Holy Cross Father John Phalen off to Peru after 18 years at HCFM helm

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By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

EASTON, Mass. — It’s been an eventful year for Holy Cross Father John Phalen, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries headquartered in Easton.

For the last 18 years, Father Phalen led and oversaw the member ministries of HCFM, including Family Rosary, Family Theater Productions, and the Father Peyton Family Institute, in addition to ministries in 17 countries around the world.

Taking the helm from Father Phalen on July 1 will be Holy Cross Father Wilfred Raymond, the current director of Family Theater Productions in Hollywood.

Father Phalen will begin his new assignment as director of Novices to the Holy Cross order in the Chosita Diocese near Lima, Peru in November.

Almost lost amid the piles of boxes in his Easton office is the fact that Father Phalen also celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on April 20.

Father Phalen told The Anchor that he was drawn to the priesthood by several influences as a boy and young man. “I came from a very religious family that prayed the Rosary,” he said. “I must admit that as a boy I tried to subvert those efforts until I realized how beautiful and powerful the Rosary is.”

Also playing a hand in laying the foundation of a religious vocation were two uncles. “I had two uncles who were Jesuit priests,” Father Phalen told The Anchor. “I grew up in Connecticut, and my uncles would vacation there with us. I saw that they were not only good and holy priests, but they also knew how to have a good time and have fun. I saw them as real people, a side of them that people don’t often get to see. It made a great impression on me.”

Father Phalen said he visited several orders and fell in love with the family spirit of the Holy Cross Congregation. “I spent time with them and during conversations they felt free to argue if the occasion arose. It was like being home. They were themselves.”

He also said that the Holy Cross Congregation was involved in home and foreign mission work, which appealed to the young man. “I was attracted to both, and the Holy Cross Congregation had both.”

As a newly-ordained Holy Cross Father, he “wanted to be a good priest, a faithful priest,” he said. “I originally wanted to be an English professor, but one thing lead to another and in 1971 I went to Peru, to a mission the order was just beginning there, and I got to love the culture and the people. When I returned to Notre Dame in Indiana, I saw the need for priests who could minister to the Latino Catholics.”

In 1996, Father Phalen was named, temporarily for six months, as the interim president of HCFM. “It was decided that I would stay on after that, and here I am 18 years later. It’s been a wonderful 18 years, filled with great opportunities for me. I can say I’ve been changed by it, and I’m grateful to have been able to continue the work of Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, who had such a devotion to the Blessed Mother and Christ through the Rosary.

“I remember I was once asked by Father Peyton that if given the chance, would I ‘continue his work when I’m gone.’ I was thrilled that he asked me that and thrilled to say yes. But I was quickly told, ‘Don’t get too excited, he asks everyone that.’ I guess he wanted to be sure the mission continued.”

Father Phalen continued, “I’ve been privileged to be able to continue his work, and I’ve no question that Father Peyton is guiding us and I’m indebted and closer to him for it.”

Father Phalen told The Anchor that there have been many changes over that last two decades. “One exciting thing is that there are now 35 Holy Cross Brothers, Sisters and priests involved in HCFM across the world. We are all working together, and I’m very excited by it.

“In my position, I do a great deal of traveling and I’m finding the Holy Cross charism in other countries now. Our missions are becoming more in tune with the Holy Cross mission of Father Peyton in different cultures.

“And some of the most noticeable changes are the technological changes,” he added. Father Peyton was a pioneer in the faith with the use of radio and television in the 1940s and 50s. “I’m happy to say that we’re continuing the footprint of Father Peyton utilizing today’s technologies: the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and websites.”

He shared that through the years his heart has been touched by the faith of the people he’s encountered across the world. “We give retreats and talks and rallies across the world,” he said. “And we try to define to people what they can do with their relationship with God, but what I find is that through their devotion to the Rosary they are already contemplating Christ in the Rosary, although they wouldn’t call it that.

“They are simple people who have great confidence and trust in the power of the Rosary and the intercession of the Blessed Mother. They’re able to talk about their sufferings through the Sorrowful Mysteries, and they’re able to share their joys through the Glorious Mysteries. The faithful may not know it but they nourish us as well. We are encouraged by them.”

Another encouraging change that has occurred over the last 18 years has been the branching out in Peru. “We now have an Institute for Family there, and we provide social services for the people there. We help with addiction, family counseling, and teaching parenting skills. We know that not everything can be solved by praying the Rosary. We have to be there to help as well.”

Father Phalen told The Anchor that he is going to miss the great people he’s come to know in this diocese and those he works with. “I’ve loved my ministry here,” he said. “I’ve worked with order members and hundreds of lay people. I feel good about what we’ve done here, and I’ve always had great support. I know that Servant of God Father Peyton will become a saint for families some day.”

Father Phalen also told The Anchor that he’s excited about his new venture to Peru. “Everything that’s happened to me in the past has been leading up to this mission assignment as director of Novices,” he said. “I spent five years as an assistant director of Novices in New York, I’ve worked with Latino Catholics and know the culture and the people, and through all the traveling I’ve done, I know the Holy Cross setting around the world. That helps.”

He will be working with novices from Chile, Peru, Mexico and Brazil. “I’m very confident in my Spanish, but now I’m going to have to work on my Portuguese,” he added. “In February of 2015 we’ll begin a year-long orientation for the novices that will include retreats, getting to know the congregation, the founder, the charism and the constitutions of being in the Holy Cross Congregation.”

Father Phalen’s duties as HCFM president will end June 30 and he will take a sabbatical until his November start date in the Chosita Diocese. “I’m not going to travel far during my sabbatical,” he told The Anchor. “With all the traveling I’ve done, it’s not something I need to do. I will take a retreat for myself and I will work on my Portuguese.”

Father Phalen said he sees good things continuing for Holy Cross Family Ministries. “Father Willy is a go-getter,” he said. “He’s a man of faith and believes in the power of the Rosary, and that’s so important in this position. He’s going to do a great job.”

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