I’ve written too many priests’ obituaries and attended too many priests’ funerals in the first 10 weeks of this year. We’ve already lost eight diocesan priests due to death in this calendar year. In 2016, it wasn’t until Sept. 24 that we reached that same total for the year.
This year’s losses have been particularly tragic because two of the eight were still on duty in the diocese. Msgr. John Brown, 60, was the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Flatlands, and Father Bill Dulaney, 68, was a parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great, Bellerose.
Father Dulaney’s sudden death struck a personal nerve. We had been high school and college classmates at Cathedral Prep and Cathedral College. I had worked one summer between semesters with him. I considered him a friend and had a great deal of respect for what he had done in his priesthood. He was a concelebrant at my wedding and also was on the altar the day my son was baptized.
The first priest to die this year was Msgr. James Hunt, one of our high school teachers. He taught us first year English at Cathedral’s annex in the old St. Joseph’s School on Dean St. He made Shakespeare come alive for us and introduced us to creative writing. He was part of that band of priests who made a Cathedral education so special.
These deaths remind us that there are many senior priests and they are not being replaced in the same numbers as they once were. The Brooklyn Diocese does comparatively well with newly ordained these days, but it’s not going to be enough to fill all the vacancies as older priests die and retire.
This is one of the reasons that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio announced that he is putting a special emphasis on vocation recruitment for the next several years. One of his favorite programs is Project Andrew: he or one of the auxiliary bishops sits down with a group of prospective seminarians for dinner and a discussion of what priesthood is all about.
Recently at the Vatican, vocations to religious life were also a topic for consideration.
“The call for priests represents a problem, an enormous problem,” especially in countries like Germany and Switzerland, Pope Francis said in a recent online interview. “The problem is the lack of vocations. And the church must solve this problem.”
He expressed the view that an increase in prayer and youth services could change the situation.
“The Lord has told us: Pray! That is what’s lacking: prayer. And also lacking is the work with young people who are seeking direction. Service to others is missing,” said the pope. “Working with young people is difficult, but it is essential, because youth long for it.”
He added that youths are the ones who lose most in many modern societies because of a lack of attention.
Many young people also say they never considered a religious vocation because they were never asked. The recent direction in diocesan policy and the pope’s words seem to be a definite invitation to young people.