by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When a newly ordained priest receives his first pastoral assignment, there’s one thing he knows with absolute certainty: They didn’t teach him everything he needs to know in the seminary.
“We haven’t got it all figured out,” said Father Andrew Strobl, associate pastor at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.
Everything changes in terms of lifestyle when you’re ordained, continued Father Strobl, who became a priest in 2009. The new priest has to live on his own outside of an institutional setting. He has to budget his time and money. And he has to deal with all sorts of things in a “real world” setting — like pastoral situations — that require a deft touch . . . and paperwork.
Got those documents for the annulment filled out yet, Father?
In order to help young priests navigate those first exciting and difficult years, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has formed a group for priests who’ve been ordained five years or less. It currently has nine members.
The “Recently Ordained Group” was formed about three years ago. It meets four times a year and is coordinated by Father Brian Schieber, vicar general for clergy and pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.
Father Schieber is assisted by Msgr. Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan. Msgr. Mullen has decades of experience both as a pastor and in formation. Currently, he’s co-director of seminarians for the archdiocese.
“Just like a newly married couple, the first seven years someone enters a new commitment is a crucial time,” said Father Schieber.
“We want our priests to do well in their ministry,” he continued, “to be joyful in their priesthood and benefit from ongoing formation as part of a group to build fraternity together and with the archbishop.”
A typical group gathering begins with the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours at 3 p.m., followed by a continuing education presentation and discussion, and then dinner at Archbishop Naumann’s residence.
“The archbishop specifically asked for this,” said Father Schieber. “It really shows to me the archbishop’s dedication to spending time with his priests . . . . It’s a priority for him to take time to help form the newly ordained priests, to listen to them and discuss important topics.”
Father Shawn Tunink appreciates the group’s fraternal support and the personal interaction with the archbishop.
“It’s good to have this group while we’re right in the middle of having all these new experiences,” said Father Tunink, associate pastor at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood and chaplain at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park. He was ordained in 2008.
“The archbishop is wonderful,” he said. “He really wants to know, as well, what are the things the young priests want to learn or are struggling with. So, it’s also a forum for the archbishop to share his own pastoral wisdom.”
The new priests get a lot out of the continuing education component, said Father Strobl. Topics covered so far have included how to form healthy friendships, how to frame difficult homiletic topics, chastity and accountability, health and exercise, issues in marriage preparation, and spiritual direction.
“At this last meeting we talked about future topics we want to handle, ranging from personal finances, asceticism, and [being the pastor of] multiple parishes,” said Father Strobl.
“It’s really cool to have this great support and not to be expected to be Lone Rangers figuring everything out ourselves,” he continued. “The best part is meeting with Archbishop Naumann. He’s such a good father to us.”
The group supports new priests by reinforcing the four pillars of priestly formation: intellectual, human, spiritual and pastoral.
“We require all the priests in the group to have a spiritual director,” said Father Schieber. “[I tell them,] ‘You’re not in the seminary anymore and you don’t have that structured environment for prayer. What are you going to do to have a solid prayer life?’”
The community and fraternity the new priests now share in the group is not meant to replace what they experience with the other priests they live with. Nor is it meant to compete with other groups, such as Jesus Caritas, that they belong to.
“It’s a beautiful complement to what’s already going on,” said Father Strobl. “I’m also in a Jesus Caritas group. Most of the guys are in Jesus Caritas, too.
“It’s not meant to take the place of that,” he said. “It’s is a complement to that. We also have our spiritual directors and priest friends. It’s not a substitute, but a wonderful complement.”