p.9CooperDavidFr. David CooperST. LEO, Fla. — The fledgling Association of U.S. Catholic Priests was formed to offer a national support group not before available to many priests and to promote “fulfilling the confirmed agenda” of the Second Vatican Council, according Fr. David Cooper, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“Vatican II said dialogue is at the heart of the church. Our greatest concern is, ‘How do we move forward?’” explained the priest, who is the association’s chairman.

He and 26 fellow priests, mostly from the Midwest, met and founded the organization at St. Mary of the Lake University in Mundelein, Ill., Aug. 27, 2011. The group named a small leadership team, and named as its chairman Fr. Cooper, pastor of St. Matthias Parish, Milwaukee.

From there, the organization sent surveys and other information to priests nationwide, and their membership grew from that original 27 to the current 640, representing 107 of the country’s 195 dioceses, and 26 religious orders.

Fr. Cooper, 68, talked about the group’s beginnings in an interview in Florida during the association’s first national assembly. Held June 11-14 at St. Leo University, the gathering had as its theme “Vatican II Lives: Keeping Alive the Vision and Passion of the Council.” About 200 priests attended.

The mission and vision of the association are the same as the assembly theme, Fr. Cooper told Catholic News Service. Members also aim “to support one another as fellow priests, to further and develop our professional life, and to have the ability to speak with one voice,” he added.

The assembly’s keynote speakers included Richard Gaillardetz, professor of Catholic systematic theology at Boston College and president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

When asked what kind of relationship the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests has with the Catholic hierarchy at large, Fr. Cooper said it was too early to tell. A letter of introduction to the group was sent to each of the U.S. bishops last October, he said. “Some gave a positive response, but most have said nothing.”

He said it is the only national support organization open to all U.S. priests. The only other national support group, the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, admits priests only if their diocesan priests’ council has joined. According to Fr. Cooper, only 53 percent of America’s dioceses belong to the federation.

Editor’s Note: Gaillardetz will speak Thursday, Aug. 16, at the Symposium on Lay Ministries at Cardinal Stritch University, and at the Forum on Faith and Work, Friday, Aug. 17, at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Both events are sponsored by the university’s St. Clare Center for Catholic Life. Information available at (414) 410-4405.