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Nurturing Presbyteral Unity 
By Kathleen Bagg-Morgan

In May, Bishop Victor Galeone and the priests of the Diocese of Saint Augustine will gather for an Intentional Presbyterate - an opportunity for priests in the diocese to get back to basics of what the priesthood is all about.

Leading the Intentional Presbyterate process, May 5-7, is Father Ron Knott, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, now serving as the founding director of the Saint Meinrad School of Theology, Institute for Priests and Presbyterates. He is the author of Intentional Presbyterates Claiming Our Common Sense of Purpose as Diocesan Priests, a book that addresses the partnership priests have with each other and with their bishop as a way of reclaiming a common sense of purpose as diocesan priests.

Father Ron, in his keynote address at the National Federation of Priests’ Council convention last year, explained that the ancient theology of presbyterates have been neglected for centuries, until now. “Thanks to Vatican Council II, and especially Pope John Paul II, the theology of a presbyterate, often referred to as ‘an intimate sacramental brotherhood,’ working as a team under a bishop, has been restored,” he remarked. Adding, “A presbyterate is really a bishop’s ‘army of lieutenants’ ordained to help him carry on the ministry of the apostles in the local church entrusted to him. A priest’s ministry is a team ministry - with the bishop, with each other and with, and for, the people of God.

Because “the harvest is great and the laborers are few,” the church today simply cannot afford for its presbyterates to be demoralized, contentious or working below capacity,” he says. “These presbyterates must find a way to ‘get their acts together,’ for the sake of the common sense of purpose they share - generous, coherent and effective ministry to God’s people.”

It is worth noting that it is the bishops themselves who are most articulate in describing this neglect and its resulting problems. In the 2001 Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests the U.S. bishops state: “A bishop has many responsibilities, and many things claim his attention. Presbyteral unity may not seem to be as pressing for example, as dealing with individual priests who are problematic, with the distribution and assignment of clergy, or with the recruitment of new candidates. Working for presbyteral unity can slip to the lower end of a list of priorities. In fact, its neglect favors divisions and ultimately, a number of attendant problems in a diocese.” (pp. 96-97).

The idea of “intentional presbyterates” has caught on in dioceses around the country, according to Father Ron who has worked with about 30 dioceses so far with 12 more this year and at least five more in 2009, including England and Whales.

“In talking to the priests of the diocese, they agreed that something like this [Intentional Presbyterate] was needed here,” says Father Tom Willis, chair of the Presbyteral Council for the diocese. “We have a generally healthy presbyterate, but we are always in need of renewal.”

Father Tom explains the presbyterate in the diocese has changed dramatically since they participated in the Emmaus Renewal for Priests in the early 1980’s. He says many of the priests who serve in the diocese are not only new to the priesthood, but many are new to this country. In addition, Father Tom says not only has the presbyterate changed, but the nature of being church has changed. “It could be argued that the nature of ‘doing church’ has changed, too. And with so many ideologies and a too often perceived (maybe real?) notion of people getting into certain ‘camps,’ the necessity of a presbyterate that is unified and supportive of one another is important.”

In order for renewal to occur in the presbyterate, individual conversion is critical because factions and diatribes emerge from within the hearts of individual priests, says Father Ron. “If priests have any hope of having a shared sense of direction and purpose, they must accurately identify and honestly confront the personal attitudes which impede and imperil presbyteral unity.”

The success of renewing presbyterates and their common sense of purpose rests primarily on enough bishops and priests wanting unity, says Father Ron. “Priests need an honest dialogue that will help them recognize what to preserve from the past and what to embrace in the present and into the future. This honest dialogue could lead to developing a new paradigm with workable structures to enable them to offer better service to God’s people and to be better witnesses to the Gospel.”

Join Our Priests in Prayer:

At the conclusion of the Intentional Presbyterate there will be a Mass of Priestly Commitment and Renewal. The Mass, with Bishop Victor Galeone as the main celebrant, will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7 at San Juan del Rio Catholic Church in Jacksonville. The faithful of the diocese are invited and encouraged to attend the Mass in support of our priests and their ministry.