On this weekend, throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, many parishioners will be greeted in their churches by new faces at their altars. July 1 is the formal date of transition for priests of the Archdiocese. New assignments are taken up. And so priests who have been part of parish communities for a number of years now find themselves saying “Goodbye” to former parishioners and “Hello” to new parishioners. It’s quite an intricate movement of people within the network of parishes across the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara. It is said that moving home can be one of the more traumatic experiences in life, ranking up there with bereavement and divorce. Yet every few years, it is part of the reality of the lives of parish communities across the Archdiocese. We priests pick up our lives and we go. It’s a long-established tradition in the life of the Church, evidenced in today’s gospel with the Lord Jesus sending out the 72 on mission.
The sending of the 72 on mission is one thing, but how do we do this in our time? Sometimes I am asked by people how this works? How does the assignment of priests happen? In the United States there is a system by which pastors are assigned for a term of six years. That term can be renewed once, for an additional six years. In light of this, a pastor often serves in a community for a period of 12 years. Associate Pastors are assigned for terms of five years. An Associate’s term may be renewed for an additional two years, allowing for the possibility of a seven year term. In practice, associates are more often moved than renewed, while pastors are usually renewed.
There are some exceptions to these general policies that are applied. For example, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, when a pastor turns 65 years of age, and he is not concluding a 12-year term, he may request to remain in place rather than go through the difficulties of moving again, and of starting his ministry all over again in a new parish community. Also, priests with health complications may request “Senior Priest” status, allowing them to relinquish the responsibilities of a pastorate while continuing in priestly ministry.
Newly ordained priests are assigned as associates for terms of three to four years. The idea behind the shorter terms is that ideally they will serve in at least two very different assignments before being entrusted with a pastorate of their own. In the past, when the numbers of priests were greater, priests might expect to serve as an associate in many parishes before becoming a pastor. This mentoring across different parish experiences allowed someone to develop a good sense of what pastoral principles might best apply in different parish situations before they assumed the responsibilities of a pastorate. It is more likely today that a recently ordained priest may serve two relatively short terms before being asked to take on such responsibilities. The time of mentoring and preparation is truncated much more than in the past.
Today, priests may retire at the age of 70, but they must offer their resignation to the Archbishop when they turn 75.
Determining what priest goes to which parish is no easy thing in Los Angeles, which with 287 parishes spread across 120 cities is the largest Archdiocese in the country. The Catholic population of over four million is served by 327 priests of the archdiocese serving 179 parishes, and by an additional 552 religious order priests who serve in 54 of our parishes. Without the help of these religious priests and the assistance of international priests who are visiting for studies in the southland, the staffing of our parishes as we know it would be very different. There are an additional 54 parishes which are staffed by deacons, lay men and women, religious sisters, and by priests asked to come back out of retirement temporarily.
A “Personnel Board” does the hard work of facilitating the process of staffing and transitions, and ultimately makes recommendations to the Archbishop, who formally makes the assignments.
So perhaps as we reflect on the Lord’s sending of the 72, we might hold in our prayers the pastoral needs of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the parish communities experiencing the challenges of transitions in leadership in these days, and all those who, challenged by the gospel to do so, are willing to pick up and move their lives in continued service God’s people.