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Monday, June 16, 2008

‘A worthwhile vocation’: Advice for a new generation of priests

From the Rhode Island Catholic
BY Emily Donohue

PROVIDENCE – The life of a priest is “not an easy life, but it is a very worthwhile vocation,” Monsignor William Varsanyi, the longest-serving priest in the diocese, said in a recent interview.
As the diocese prepares to ordain five men to the priesthood on June 28, Monsignor Varsanyi looked back on his life as a priest in the hope it would speak to the soon-to-be-ordained.

In 1946, when he was ordained in his native Hungary, the country was occupied by Communist Russians and the life of a priest was fraught with risk and danger. “Our first challenge was to survive and try to carry out our priestly mission,” he said. He left Hungary, studied in Rome for a few years and came to Providence in 1951.

Msgr. Varsanyi pointed out that this year’s class of priests will start their ministry during a war, like he did, although the circumstances are much different. But, as in any time of war, “lots of people will need special spiritual care and assistance,” he said.

He offered a variety of advice, from the practical to the spiritual, for the five young men.

• “Consider the diocese and administration a friend and helper.” Msgr. Varsanyi, who serves as the Delegate for Canonical Affairs for the diocese, is a part of that administration. He said new priests should not be afraid to ask questions or make suggestions to the diocese.

• Never stop learning and studying. “The old saying is still valid that a good priest studies and learns throughout his whole life,” he said, adding that the challenges of today’s society demand continued study.

• Remaining focused on the most important aspect of priestly life, celebrating Mass, is essential to having success as a priest, Monsignor Varsanyi said. “The Mass is the central part of our faith, but also of the priest.”

• These men will enter the priesthood in a time when it is likely that they will be the pastors of their own parish within the first decade of their service. When Msgr. Varsanyi was ordained it wasn’t unusual for priests to serve 25 or more years as an assistant pastor, learning the ins and outs of maintaining a parish, before they were charged with their own parish. Since they will be given this responsibility with less time for apprenticeship, Monsignor Varsanyi advised that they “keep good church records and personnel records from the beginning.”

• “Keep company with priests,” he recommended. He said fellow priests can understand most completely the challenges the vocation brings and are best-equipped to help new priests handle those challenges.

• Be adaptable, he advised: “The Church is always changing.” He has witnessed first-hand the ebb and flow of the church in Providence, from the 1950s when the diocese was growing and new schools and parishes were being constructed across the state to today, when the church maintains a strong presence but has felt the effects of an increasingly secular society. There will always be changes, he said, but the basics of the faith never change.

• Priests are people too, Msgr. Varsanyi said, and people make mistakes. “If you make a mistake you admit it and realize that priests can make mistakes.”

Today’s priests enter a society that is, to some extent, skeptical of the priesthood. Sex abuse scandals have changed the way that many people look at priests, but Msgr. Varsanyi warned against these young priests feeling that they must spend their careers atoning for the mistakes of men who came before them. “They are a different generation, better prepared. They should not be ashamed,” he said, adding that the failings of previous generations should serve only as an inspiration to do better for the young men who will soon be ordained.

Monsignor Varsanyi said that the new class of priests gives him great hope for the diocese. He encouraged the men to remember that “only God will reward a good servant.”

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