Hearth & home: a deeper dive into priest living arrangements at Parish Family 49

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In my post last week I laid out the preliminary decisions needing made for Parish Family 49 before July 1. I’d like to take some time to talk about the first item on that list: priest housing. Not only relevant to us priests who are preparing to move, the location & nearness of parish priests is near and dear to every Catholic we serve.

Grab a cup of coffee and find a comfortable chair – this will be a lengthy exploration of the topic!

The decision of where a priest lives – or multiple priests live- is tied deeply into pastoral ministry. The Code of Canon Law has a few things to say, foremost that the pastor is to live in a rectory near the church (CIC 533) and that common life is to be fostered between a pastor and his vicar(s) (CIC 550 §2). In the Archdiocese of Seattle, this is further explored in its policy (Many Gifts, One Spirit: Priestly Ministry – see PM 53-57).

Summarizing the principles

A photo of the 1983 edition of the Code of Canon Law, the title in Latin above the logo of the Vatican City on a green cover

There are a number of principles that come into play with priest housing. The Church values priests living at their parish (CIC 533). But in that same canon, She highlights the value of priests living in community – going so far name that common life as a reason why a priest would not live at his parish. Archdiocesan policy takes things a step further, specifying that pastors and vicars are to be provided dedicated housing free from office and meeting space (PM 54). But in the explanatory paragraph of that same policy, the archdiocese also highlights the principles of the needs of the communities being served alongside the personal well being of the priest(s).

Eagle-eyed readers will also notice that in the preliminary commentary to the housing section of the archdiocesan policy, there is a particular document that is quoted fairly extensively: the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests. In particular, the admonition against living one’s priesthood in an isolated or subjectivist way – highlighting instead fraternal communion among priests.

Though all of this is in service to the ministry of the priestly vocation, the foundation of these principles seems to be the flexibility to balance both priestly ministry and priestly health; there is no one principle that stands apart or above the others.

Where are they now? Priest housing pre-Partners in the Gospel

Among the four parishes and mission that make up the Catholic communities of the Olympic Peninsula, there are currently four rectories – one at each parish. The only unoccupied rectory is at Queen of Angels parish in Port Angeles. The parochial vicar of the Clallam county communities currently lives in the rectory at Saint Anne in Forks. The priest administrator of those communities lives in the rectory at Saint Joseph in Sequim and the priest administrator of Saint Mary Star of the Sea in Port Townsend lives at the rectory there.

I want to take a moment to affirm that spreading priests across rectories makes sense within the current arrangement – that of two priest administrators (holding the authority & responsibility of pastor, if not the title). The two priests of Clallam county have an occasional rotation but day-to-day ministry is to the communities closest to them. The priest administrator in Port Townsend only has the one community there and so rightly lives where he ministers.

A poster from the Partners in the Gospel initiative quoting Archbishop Etienne saying "the status quo is no longer an option"
Its a banger of a quote for a reason

But we can’t sustain things as they are. As Archbishop Etienne’s said in his July 2023 pastoral letter, “The status quo is no longer an option. The realities of our situation call for a new response — indeed, for a re-envisioning of parish life.” We have more communities that we can support, not enough priests to go around, and – of the priests we do have – not enough priests to limit them to single-parish assignments. And that’s before we start talking about the shrinking of our communities and the struggle of maintaining what always has been with less & less resources.

A hope for the future: coming together as one

This is where Partners in the Gospel offers a promise of hope. Though we can not continue to rely on the way things have always been, we are not taking the path of simply sacrificing all that has gone before. On the contrary, we are invited to lean into a value that is too often neglected in parish life: solidarity – in particular, solidarity between parishes. Where one community may struggle in weakness, another may have strength to spare. Two (or more!) communities coming together is not only an occasion for discovering complementary gifts, but affords the opportunity to discover new perspectives and take novel approaches.

Make no mistake: we will all have to make some sacrifices. A new member of the family is always welcomed with joy – but space must also be made by everyone to give each other room to live in common. Especially in the period of movement and transition, we will need to be sensitive to what we are giving up even as we celebrate what we are gaining. We must remind ourselves – and each other – that we are all more tender than we appear, being deliberate in expressing our care for each other even (especially) as we acknowledge, mourn, and address the sacrifices involved with coming together in a new way.

What it means to be a pastor

There is another reality needing highlighted: the duties of a pastor. As it turns out, the Church lays out the responsibilities of a pastor in canon law (CIC 528, 529, 530). Below, I’ve copied and pasted most (but not all!) of those responsibilities as named by canon law:

  1. to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish
  2. to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction
  3. to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice
  4. to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth
  5. to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith
  6. to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful
  7. to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care [visiting families, in particular, the subsequent paragraph of CIC 529 §1 goes on to say]
  8. to recognize and promote the proper part which the lay members of the Christian faithful have in the mission of the Church, by fostering their associations for the purposes of religion
    • also working so that the faithful have concern for parochial communion, consider themselves members of the diocese and of the universal Church, and participate in and sustain efforts to promote this same communion
  9. the administration of baptism
  10. the administration of the sacrament of confirmation to those who are in danger of death, according to the norm of  can. 883, n. 3
  11. the administration of Viaticum and of the anointing of the sick, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1003, §§2 and 3, and the imparting of the apostolic blessing
  12. the assistance at marriages and the nuptial blessing
  13. the performance of funeral rites
  14. the blessing of the baptismal font at Easter time, the leading of processions outside the church, and solemn blessings outside the church;
  15. the more solemn eucharistic celebration on Sundays and holy days of obligation

Of course, the law makes provision for a pastor to receive assistance in fulfilling these responsibilities (thus the role of parochial vicars), but they nonetheless remain the work of the pastor – and he must oversee and be involved in them all at some level.

Applying law, policies, and principles to our specific situation

As with the discernment around schedules, the key to priest housing in our parish family is the reality of having one pastor for all four parishes with their five locations. And not five communities that are close to each other, but five communities that span over 100 miles of driving between the furthest churches – and that isn’t saying anything about the actual territory that these four parishes encompass (check out the map below).

Given all that has been laid out – particularly in the territory involved and the responsibilities of the pastor – it is clear that having priests spread out across our parish family is unfeasible. The pastor will need to have the flexibility to move between locations both on a regular schedule. He will need to be able to respond when unscheduled needs arise – and if he goes to one far end, the other priests need to be positioned such that they can (relatively) easily minister to the communities where he is *not* present.

Though centralized housing doesn’t make this flexibility exactly easy (we priests are going to be doing a lot of driving no matter what), it is apparent that if the priests are not centrally located, that flexibility becomes practically impossible. For this reason, our priests need to be at a centralized location – which in our situation is the rectory at Queen of Angels in Port Angeles (notably, this is also the only rectory that has ample space to house three priests).

Addressing particular housing questions from our communities

With thanks to our PAAs and deacons for sharing background information and concerns parishioners have expressed, I would like to take some time to speak to just a few particular questions that folks have or are likely to have.

How can our community receive the care it desires & needs without a priest living and regularly working on-site?

A three-rotation schedule is being developed that prioritizes a balance of presence and stability. Each priest will have a sort of home base – he will spend the majority of his week and weekends within that rotation. Masses (daily & weekend) as well as office hours will be within that rotation. There will be some rotation – primarily on weekend Masses – to allow for the pastor to regularly present, but there will be at least two consecutive weekends (half the month) and most of the weekdays with the same priest within that rotation.

What about [insert favorite Mass time/devotion/other here]?

Though we will not be able to maintain the entire current schedule, we will be exploring how to assist and empower parishioners to gather in prayer & worship where something must be cancelled. For example, in place of a cancelled daily Mass, we might seek to establish the practice of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Likewise, if a priest is unavailable for solemn exposition and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament, we could find & train parishioners in simple exposition reposition. There is no substitute for the sacraments (pray for priestly vocations!), but there are many traditions and devotions we can do as Catholics even in the absence of a priest.

Our community has gone to significant effort in the upkeep, repair, and/or renovation of our rectory – what will happen to it with no priests living there full-time?

Foremost, thank you for your care for the priest(s) currently living at these rectories. I am confident that they would be the first to express their gratitude for how their living arrangements have been provided for and/or improved. All of the rectories will still see regular use, albeit less frequently. We can anticipate that our priests will sometimes need to stay overnight – especially at the far ends of our parish family – due to weather, driving conditions, or just needing to sleep rather than doing an(other) hour of driving after a long day abroad.

What about the archdiocesan policy that says priests are to be provided dedicated housing apart from offices or meeting space?

Though the policy envisions a healthy separation between the personal living space of priests and the work & activity of office space, for just cause it is permissible for priests to live in a rectory that is attached to offices or other facilities.

In the case of our parish family, the needs of both ministry and priestly fraternity provide that just cause for our priests to live in a rectory that is not dedicated housing. With regards to mobility, the rectory at Queen of Angels is the most centrally located, with travel time being approximately one hour whether going to either Saint Anne in Forks or Saint Mary Star of the Sea in Port Townsend.

With regards to priestly fraternity, it is the only rectory built to accommodate three priests living together. The value of being able to pray, have at least occasional meals together, and otherwise be present to & support each other can not be overstated. This is especially vital given that we are so physically distant from most of our brother priests in the archdiocese, our families, and friends outside of the Olympic Peninsula.

A prelude of things to come

I hope that this has helped illuminate at least some of the considerations behind priest housing in our parish family. I am grateful for the opportunity to offer insight into why this is necessary and how it will benefit our community – but I also hope to convey my commitment to being open as I can about why decisions are made, even decisions with which some may disagree. As you can imagine, a great deal of discernment and discussion goes into them.

I look forward to actually being present for discussions in the flesh – on matters weighty and light! Let us continue to pray for each other, asking the Lord to ease any anxieties, fears, or frustrations while also preparing our hearts for all that He has in store.

Parish Family 49 – a birds-eye view of the territory and schedules

A map of the Catholic communities of the Olympic Peninsula

Click here to explore this map directly on Google maps

3 thoughts on “Hearth & home: a deeper dive into priest living arrangements at Parish Family 49”

  1. Thank you for your prayerful discernment and diligence on these and other matters, which are for the best interests of us all.
    We in Clallam Catholic (or Peninsula Catholic or whatever will be our name iteration(!)) look forward to meeting you.

  2. Thank you Father Maurer for your clear and concise communication. I look forward to the upcoming changes. I know a lot of prayer and discernment has gone into the decisions you have made thus far. I look forward to the coming summer months.

  3. Thank you Fr. Maurer for this information.
    I am pleased you have decided to house all three priests in the same location…support and brotherhood are essential, in my opinion.

    We are looking forward to get acquainted with all of you priests.

    Bob Murphy

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