Clergy moves determined by church needs

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - Updated: 11:11 am

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Fathers James Orr, John Skirtich and Terry O’Connor have witnessed many changes in the diocese since they entered the priesthood between the 1970s and 2000s. And they are eager about the opportunities that lie ahead in their new assignments.

Initial feedback following Bishop David Zubik’s On Mission for The Church Alive! announcements April 28-29 shows parishioners were largely prepared for decisions about their parish groupings, but many expressed surprise that their priests were moving.

About 65 percent of the 200 active diocesan priests will be transferred to different areas or institutions effective Oct. 15, according to Father Mark Eckman, diocesan vicar for clergy personnel. Sixteen priests are retiring.

“When I called each priest to let him know his assignment, the common reply was, ‘Whatever the bishop needs me to do,’” Father Eckman said.

“Priests understand that they will move throughout the course of their active ministry,” said Father Samuel Esposito, episcopal vicar for On Mission for The Church Alive! “When Bishop Zubik determines how to best provide care for the whole diocese, he has to consider what gifts each priest brings. This means that the sharing of talents is essential.”

Father O’Connor, ordained in 2001, will move from pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Munhall to his sixth assignment as administrator of a clergy team at four parishes: St. Angela Merici in White Oak, Corpus Christi and St. Patrick in McKeesport and Versailles, and St. Robert Bellarmine in East McKeesport.

“The assignment process was really well done,” he said. “They took into account what we suggested and how we felt, in order to tap into our potential.

“I feel the Holy Spirit has been in charge of this process. When I was about to receive my new assignment, I heard the Spirit say, ‘be open.’”

There were many considerations associated with the clergy appointments.

Bishop Zubik met in small groups with all priests in active ministry to hear their concerns and hopes for the future. Each priest received a questionnaire asking if he would like to be an administrator, parochial vicar or chaplain; where he would prefer to serve; and priests with whom he would like to minister.

Priests also had the option of providing the results of personal assessments designed to improve communication, teamwork and productivity, and to determine their style of ministry.

Father Skirtich, who became administrator of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish in Whitehall about two years ago, will remain in a grouping that includes St. Gabriel, St. Germaine, Nativity and St. Valentine in the South Hills. This will be his fifth assignment since becoming a priest in 1990.

“I’m excited to be building on my ministry and am looking forward to getting to know all the parishioners in this grouping, working together to build a new parish,” he said. “When we rely on the help of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, good things always happen.”

Father Orr was granted his request to become director of St. Anthony Chapel in Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill neighborhood.

“I want to help the chapel become a place for pilgrimage,” he said. “Currently, 35,000 people visit every year, but there is room for growth.”

Ordained in 1979, Father Orr is also assigned to team ministry in six parishes within Pittsburgh’s North Side grouping: St. Aloysius and Most Holy Name of Jesus, where he’s currently pastor, along with St. Cyril of Alexandria, Holy Wisdom, St. Peter and Risen Lord parishes.

An ongoing challenge will be ministering with fewer priests as the large ordination classes of the 1960s and ‘70s retire. While interest in priestly vocations is growing, the number of available diocesan priests is expected to decline to 112 within seven years.

Father Eckman asked the faithful to welcome and support the new clergy team in their parish grouping.

“They have their own gifts and talents, which will help parishioners grow in their relationship with God,” he said. “Please be patient during this time of transition and remember to keep our priests and deacons in your prayers.”

Learn more at diopitt.org/onmission.

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