by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to, someone who understands and relates.
But what if you’re the only priest in town?
“We’re people, too,” said Father Jonathon Dizon, pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Holton and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Mayetta. “We could use the presence of another person who understands what we’re experiencing.
“If I share my problems with my parishioners, they’d never understand what I’m going through. But another priest would.”
That’s where Father Francis Hund comes in.
His new assignment? He’s the archdiocesan minister to priests.
In other words, he’ll take care of the people who take care of all of us.
Father Hund’s new assignment was the result of a series of lunches Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann held with archdiocesan priests last year.
At these, said Father Hund, “[the archbishop] heard the need expressed by the priests to have someone who would reach out to them and listen to them. So, earlier this spring the archbishop asked me to serve in that ministry.”
Father Hund will reside at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, where he will also help out.
“We wanted to have a priest dedicated specifically to minister to the priests of the archdiocese to make sure that they are healthy and their needs are being met,” said Father Brian Schieber, archdiocesan vicar for clergy.
Those needs will vary, depending on the priest and his particular situation. Father Hund’s ministry could range from giving advice to a new pastor, to aid in retirement planning for an older priest.
It doesn’t require a problem or crisis for a visit from Father Hund. He’s just a brother seeing how his brothers are doing.
Sometimes, all they need to know is that someone is listening to their concerns.
“A big part of being the minister to priests is listening,” said Father Schieber. “We see Father Francis as someone who is very approachable and who listens well.”
Moreover, said Father Schieber, he holds the esteem of the clergy and is found very relatable.
“He is a senior priest with a lot of pastoral experience who brings much to the position,” he said. “The archbishop noted that [Father Hund] is someone they can easily approach for the sacrament of reconciliation. He’s a very gentle shepherd.”
Father Hund will have visited 24 priests by the end of September. Usually his visits take an hour — longer if the priest wants more time. That fraternity and friendship can mean a lot. A big part of this is the ministry of presence.
“I think [the minister to priests] is to make sure the archdiocese is taking care of the well-being of priests and make sure their concerns are being heard,” said Father Dizon. “Sometimes, they just need to be encouraged.
“Especially in the rural parishes, the closest other priest can be miles away,” he said. “Sometimes, it can be months before a priest out there can see another priest. If there is no meeting, there is no reason for them to leave their domain.”
It isn’t just distance that can isolate a priest; sometimes, it’s the job itself.
“We tend to be pretty independent, so we’re not going to necessarily call for an appointment unless there’s something really urgent,” said Father Nick Blaha, pastor of St. Catherine Parish in Emporia and director and chaplain of the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University.
“That can mean we get a little distant from the official channels.”
Father Hund’s role is to serve as that person to whom priests can speak frankly, and to offer them whatever assistance and resources will help them flourish as priests and as pastors, said Father Blaha.
Father Nathan Haverland, pastor of St. Gregory Parish in Marysville, found his visit with Father Hund to be very enjoyable.
“It’s always nice for brother priests to spend time together,” he said.
He expects that, as time goes on, the role of minister to priests will evolve, according to the needs of the priests.
“I think the archbishop hopes that this minister to priests will be able to connect us to different resources, maybe some sharing of ideas and what’s going on in ministry,” said Father Haverland.
As he is enriching the lives of his brother priests, Father Hund is finding that his, too, has been enriched.
“I have to say, I never imagined this ministry in this life,” he said. “After the first couple of months I realized . . . that not only do I have the opportunity to visit all around the archdiocese, but how blessed I am to spend time with my brother priests.
“I hope it’s an encouragement and blessing for them as well.”