After Fr. Ricardo Martin Pinillos spenta few days acclimating to his new home at Sacred Heart rectory in Racine, he decided to explore. He started with the basement. Unfortunately, the trip below was literally quite alarming.
“I went downstairs, but no one had told me that there was an alarm in one of the doors and it went off,” he said.
While the story is funny now, he admitted that while he enjoys change in his life, setting off the alarm was not one of those instances.
Fr. Martin has had several transitions during his nine years as a priest. In July, he was assigned part time as administrator of Sacred Heart and with the metropolitan tribunal after finishing studies in canon law at The Catholic University of America. He has been pastor of Prince of Peace Parish, Milwaukee, St. Patrick and Cristo Rey parishes, Racine and assisted at Good Shepherd Parish in Alexandria, Va., while attending CUA.
Moving is part of the vocation for priests, and it is not always easy. In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, priests generally serve a parish for a six-year term that is renewable once; new assignments usually begin in June. Newly ordained priests generally serve as an associate for three years and then are assigned as parish administrator for a year. This gives the priest and the diocese some flexibility in case the assignment is not a good fit before the six-year term begins.
“I know most people don’t like change, but I actually thrive with the emotions and the novelty – getting to know a new place and (finding) out how things work,” said Fr. Martin. “It’s exciting to have the opportunity to meet new people. To see how an institution works, to discern its strengths and weaknesses, to discover the intricacies of how things work, either at the parish or at the tribunal.”
Learning names and not disrupting the flow of parish life are the most challenging aspects of the move for Fr. Martin.
“But I really enjoy change and new beginnings,” he said. “Meeting new people on the one hand, and discerning the many strengths and the few weaknesses of an institution is an interesting process.”
For Fr. Peter Berger, administrator of St. Mary’s Visitation Parish, Elm Grove, the transition allows him to serve parishioners. Ordained in 2005, Fr. Berger was assigned to Lumen Christi Parish, Mequon, before serving as vocation director for the archdiocese.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to serve as vocation director for the archdiocese, but I am thrilled to be back doing parish ministry, particularly in being assigned to St. Mary’s Visitation Parish,” he said. “Returning to parish ministry is returning to the reason I wanted to be a priest, as well as what I feel God has called me to do.”
Fr. Berger finds relationship-building the most difficult aspect when transferring to a new position or parish.
“Trying to learn people’s names as well as the dynamics of a parish takes time and energy,” he admitted. “But, while it is challenging, it can also be one of the most rewarding parts about being a parish priest – getting to know people and becoming a part of the life of a parish community.”
For some priests, the transition to feeling at home in their new parish takes several years, while others feel comfortable by the end of the first year.
“Going through the yearly cycle once builds up knowledge and experience and makes you feel that you know what is going on, and you have come to know people and they have come to know you,” said Fr. Berger. “It is a joy being in relationship with others and trying to draw closer with them to Christ and the church and being present for people in important moments in their lives, but also being present to people in the day to day reality of existence. You also wonder what God is going to do next and while that can be frightening on the one hand, (because of) the unknown, it can also be exhilarating.”
2 months of going-away parties
When Fr. Daniel Janasik moved in June from his first assignment as associate pastor of St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, to administrator of St. Leonard Parish, Muskego, there were so many going-away parties that he joked it felt as if he were attending his own funeral for two months.
“You hear what seems like all these eulogies about yourself and everyone says goodbye,” he explained. “It was sad to say goodbye for me because I really loved them. But, in the back of my mind, I heard all sorts of great things about St. Leonard and I was happy to receive an appointment there. It was sad and exciting, but it was about a new reality and a new challenge.”
Workshops and discussions help prepare seminarians for moving to new environments, but when the appointment comes, the knowledge does not always coincide with the matters of the heart.
“Leaving people and saying goodbye to relationships is very difficult,” admitted Fr. Janasik. “We are walking with people through the best and worst moments in their lives and sometimes a mix of all of that. Part of a parish priest’s job is being immersed in people’s lives and in knowing we belong to a wider church. I don’t think it will get easier as I move to other assignments. You get to love people and then you have to let go of good relationships.”
With his new parish just minutes from his parents’ home, Fr. Janasik is experiencing what he calls, “the clashing of two worlds.”
“It is strange saying Mass with my parents there, yet gratifying as it affirms my vocation,” he said. “I see their friendly faces in the pew and yet I am learning people. Everything in ministry is about relationships, and the parishioners are strangers to me and I am a stranger to them. We are getting to know each other; sometimes it is fun and sometimes it’s frustrating – it will be much easier once I learn names and get to know people.”
Priest-mentors prove helpful
Former St. Leonard pastor and vicar general/moderator of the curia, Fr. William Kohler, has helped Fr. Janasik.
“He has been mentoring me and has been a huge help in this transition,” said Fr. Janasik. “I am able to bounce things off of him. He knows this place really well and gives me very helpful advice.”
Similarly, Fr. Sean O’Connell, former associate pastor of St. Dominic Parish, Brookfield, administrator of Queen of Apostles Parish, Pewaukee, relies on Fr. David Reith, pastor of St. Dominic, for support in learning how to run a parish, and how to handle the personalities of 1,200 members.
“It is challenging now as an administrator because everything comes to my desk,” he said. “When I was an associate I could pass that onto Fr. Dave; now the buck stops with me. I have to make official decisions on financial and personnel issues that arise and everyone is staring at me looking for answers. I consult with Fr. Dave, as he was the greatest mentor I could ask for. I have him on speed dial and have contacted him several times. He has taught me some amazing tools on how to be a great pastor and how to love the people of God. There is no one better than Fr. Dave.”
Becoming the administrator of Queen of Apostles has been a welcoming experience for Fr. O’Connell, who said the best part of being a priest is Sunday Mass.
“This is my one opportunity a week to see everyone, or as many come to interact as part of our parish family,” he said. “I am a family person. I come from a loving and supportive family and when I get to see families come to have spiritual enrichment, renewal and celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass, it puts a smile on my face. I am excited to be gathering with this community. I absolutely love being a parish priest and this is the greatest vocation for me, personally – I am already at home here.”
Priest used to moving
Ordained in 1976, Fr. William Stanfield knows about the logistics and emotional upheaval associated with moving parishes. For 32 years, he served as pastor of a number of parishes, but the past four years, he served as vice rector and director of pastoral formation of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. In June, he was assigned to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake. Not only does he have a parish to shepherd, but he continues seminary duties.
“This isn’t a big move for me as I have moved six times since I was ordained,” he said. “The most difficult aspect of the move is in getting to know the people and how things are done.”
While he admitted he couldn’t speak for the parish side of the transition, for him, the move to Blessed Teresa has been a positive experience. However, with 2,100 parishioners, he said he has new names to learn.
“It will take a while to really get to know them and what goes on in the parish,” he said. “But I love working with people and look forward to working with everyone.”
After serving the Milwaukee Archdiocese as a priest for 20 years, Fr. Timothy Bickel understands the reasons for moving. In June, he moved from pastor of St. Agnes Parish, Butler, to St. Mary Parish, Menomonee Falls.
“I was blessed to spend 12 years with the faith community of St. Agnes Parish as their shepherd and mentor,” he said. “Therefore, it is very difficult to accept the necessary change. I was very sad to leave St. Agnes, but at the same time, I was excited to begin my ministry with the people of St. Mary Parish. Now that I have been at St. Mary for over a month, I find that there really hasn’t been any difficulty in changing parishes. People are the same wherever you go and all people need love, compassion, a hug and someone to guide them in faith.”
Eucharist helps him feel at home
Losing the connection with his parish family and bridging new connections is the most difficult aspect of the move. Week after week, Fr. Bickel knew what his former parishioners were dealing with on a personal and parish level.
“Now that connection is gone and I have to learn the history of new faces and families,” he explained. “It takes time to get to know the people in the pews and, from their perspective, I know they are wondering who I am and how long I will remain as their pastor. They have been very welcoming, and I have been embraced by the young and the old who gather for weekday and weekend Eucharist.”
At times, the changes are challenging, but there are instances when Fr. Bickel knows he is already home.
“When we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, it doesn’t take long to feel at ‘home’ because we are all at home with the Lord,” he said. “I know this is where God has called me to minister and to serve. I hope to bring about a spirit of joy and enthusiasm for the faith which we profess.”
Retirement a bittersweet time
On the other side of active priestly ministry is retirement and the emotional and physical changes that can shatter the very core of lifelong service to God. Ordained in 1955, Jesuit Fr. John Naus served Marquette University for 48 years. Among other things, he taught classes in the philosophy of humor, served as dean of students, director of spiritual welfare, residence hall minister, assistant to the president, associate professor of philosophy, performed as Tumbleweed the Clown in nursing homes and at Children’s Hospital, and frequently celebrated Mass on campus.
Living at St. Camillus since suffering a stroke in 2004, he still traveled to Marquette daily. Three weeks ago, health issues forced him to retire and, for the first time in nearly 50 years, he struggles with not being able to go to work.
“This has been very hard on me, because I loved what I did and loved being at Marquette,” he admitted. “There is a store downstairs in St. Camillus and I found this card that had a quote from Jeremiah 32:37 on the front. It said, ‘I am the Lord the God of all mankind, is anything too hard for me?’ Inside it says, ‘When you think you can’t, God’s love says you can.’ It really spoke to me and I think it just says so much.”
The many friends he has made throughout his lifetime comfort the 88-year-old Fr. Naus.
Recently, he worked with volunteers to prepare 4,000 Christmas cards to be sent next season. He also looks forward to a retirement party on Aug. 28, given by the university.
“I am getting through this difficult time of my life by praying, thinking and keeping in contact with close friends. I am grateful for the dear friends I have had for 48 years at Marquette,” he said. “And I know that despite how I feel and how hard this is, there is still God and he is with me.”
Officially, Fr. Joseph Hornacek is retired, but he appears as active as the priests who have not reached retirement age. Don’t be swayed by appearances, however, as he is doing exactly what he wants.
“You know, it took me 45 years to be a priest, and now I am doing exactly what I studied and was trained for,” he said, laughing. “I have no leaky roofs to repair, no personnel issues or budget issues. I love it and am able to sleep more than five hours a night now. It is just wonderful.”
He moved to seven parishes, served at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, and in priest personnel work, In 1998, he became vicar for clergy.
“When I was nearing my sixth year as the vicar for clergy, Archbishop (Timothy M.) Dolan asked me if I wanted to renew, but because I had such a difficult job removing priests due to the sexual abuse problems, the last two and a half years of that position were very challenging,” he explained. “I told him I wanted to go back to parish work and I didn’t care where he sent me. I was assigned to St. Anthony on the Lake in Pewaukee and stayed there six years until I was 70 and decided to retire.”
Before Fr. Hornacek retired last year, Bishop (Richard J.) Sklba contacted him about assisting in priestless parishes, so he began helping out as a supervising priest at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Milwaukee. Working with former seminary classmate, Fr. Richard Mirsberger, the two alternate Mass and confession schedules at St. Catherine, as well as St. John Nepomuk, Racine, and Trinity Village and Manor Park assisted living centers.
“I have a wonderful life and have plenty of time to work on my homilies, do cooking and laundry and my cleaning,” he said. “I get to sit with my sister who lives in the area, and have lunch with her every day. I just love it.”