Saturday, July 3, 2010

What I Owe the Priests in My Life

A few posts ago, as you are well aware, I ripped into the bad side of the priesthood today. I thought it was balanced and decent, and I think it needs to be said: evil is evil regardless of the source. But you know what? Talk about the worst year priests have undergone since Stalin: 2009/10 - ironically, the "Year of Priests." So I owe it to all the great priests in my life to sing their praises too.

My operating premises, which in no way contradict what I said earlier:

1) On average, Catholic priests are way ahead of lay people in holiness and human decency.

2) A few rotten apples can not spoil the bunch. The problems with the priesthood are not endemic.

I want to talk about the three priests who have been the greatest priestly blessings in my life. I won't put them in any kind of order, other than from the date of my first encounter with them.

Archbishop Martin Currie of Saint John's, Newfoundland

"Father Currie" as he was then known to me, was my first priestly father. He was Fr. Martin, Fr. Marty, or even just Marty to others, but I always called him Fr. Currie out of respect for him. I was a convert, remember, so I didn't grow up thinking about the priesthood in relation to any specific priest. I got to know Fr. Currie when he let me stay in the cathedral rectory in Halifax the year after my year in the seminary. The year turned into two years.At first glance he is a rare combination of joviality and gruffness. Get to know him and he is the greatest friend, a compassionate and dedicated priest. He is very funny, but not when it comes to serious matters. He always knows the line. I was elated when he was elected to the episcopacy in Grandfalls, NFLD. He was always the go-to priest in Halifax to all the other priests. He always had a solution to any problem, and would stand by his brother priests, especially at the worst of times. They looked up to him as an older brother, even though he was one of the younger priests of the archdiocese. He moved to Newfoundland just after I moved to Toronto. Our paths have crossed several times since then. I wish they would more often. His life has been a tremendous gift to me at a time when I really needed a father-figure in the Faith.

Fr. Currie will always be remembered by me as the priest who never treated me a lick differently when I decided not to go back to the seminary. Sounds like a small thing? It wasn't to me. I could think of a few people who could learn this from him.

Father Joseph Hattie, OMI

Fr. Hattie likewise ensures my faith in the priesthood. I would say that you would either love him or hate him, but I'd have no time for those who could hate this constant old man. He has made a tremendous impact on a segment of the young married people of the Archdiocese of Halifax, and, I understand, on the Archdiocese of Vancouver before that. Against appreciable odds, this priest has brought the truth of Humane Vitae to young couples for several decades. This is the sort of priest that you'd never say he has no idea what it's like to be married and to try to follow the hardships of life. He shared them. Even now, in his 70s he is hard at work, towing the line, walking the talk, with as great a consistency of any priest half his age. A vacation for him? Collar, daily mass, families, retreats. Edifying.

To Fr. Hattie standing with families is his vocation. It was not one he chose, it was one appointed for him by his OMI superior. He has never flagged in his obedience to his order or his bishops. He knows families, he knows my family because he cares to spend time with them and us. His life is about helping families to heaven.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa

You all know of my great esteem for His Grace. I see him more often than the other two these days. A friend is a friend when you cannot offer him anything in exchange for his friendship, and yet he is there for you year after year. He challenges you to do and to be better, but does not abandon you when he discovers you are just a man. You can be yourself around him while yet knowing he makes you a better person when he is around. He wears his priesthood like he wears his own skin. He has mastered the art of being a priest and a man. He is classy and yet without pretence. He is just that much better than all the rest of us just for being himself. Smart yet humble, a gentleman, but not a boor. In the end, quite simply Canada's greatest prelate.

He just gets the value of theological education in the life of the Church. He always valued what I was trying to do, despite how hard it was to make happen. He provided me with so many opportunities to serve the Church with my mind and my heart. He makes me feel like I'm not a waste of flesh in the Body of Christ.

What these three priests have in common is a morally good life, helpfulness, naturalness, awareness of and sensitivity to the struggles that life can bring to people, and a total commitment to their life's station. I owe them much more than I could ever pay back. Their generosity to me has always been astonishing. They restore one's faith not only in the priesthood, but in humanity as well. They have all been fathers to me.


  1. I cannot agree with you more in regard to these three men. It is particularly poignant when one finds a father in a Father. These priests work much healing simply by being. The othere thing that strikes me is osmething that Fr. galen said (another remarkably humble and holy young priest): he said that sometimes the trend toward orthodoxy as the solution to the Cburch's ills worries him. Orthodoxy is not the solution - holiness is. He maintains that the thing that will really attract men to the priestly vocation is not orthodoxy but holiness. I don't believe that he would even attempt the Latin mass for fear that he doesn't have the proper intellectual gear but he daily lives out the sacrificial nature of the priesthood and, thus, becomes holy.

  2. You are right. 100%. That's a mistake we've allowed to happen over the last decade. We thought orthodoxy = holiness, and that that was the cure to all the Church's problems. Lots of problems come from orthodoxy without holiness too!