This past week in one of the news conferences announcing his appointment as the tenth bishop of Erie, PA, Bishop-elect Lawrence Persico of our diocese was asked something like "Did you see yourself on this journey toward the episcopate?" His answer was a simple one - that he never saw himself as anything other than a parish priest. He is that, of course, as pastor of Saint James parish in New Alexandria ... but he is or has been much more: chaplain to religious communities, vicar general and chancellor of the diocese, student, canon lawyer, administrator, etc, etc, etc. And now as the chief shepherd of a great diocese in Northwestern Pennsylvania. But his best qualification for the new job is that of being "a parish priest".
Today the Church recognizes "a simple parish priest" in Saint John Marie Vianney, the Cure (or pastor) of Ars, a little village in France. He is the patron of parish priests. I told his story last year on this date in a posting entitled "A Good Pastor". His renown came from his desire and willingness to be "a parish priest" to those to whom he was sent. He brought with him his closeness to God and the struggle that it brought with it. He brought with him his love of God and the love of God's people that took root in his heart. He did not bring with him a stellar reputation, wisdom in intellectual knowledge, ambition, prestige, wealth or power. They were not his to bring. But he developed a reputation for holiness, a wisdom in the confessional that touched hearts, a humility in the power that flowed not from him but from God through him. He put Ars on the map, but more importantly he brought Christ into hearts.
Occasionally people will ask me if I want to be a bishop. Good God, NO! No offense to those called to that ministry, but I simply want to be a parish priest ... and I have been blessed to be that for these thirty-nine years through eight assignments. May the Lord continue to bless me with the desire to be "a good parish priest", and may the Lord bless those who have been supportive of that vocation.