As part of my job, I am in receipt of hundreds of completed questionnaires with open ended questions which allow the respondent to complete as much or as little as they wish. Across many projects over my time in the post, priests are asked to give some information on what they like and dislike about, in Church-speak, their present ministry. You know, what it is they fill their days with? If we recall from Father Ted (the only other reliable source of information about this strange nether-world), priests go around blessing themselves, saying Mass loads and keeping yung wans away from ‘occasions of sin’. (Ask your granny what that last one was about.)
I may just have torpedoed attempts at seriousness of intent with this post but in working with priests currently in parishes (and increasingly between parishes), I can see one thing quite clearly: being a priest in what can clumsily be called post-Catholic Ireland is never referred to as ‘a job’. The job of the priest is not talked about. It’s a vocation, being in ministry or being assigned a parish. It has all the hallmarks of a job: the stress, the deadlines and the paperwork but it is not ‘a job’. Euphemism is better than facing up to the actual work that is necessary to keep body and soul together in the face of declining numbers.
So priests who complete questionnaires or talk with me in groups about this aspect of ‘their ministry’ or that part of ‘parish life’ invariably talk about the increasing workloads of administration in times when one third of the men they went to seminary with are no longer in the priesthood and there’s no one under 35 at the annual meetings anymore. What’s that like? Wouldn’t it add to your stress if you knew that you could be the last of your kind? When you ask people to take over a parish finance committee and no one wants to take the chair? When you’re the only one who is called by the family of a sick man but Rentokil still have not called out to the parish hall?
Photo owned by DoubleM2 (cc)
In this week of all weeks, it is not my intention to portray a ‘poor mouth’ situation on behalf of Catholic priests in Ireland. That’s not my intention. I’m definitely not one to believe that if St Patrick’s Maynooth returned to the numbers seen in the 1950s then all would be well in Erin’s green isle. But one of the ways in which the job of the priest is made harder is by a lack of acknowledgement (from above and ‘below’) about what is possible in 100 hours a week.