You have undoubtedly heard that starting the first weekend in February, the Mass Schedule will be changing for the Midtown Catholic parishes of St. Thomas More and St. Joan of Arc. Fr. Lorig has given you some statistics on why this is happening. He has outlined how we have far fewer priests than we had ten years ago. He also gave you the Archdiocese’s projections for eight years from now. The statistics show why this will eventually have to happen. It does not show why the decision was made to do it right at this time. After all, Fr. Lorig and I have been handling the current number of Masses so far. Why not wait until it is necessary. To answer that, I would like to offer my two cents worth.
Most people see the basics that the priests do week after week. When I went into the seminary, I presumed that all a priest did was have
confessions every Saturday afternoon, a couple of Masses every Sunday, and visit the school a few times a year. I have learned a little since then. To give you an idea of what I have learned and how it affects this decision, I would like to provide some information about my current situation.
On a regular week, I have about nine Masses, confessions on Saturday afternoons, and periodic visits to the school. Then I have other things to do. Usually, I have one or two funerals per week. Funerals involve working with the family to make the wake service and the funeral itself a memorable experience for the family who has just lost someone very special to them. I consider each funeral I do to be for a family member. I think that way because I take the title “Father” very seriously. I see the weddings and baptisms I have in the same way. But that is just the start.
I am also chaplain for the Serra Club of West Omaha. The Serra Club is one of the groups that take on the special commission of supporting current priests and consecrated religious and, more importantly, promoting vocations to those roles so we will have priests in the future. Being chaplain involves a couple of meetings and one Mass per month. I am also the only Catholic priest currently enrolled as police chaplain for the Omaha Police Department, which means being available at any time of the day or night. In addition, I am one of a couple of priests who are on call for Bergan, UNMC, and Methodist hospitals. Again, this means being ready to take calls at any time of the day or night. I celebrate Mass at Bergan Hospital once a week for the staff and family members to help them deal with everything going on in their lives. I am on speed dial for several nursing homes and hospice workers in the area. And in case you haven’t noticed, I am also called upon to have Mass for Shut-ins and be on Spirit Catholic Radio. There are a few other odds-and-ends that I am involved in, but this gives you a general picture. It lets you know that every priest does
a lot more than just be there for his parish assignment. There are things like Engaged Encounter, Christians Encounter Christ (CEC), and Beginning Experience weekends, all of which I have been involved in but have dropped over the years. Actually, I still do CEC when I have
a chance. I can do so many of these extra things because, as pastor, Fr. Lorig takes care of most of Midtown Catholic’s meetings and
I don’t want you to think that this is anything but wonderful work. I love every bit of it. I love being a priest, but a second aspect makes today different and addresses why we need to decrease the number of Masses. In the past year and a half, we have had ten of our retired priests
pass away. We have also had several other priests who are now out of the workforce for various reasons. We depended on some of these priests to help handle what I just listed as my workload. Over the years, “retired” priests dealt with those calls to nursing homes and hospitals, along with doing some of the weekend experiences like CEC. They were available to substitute for priests trying to take a vacation. If you look at the number of priest work hours served by the average priest, this means an increase of ten percent in just the last two years. It does not factor in the increase from the previous ten years or the next eight. Since some priests are already at their limits, others must do even more.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize that many people face drastic changes in their personal lives. I ask that you recognize that when it happens, each person and each institution goes about looking at how it can rebalance things. That is precisely what we are doing at Midtown Catholic. There are a few things that we can cut and many that we cannot. An average of 800 people attend Mass per weekend. That is the total for all six Masses. Our churches hold a lot of people. Is it too much to ask people to look seriously at their schedules and consider whether a slight
change might be acceptable? Believe me when I tell you that there will be many cuts in all the parishes around the Archdiocese very soon. Because this is new to our two parishes, it seems like a shock. For other parishes, it is old hat.
The reality is that we will adjust. The church has survived for 2,000 years. It will survive this, and so will we. As changes occur, the question always on every priest’s mind is how many people will allow something like this to be their excuse for turning away from their faith. Look at how many people we lost because of the changes made due to Covid. Please pray for me, and I will pray for you.
Fr. Frank, Senior Associate