RELIGION Catholic priests doing the work of two
One Ohio priest credits the help he gets from his parish.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest for 40 years, the Rev. David Fay was accustomed to being called to minister to the sick in the midst of preparing sermons or to rescheduling parish meetings and appointments around funeral Masses.
For the past three years he's handled those demands in duplicate as the priest for two suburban Cincinnati churches.
Two customized church bulletins each week. Paperwork times two. A different sermon for each Mass.
"I use outlines rather than writing them out because you have to adjust to the people at each place and at each time and deal with their needs, so every Mass is different," he said.
Father Fay is one of about 3,500 priests who handle two or more of the 19,431 parishes in the United States amid a priest shortage. The number of U.S. priests has dropped by about 15,680 since 1967 to 44,212, while the country's Catholic population grew from almost 47 million to about 67 million, according to the Official Catholic Directory.
Some observers suggest that the celibacy requirement for priests has contributed to the shortage; others point more recently to priest abuse scandals.
Ministering to many
Father Fay, 65, has been resident priest since 1994 at St. Gabriel Church and added the nearby St. Matthias Church in 2002.
"There is no typical day," he said. "Every day brings something unexpected."
Each weekday at 7, Father Fay celebrates Mass at St. Gabriel before heading to his office to handle correspondence and numerous phone calls and appointments, gather scripture for his sermons and write the bulletins, which include his own feature articles.
"It's my way of reaching as many people as I can and helping them get to know who I am, especially since I can't be at either parish full time," Father Fay said.
His writing time never goes uninterrupted.
One day recently, Father Fay went back and forth the five miles between the two churches for Mass, a funeral, a pastors' meeting and an appointment with a prospective bride and groom. Before the day ended he would cram two more meetings and other paperwork into the remaining hours.
He anoints the sick, administers Communion and other sacraments to the housebound and at three retirement homes, and celebrates weekly Mass at another.
He led about 50 Maple Knoll Village residents in traditional hymns one Wednesday, his clear baritone voice stirring a vigorous response from the otherwise frail congregation, some on walkers and in wheelchairs.
"I have trouble hearing, but he is so understandable and his messages are so clear," said Louise McEnery, 94. "I can't see how he handles it all."
That refrain is common among members of both parishes.
"Our pastoral council meets monthly and tries to do what it can to ease his burden, but it still seems as though he is flat out being run ragged," said Ralph Moeller, who attends St. Gabriel.