Senior Priests Maintain a Vital Role in the Archdiocese

In the Church, the value of the priesthood is something that never goes unnoticed. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, 322 diocesan priests serve the 198 parishes and 568,448 registered Catholics in the area.

But, what many may not notice is that one third of the weekly Masses are celebrated by the 90 senior priests living in the diocese.

“Being a priest is like being a mother. Once a mother, always a mother. Once a priest always a priest,” senior priest Fr. Leonard Barbian said.

Fr. Barbian was ordained a priest on May 29, 1965, fulfilling what he called a call to serve people in a gift graced by the Holy Spirit. Fr. Barbian’s service to the Church expanded his frame of reference in his many roles in the archdiocese from associate pastor at St. Gregory the Great to the director of the Catholic Family Life Program to a pastor at St. Mary’s in Hales Corners, Associate Vicar for Clergy and his final assignment at St. William’s in Waukesha.

“Each parish has its own personality, and it’s actually quite exciting. They all were broadening and life-giving,” Fr. Barbian said of his many different assignments.

Fellow senior priest Fr.  Ron Crewe, ordained on May 25, 1963, expressed similar sentiments of his various assignments from teaching religion at St. Joseph’s High School to a pastor at St. Hedwig’s on Milwaukee’s East Side, Christ King in Wauwatosa, and finally to his hometown at Sacred Heart Parish in Racine.

Both Fr. Barbian and Fr. Crewe reflected that one of the most rewarding aspects of the priesthood was being able to work directly with the parishioners.

“It is really a privilege to become a priest because you get into the lives of people at some very tender moments, some very trying times as well as very joyful times,” Fr. Barbian said.

Both senior priests currently assist at archdiocesan parishes. Fr. Barbian helps out at St. Mary’s in Hales Corners. Fr. Crewe has been assisting at St. Lucy’s Parish in Racine for almost five years.

“Senior priests do a lot of what priests call ‘help-out,’” Fr. James Lobacz, the Vicar for Senior Priests, said. “They celebrate sacraments on a short term or long term basis in parishes.”

In addition, senior priests assist in the distribution of sacraments including visiting with the sick and hearing confession, as well as working with Christian formation programs including leading retreats and conducting Scripture studies.

“It’s in our DNA to remain active,” Fr. Barbian said.

Senior priests’ role in the archdiocese, according to Fr. Lobacz, are critical to maintain so many active parishes. That being said, the senior priests do get to enjoy some benefits of retirement.

“On the practical level, the senior priest can say yes or no to whatever is pitched within his physical and mental ability,” Fr. Crewe said. “We are free to choose.”

“Any number of our senior priests have told me that now they only have the enjoyable parts of priesthood. They are no longer involved in administrative things like personnel issues, budgets and other meetings. They spend their time preaching, celebrating Holy Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation,” Fr. Lobacz said.

Senior priests also receive more time for prayer and reflection, which further strengthens their faith lives.

“I am a person of the present moment,” Fr. Crewe reflected.

Fr. Barbian hopes that archdiocesan parishioners will begin to see more fully the active role that senior priests play in the diocese.

“Parishes are dropping Masses because the churches are not filled like they used to be,” Fr. Barbian said. “There are, however, an awful lot of us senior priests that are very eager to help out. We are out here willing to help.”