Saturday, August 13, 2011

So you think secular priests should be living in a community?

That's what a post I read suggested, going so far as to call priests who resist the idea 'hermit cowboys'.  The author explains:
I have some good friends who are diocesan priests and I expect they'll all be annoyed with me for saying it, but here we go again: c'mon lads, this living like hermits thing really sucks.

I really think something is wrong with the Western model of diocesan priesthood where, pretty much to a man, you each live alone. Yes, I know you like it, and to be honest you've turned into a bit of an eccentric grump, so at this point I wouldn't propose that you be deprived of your status as a hermit. But I'm not talking about you - I'm talking about the model. - Source
I don't know about that.  Communal living is not the first thing a contemporary man thinks about as he discerns a vocation to the secular priesthood.  Though the blog which posted the article quotes a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI in an interview, I wonder if it is even practical, considering the shortage of priests today, as well as the need remote parishes and even urban parishes have of retaining a pastor in the rectory and not some far off condo in a better neighborhood.  This is what the Holy Father said to Peter Seewald:
"I believe that celibacy becomes a very meaningful sign, and above all becomes possible to live, when priests begin to form communities. It is important for priests not to live off on their own somewhere, in isolation, but to accompany one another in small communities, to support one another, and so to experience, and constantly realize afresh, their communion in service to Christ and in renunciation for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven." - Source
That's a wonderful ideal of course, and if it can happen, it's a good thing.  The saints have made similar arrangements for secular priests and it obviously works.  Within my archdiocese Bishop Carlson at one point established a group known as The Companions of Christ, a group of priests who live in community - more or less, but not every diocesan priest lives that way, not are they obliged to do so.  A similar group has been established in Denver I think.  I have a priest friend who has a more monastic style community, although that arrangement is clearly based on religious life and not a loosely arranged common life as one sees in the Companions or even the Oratorians.  I'll reprint a section from Fr. Sirico's description of the life his group lives in Michigan:
St. Philip Neri never intended nor wanted to establish a religious order, and anyone who came to him asking for religious life or that he establish his congregation of priests in a more formal way, he sent to the Jesuits or Dominicans. We are priests and brothers (as opposed to religious order priests/brothers… Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans…) living in the world, without vows. The Community of St. Philip Neri House resembles the internal structure of Sulpicians, Vincentians, Pallotines, and Paulists which are congregations of priests/brothers or Societies of Apostolic Life in that we do not take public vows, but live freely what the Church expects of priests and brothers.  - Community of St. Philip Neri House
I think the sex scandals and the stories of fallen away priests and those who commit suicide have frightened many people in the Church, and the well meaning look for solutions to safeguard priests from themselves, as it were.  In a way it reminds me of the nanny state trying to control private life, although everyone's concern is well intentioned and 'pastoral' here, I think it unlikely every priest is  called to community, although those who feel such a need or attraction certainly are free to do so.  That said, I think it is perhaps more critical that candidates for priesthood receive better training, if it isn't already there.  I also think the candidates admitted to ordination need to have the proper maturity as well as the emotional stability to be able to live a relatively solitary life - which is really not that different from the single state of unmarried adult men and women.  If critics so strongly believe it essential for 'man not to be alone' then why not allow married priests?  I'm not for that idea of course - although it is allowed for Anglicans coming into the Church, isn't it? 
Diocesan priests are not monks, nor are they vowed members of a religious order.  St. Philip Neri recognized that and rejected a monastic style of life, of prayer, and horarium as unsuitable for 'modern clerics.'  How many centuries ago did Neri live?  Secular priests are not always suited to communal life and they are definitely not obliged to it. 
What is forgotten in these discussions is good masculine friendships.  Many priests are friends with one another and socialize together, and not a few form support groups where they get together on a regular basis.  I suspect in most cases, that is enough community for them - after all, they have a ministry to attend to, and in most cases the parish family becomes their primary community.  Remember - John Vianney lived alone, and even when he wanted to run away and join a religious order he thought of the Carthusians - who are essentially hermits.
Photo: Still from "Diary of a Country Priest"


  1. I'll agree to this. Even if it were better for priests to live together, it's just flat out completely impractical. Around Boston there's just not enough priests. Unless you want certain priests to have to live a distance away from their parish, as opposed to the usefulness of having them right there, then it makes no sense.

  2. Anonymous1:10 PM

    There was a time when the Holy See felt it necessary to put ALL women religious under papal enclosure. Perhaps at this time something (which doesn't mean exactly like papal enclosure) like this is necessary for priests. There is far too much scandal in the Church right now, extreme measures might be in order.


  3. For your consideration:

    “…strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand to the little ones…”

    Whether a Priest lives alone or in community, when the Faith is abandoned and Modernism enters, the end is an all out assault upon souls.

    It is best to live in community that the Priest be more fully encouraged to say his Divine Office and other prayers daily, and that he might be more fully supported by clerics rather than laity.

    Missionary Priests are exceptions to the rule.


  4. Fr. Richard9:12 PM


    As a diocesan priest who lives this solitary life and have been doing so for a while, you have hit the nail on the head. It is a noble aspiration, but totally impractical in most dioceses, particularly rural ones like the one I am in. I cover two parishes 23 miles apart and my nearest neighbor priest is 8 miles away. Could we live in the same house- yeah I guess, but I think both of us are ok living by ourselves and taking care of our parish families. I get together with him and other priests scattered about once or twice a month for dinner and just hanging out and to be honest that is enough community life for me. Do priests out on their own become eccentric at times? Sure, but any more than married people or single people living alone or even religious living in community? Not really from my obsevation and experience as a diocesan priest over 11 years. A lot of this has to do with how much you pray and allow the Lord to form you in holiness- St. John Vianney is a good example of this. Maybe this can work in a city diocese- but even then I suspect most secular priests would not want to live in community for a variety of reasons. In fact one of the reasons I didn't join a religious community, when I was discerning my vocation, was I didn't want to live with a bunch of guys- I had enough of that in five years of seminary living. The bottom line is the secular priest calling is a specific calling and it calls for some holy solitude. Each vocation is different and that is what makes the Catholic Church so rich.

  5. Fr. Richard9:15 PM

    By the way the Diary of a Country Priest, which the picture is from on this post, novel by George Bernarnos is probably the best book on understanding both the beauty and the trials and tribulations of a parish priest- it's obvious he had some close parish priest friends to draw his insights upon when he wrote this back in the 1930's. It is just an accurate today. A great read.

  6. Thanks Father for your good comments. I'll have to read the book too. You are very much in my prayers. Thanks.

  7. A Random Friar8:24 AM

    Trust me on this one -- male religious in community can get pretty wacky as well! Um... not that I know anything about that.

    The thing about religious community is that it takes a strong intentionality, and there is hard work and time that must be devoted to community in order to make it prosper. There is nothing more lonely than a bunch of people living under one roof that don't talk to each other.

    So if a lot of diocesans live together under one roof, each one of them running a different parish, then there would have to be a sacrifice of ministry made. The friars I live with are very intentional and guarded about community time. Barring an actual emergency that calls one of us away, or a true pastoral necessity (e.g., Christmas Mass), we do not schedule meetings with parishioners during community meal or prayer time.

  8. Friar - Thanks for adding that.

    I wonder if I should write about the enabling effects of community life? Nah.

    Just kidding - we'd have stories though, wouldn't we? :)

  9. michael r.6:39 PM

    Great novel, from which a great film was made-- easily one of my favorite films of all time.

  10. The concerns can be more that adequately address by requiring secular clergy to live in rectory's on the grounds on the parish church: no more condos and apartments.

    (Lol: word verification is 'bratings'.)


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