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Why are priests moved around so much? How should we welcome them?

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Parish reassignments can be stressful for priests, and for the people in the pews, too.

Dear Katrina,

I have two questions for you. What is the reason for frequent priestly reassignments? We seem to get a new priests at our parish every three years or so. Also, what is the best way to welcome our new priest? I would like to do something nice to make him feel welcomed. Ideas?

M.M.R

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Dear M.M.R,

Both are great questions.

I asked a few priest friends of mine what are some ways their congregation can make them feel welcome and their replies were as varied as their personalities. Most suggested inviting Father over for dinner, but keep in mind that some priests may be more introverted or extremely busy settling into their new assignment. Feeding Father seemed to be the most suggested and welcomed advice, though, because who doesn’t appreciate a nice meal? My favorite comment came from a local priest who said “If you feed me, I’ll remember your name.” Tip noted, padre.

There were also a few suggestions that a nice card welcoming the priest was a genuine and simple effort they often appreciated. You could even slip in a $10 gift card for gas or coffee in the card. It doesn’t need to be an extravagant effort to still be sincere. Other ideas included spiritual bouquets (like this beautiful example) or offering to help out or volunteer at the parish.

Now let me add how to make a priest NOT feel welcome. Don’t tell Father “This is how it’s always been done” or “That’s not how Fr. Previous Priest used to do things.” Don’t complain to other parishioners or publicly voice your objections if the new priest does something you don’t like or don’t agree with; basically don’t be a gossip. Patiently give each new priest the chance to find his footing in this new environment. Patience is probably the best gift you could give to any new priest.

As for your other question, there can be several reason for reassigning a priest to a new parish and the frequency in which it’s done varies from diocese to diocese. In my own diocese, pastor reassignments happen every six years and in other dioceses it can be without any terms at all. When it’s without terms a pastor can request to stay or be reassigned with the bishop giving the final approval.

For the parochial vicar, or assistant pastor, they typically have no terms and can be moved around more frequently, generally every 1-3 years. I’ve been told the reason for this frequency is so they can gain experience in preparation for their more permanent role as pastor. The circulation of priests typically serves practical reasons. It helps priests broaden their experience and perspectives but it also can prevent cults of personality from forming around priests.

I know reassignments can be stressful for all involved, the priest and the congregation, and adjusting to change can be harder for some than others. Some priests transition with little effort and some parishioners can become very anxious when they receive word that a priest they’ve become attached to is moving. We could argue either way about the necessity for such frequent change. But in the end, it’s important to remember that the main relationship is always between the People of God and Jesus Christ.    

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