I had a conversation recently with my adult children. They asked how the distribution of priests works. Our son went to Marquette University (a Jesuit school). Our daughter and other son went to St Norbert College. Our home parish has had Norbertines. How do order priests get to certain parishes and others have diocesan priests? Also, what other orders are there? (Mishicot)
When a man senses a call to the priesthood, there are a number of paths to be discerned. The first is very basic: Is he indeed called to be a priest? Discernment is best made with a good spiritual director, tested and confirmed in seminary formation, and ratified and affirmed by the church in ordination. However, in this process there are other decisions. Does he feel called to a religious order or diocesan priesthood? And then to which order or diocese?
Fundamental to the vocation is where a man is called to serve God’s people. Religious orders include the Franciscans, Norbertines, Dominicans, Jesuits and Fathers of Mercy, among many others. In discerning a call to a religious order, a man must be drawn to the life of that order — adopt its charism, its form of prayer and pastoral work. Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are made, along with a commitment to live with other priests in community. His obedience is to his religious superior. Oftentimes, such orders have charisms of teaching, work for the poor, preaching or giving parish missions. A man called to the priesthood, who desires to minster and serve outside a parish setting, is usually called to a religious order.
However, other men are called to minister in a given region and serve in parishes, to celebrate the sacraments and engage in pastoral ministry. They are often called to diocesan priesthood, which is fundamentally tied to parish ministry. Their obedience is to the diocesan bishop. Their community is the people of the parish where they serve, as well as other priests of the diocese.
For most Catholics, their main interaction with priests is on the parish level. And most priests worldwide are diocesan priests.
How are priests assigned to a parish? Usually, a priest is assigned after a period of discernment by the bishop and those whom he consults. The priest is asked by the bishop, in a spirit of pastoral zeal and obedience, to care for the people of the parish.
Occasionally, priests in religious orders also serve in parish ministry. Many of these parishes have been entrusted to a particular religious order by a diocesan bishop. Occasionally, there is a long history of priests from one religious order who have served there.
Priests, both diocesan and religious order, occasionally receive new assignments. This is often because of changing needs in a given time or place. The vows or promises of obedience and celibacy allow for freedom and flexibility to serve the needs of the church immediately and freely.
Changes of assignment and movement of priests can sometimes be challenging for both the priest and those he serves. However, this radical availability allows the work of the church to remain centered on Jesus Christ and not on the priest himself.
Fundamentally, the priesthood in all its forms is about celebrating the sacraments, preaching of the Word and being a mediator between God and his holy people.
Fr. Girotti serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Green Bay Diocese.
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