By Dave Jolivet
EASTON, Mass. — In September, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., sent a letter to his brother priests ministering in the Diocese of Fall River, inviting them to a day of reflection and prayer at the Martin Center on the campus of Stonehill College.
In his invitation, Bishop da Cunha asked his peers to set aside the entire day, “for the purposes of strengthening our sense of common ministry in service to Christ’s Church in the diocese. Please consider this an opportunity to step away from the busy details of pastoral ministry and an opportunity to gain fresh perspectives on the challenges we face and the graces the Lord promises us as shepherds of His people.”
The day was filled with prayer, reflection, discussion, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, and two presentations by guest speaker Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti.
Msgr. Rossetti is a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y. He is a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in psychology from Boston College and a doctor of ministry from the Catholic University of America.
Msgr. Rossetti has authored many articles and several books including, “Why Priests are Happy,” “Born of the Eucharist,” and “The Joy of Priesthood.” He has also appeared on National Public Radio and “Meet the Press.”
Msgr. Rossetti’s presentations were: “Joys and challenges of the priesthood today,” and “Steps to priestly holiness.”
In his first presentation, “Joys and challenges of the priesthood today,” he set out to debunk several myths about the priesthood and those who live it daily: that priests are isolated and psychologically dysfunctional; priests are burned out; and priests are unhappy.
In his extensive research, monsignor discovered several truths about the priesthood and shared them with his brothers. He told them that “priests measure slightly psychologically healthier than the general population and most have a network of sustaining relationships.”
He told the gathering that studies reveal that 61 percent of priests are very happy and 36 percent are pretty happy, with less than one percent being not happy at all.
He also told them that “Study after study definitely show that priests are among the happiest people in the U.S.”
Father Michael A. Ciryak, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Swansea, told The Anchor, “Msgr. Rossetti was upbeat, charming and a brother priest — a man able to relate to and share our common joys and frustrations. Secondly, he pointed out the beauty and happiness which we already possess. I realize we are pretty happy and greatly blessed. I am grateful that we were able to step away from our regular business and objectively and reflectively look at our priestly lives.”
“I enjoyed the opportunity for priestly fraternity, prayer, and Msgr. Rossetti’s presentations,” said Father Jason Brilhante, chaplain at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River and in residence at Santo Christo Parish there. “He dispelled the myth that priests are unhappy. This is an important detail to know because we are all searching for happiness, and happiness can be found in our vocation. For any man who is called to the priesthood, there in their vocation is the inner peace and happiness they are seeking. By being faithful and nourishing through prayer the promises of a priestly vocation, one can find happiness.
“In his second presentation, ‘Steps to priestly holiness,’ Msgr. Rossetti validated Spiritual practices that help a priest to grow in holiness, which is also applicable to anyone in any vocation: religious, married, or ordained. These Spiritual practices are: cease any serious sin, renew the Sacrament of Penance, dive deeply into the Eucharist, practice gratitude, embrace your crosses, abandon yourself to God, love the Church, pray more, nourish good friendships, and trust God.”
Father Daniel W. Lacroix, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Seekonk, echoed much of what his brother priests experienced and shared. “Priests are generally happier as they are sustained by personal prayer, Eucharist and a fraternity that understands today’s challenges in parish ministry,” he told The Anchor. “Also, when parish communities are supportive of their clergy, it leads to a deeper sense of accomplishment and happiness.
“The opportunity to gather with so many of my brother priests from all five deaneries along with Bishop da Cunha to reflect, pray and socialize was personally rejuvenating.”
Father George E. Harrison, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich shared several thoughts with The Anchor. “The centerpiece of this day of prayer and reflection was a Holy Hour of prayer and Adoration with priests united in prayer with our bishop, who is the sign and instrument of unity for his presbyterate,” he said. “During this time of prayer, I was filled with gratitude to be on my knees in prayer with so many brother priests who toil tirelessly and heroically, day in and day out, to carry on the mission and ministry entrusted to us by our Eternal High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“In that moment, I realized that the prayer of Christ was being fulfilled, ‘Holy Father, keep them in Your Name that You have given me, so that they may be one just as We are’ (Jn 23:11). I believe that this day of prayer and reflection for the priests of the diocese was fruitful in cultivating and nurturing unity among the priests of our diocese and was a source of great affirmation, hope and inspiration for those in attendance.”
At the conclusion of the day of reflection and prayer, Bishop da Cunha encouraged his brother priests to participate in a program beginning next June, “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds.”
“I am very pleased Bishop da Cunha is in the process of bringing in the Catholic Leadership Institute’s “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” enrichment program into the diocese,” added Father Lacroix. “It will help many men with enriching their priestly identity, ministry and fraternity.”
“Msgr. Rossetti ended our day of prayer and reflection with a quote from St. John Vianney to his bishop, ‘If you wish to convert your diocese, you must make saints of your priests,’”said Father Harrison. “There is no question in my mind that if we continue to build on the fundamental building blocks for priestly holiness shared with us by Msgr. Rossetti, our beloved diocese will be truly blessed and renewed.”
“I hope that the faithful of the Diocese of Fall River are inspired, encouraged, and affirmed that their parish priest is happy being a priest most likely because they are putting into practice good Spiritual practices,” added Father Brilhante.