same dynamic plays itself out when priests are reassigned each year.
Because Jesus founded our Church upon St. Peter and his successors, the decision about who to send where ultimately falls to me as a successor of the Apostles, unlike some of our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, who select their own pastor.
I receive letters from people who are upset about their priest being sent to another parish, and other letters thanking me for giving the same priest a new assignment and sending the parish a new priest. As a priest and now as a bishop, I have learned that it is impossible to keep everyone happy.
The process of discerning who to send to a parish is taken seriously and involves lengthy consultation and reflection with the deans—those priests who have been chosen to coordinate the clergy in their region of the archdiocese. The deans assist me with assignments and their advice is valuable.
In the Archdiocese of Denver, we are blessed with a good number of priests and seminarians as compared to other dioceses, yet we must continue to pray for vocations.
I am often asked about the number of priests in our archdiocese, and so I would like to share some statistics with you. The Church has two basic categories for priests—those who are diocesan priests and those who belong to a religious order like the Capuchins, Jesuits or the Dominicans. In our archdiocese, we have 185 diocesan priests (143 active and 42 retired) and 106 religious order priests (95 active and 11 retired), giving us a total of 248 priests in active ministry.
In terms of vocations to the priesthood, the archdiocese is blessed to have 44 men studying for the priesthood at St. John Vianney Seminary, 21 men at Redemptoris Mater Seminary, and 10 men at various other seminaries, giving us a total of 75 seminarians.
What many people don’t realize is how much we rely on foreign-born clergy. Out of the 75 men studying to be priests for our archdiocese, 29 of them come from other countries. The same pattern appears among priests in active ministry. Of the 248 priests in active ministry, 87 of them come from other countries and 79 are from other states. This means that only 82 of the men who are actively serving our archdiocese are from Colorado.
These statistics emphasize both the importance of continuing to promote vocations locally and of being thankful for the generous sacrifices made by those priests and seminarians who have left their homeland to serve Christ and his Church in this archdiocese. Without our foreign priests and vocations coming to us from other states, many of our parishes would be without the sacraments.
If you attend a parish that is receiving a new priest and saying goodbye to your previous one, I encourage you to receive them with a warm welcome and give thanks for the gift of their priesthood, which brings Christ in the sacraments to you and your families.
I came from the state of California, and decided to stay in Colorado and be ordained a priest here because I loved the beauty of Colorado. During my time as a parochial vicar and then as a pastor in this archdiocese, I experienced the loving and heartfelt welcome of many faithful people. I pray that if you are receiving a new priest, you will experience the love of Christ from him and that you will welcome him as the Christians of Antioch welcomed Barnabas and Paul.