By Dave Jolivet
RAYNHAM, Mass. — Converse with any priest and they’re likely to tell you that what they envisioned their ministry would be like and what it is to date are sometimes two different things.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” In short, priests, like all of us, have a plan and it may not always sync with the Good Lord’s mission for us.
That’s the case for Father John M. Murray, pastor of St. Ann’s Parish in Raynham for the last four years. Father Murray was recently asked by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., to take on the position of diocesan moderator of the curia effective May 25, replacing Father Michael K. McManus who served in that position for four years and at the chancery for more than three decades, and who coincidentally enough, was the pastor at St. Ann’s prior to Father Murray’s arrival.
“The bishop’s request came out of the blue,” Father Murray told The Anchor. “I had a message from Bishop da Cunha and when I returned the call he asked me if I could ‘do him a favor.’”
The bishop’s request was that he become the Diocese of Fall River’s next moderator of the curia. “I was shocked,” added Father Murray. “I never saw myself as part of diocesan administration. I told him that whatever he was asking me to do, of course I’ll do it. It’s one of the promises I made at ordination to the priesthood.
“It’s all in the hands of God. I’m going to trust in God and in Bishop da Cunha.”
Father Murray will also continue as pastor of St. Ann’s Parish.
In his letter to priests announcing the appointment, Bishop da Cunha wrote, “I am grateful to Father John Murray for accepting this additional responsibility to what I am sure is already a busy life.”
Father Murray told The Anchor that he’s not quite sure what sparked the bishop’s request, but said, “I’ve gotten to know the bishop and he me, and I’ve been very comfortable with him and he knows how much I love this diocese.”
There are a plethora of duties and responsibilities that go with being diocesan moderator of the curia. “In layman’s terms, it’s like being the chief operating officer of the diocese,” said Father Murray.
Some of a moderator’s functions include being an ex officio member of the presbyteral council and the diocesan pastoral council; serving as a member and clerk for Catholic Social Services; Community Action for Better Housing; St. Dominic’s Apartments; St. Vincent’s Home; the four diocesan nursing facilities, and others; serving on the senior staff; and serving as a liaison for the deans with the Catholic Charities Appeal, for the deans with the Office of Child Protection, and with diocesan director of communications, John E. Kearns Jr., regarding diocesan press statements.
Father Murray will work closely with the bishop, the chancellor, the diocesan office of pastoral planning, and the vicar general.
“I have a lot to learn, and Father McManus ran a well-organized office,” said Father Murray. “I want to remember that the structure serves the mission of the Church, not the other way around. And that works in the diocese right now.
“These are challenging times, and we must help the diocese grow by building on the good things and finding out where we need to improve. We need, not only to continue to welcome those who are already faithful to the Church and a parish, but to extend a welcome to those who have been away from the Church or have never been a part of it. We must, as Bishop da Cunha stresses, be sure that we transform from maintenance mode to mission mode.”
While Father Murray is looking forward to his role as diocesan moderator of the curia, he was quick to stress that his parish family remains vitally important to him.
“St. Ann’s is a wonderful parish filled with kind, faith-filled people,” he said. “Most days it doesn’t even feel like working. The parish staff is incredible.
“Our secretary, Deb Korotsky is not solely a secretary but really an office administrator. The Faith Formation program is well run by Kristin Kreckler and Lisa Donahue; they are so gifted at what they do. Sometimes all I have to do is just show up.
“Deacon Joseph McGinley and retired Deacon John Welch are a great help and the maintenance staff is second-to-none.
“And our ‘non-hired’ staff is incredible. The word volunteer is a misnomer. These people are doing more than volunteering. They are living out the Gospel message and the call to discipleship.
“And the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society led by Paul Spearin, does fantastic work for the poor.
“These fine people know that this is their parish. And I know with these people in my corner, I can be a successful pastor and moderator of the curia.”
Father Murray wrote to his parishioners in a recent Sunday bulletin announcing his appointment: “While this will call for some sacrifices on the part of our parish, our staff, and me, I am happy to assist our diocese and Bishop da Cunha. This is part of the promise I made at ordination almost 18 years ago. Saying yes brought me here and saying yes will allow me to serve our diocese while maintaining my role as your pastor — a role which I love.
“I do ask for your prayers as there will be a lot for me to learn and a period of adjustment for the chancery, our parish and me. I believe that you all, in a very real way, have made this possible. You’re a wonderful parish community. You’re faithful and supportive. With you, my parish family in my corner, I believe I will be able to serve our diocese and our parish faithfully.”
He told The Anchor, “In fact, every parish I’ve been at has been extraordinary. They have all brought out gifts in me that I didn’t know I had. A good parish family can make their priests better, and for me, they’ve been as good as it gets. I am so grateful.”
Father Murray also told The Anchor that his gratitude goes back to the family who raised him. “I have to give kudos to my mother and father who gave me the faith,” he said. “My dad was a deacon and my mom is a wonderful woman of faith. And I have three wonderful sisters, a great brother-in-law and two nieces and two nephews who are very special to me. It’s a great joy to be a part of that family.”
Father Murray said there’s “strength in family and in the parish family, and that’s where the new vocations will come from.”
St. Ann’s has been a homecoming for Father Murray. “I was a member of this parish as a kid,” he relayed. “I was an altar boy here, and made my First Communion and Confirmation here. I grew up with Father Gerald Shovelton as pastor and he was a great example of a priest.”
The new diocesan moderator of the curia realizes that with the additional duties and running a parish there will be added stresses and challenges.
“I trust in Jesus Christ that I will be faithful and fruitful,” said Father Murray. “I may not always be successful, but I know that Christ is always with me.
“Whether it be as pastor or moderator, it starts with Jesus and ends with Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega.”