by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 3/1998
and the Boston City Paper 6/2006
Right around this time last year, I wrote a column celebrating religious vocations, and reflected on many of the priests who’d had such a positive effect on my life.
This year, the subject of vocations is once again on many people’s minds. A few weeks ago, Saint Mary’s Pastor Father Tom Riley gave a heartfelt sermon about the need for a greater number of religious vocations. He explained how so many priests are over the age of 55 — and how few people these days are choosing religious service.
Put simply, as priests grow older there are fewer priests to replace them. In the future, churches may need to be closed. A parish may only have one priest. Thankfully, that is not going to happen any time soon in Foxboro, but it’s already happening elsewhere.
For anyone over 30, you recall that you were identified not by where you lived but by what parish you belonged to. My parents were married at Saint Kevin’s. My sister and I were baptized and received all our sacraments there. All the school masses were there. Every Sunday at 5 we attended Mass there. We went to school and graduated there. Dad’s funeral was there. Circle of life — all in the same church.
I’d be lying if I said I loved going to church when I was a kid — most anyone would. The sermons were often fire-and-brimstone (or pretty boring) and we kids would try to sit still (usually unsuccessfully), or artfully fold the church bulletin into various shapes or paper airplanes.
Much of that changed in later years with the arrival of Father Anthony Buchette. His masses were joyous occasions and we never missed a week. His sermons made sense as he talked about our lives and how much God loved us. He related the Bible’s words to current events. He involved everyone. Church became very enjoyable.
But times change. You grow up and move away, and years later find yourself in a new community. You miss church one week, then another. There’s always something else to do. Or you’re tired — that’s the easiest excuse.
A year or two after I moved to Foxboro, I really wanted to start going to church again, and I discovered Saint Marys. At that standing room-only Christmas mass, I certainly didn’t have a miraculous conversion or anything so dramatic, but I realized how much I missed being part of the church family. More importantly, I kept thinking: I need this.
Many people have fallen away from their faith for various reasons and there are no simple answers to that. But speaking for myself, I feel better about myself and life in general when I go to church regularly. In times of crisis, in times when your faith gets shaken to the core (and that does seem to happen more often as you get older) you need your church.
It’s important to be part of a family with a common faith. It’s important to have a place to go to when the world seems hopeless. This world needs priests like Father Tom Reilly and Father Steve Madden who treat you as a friend or family, don’t judge you, and just listen. We are blessed to have these priests and others like them here. This town is truly blessed to have so many churches serving different faiths.
Despite the “trauma” that many people associate with a parochial upbringing, I’m grateful for mine. The priest and nuns who taught me each gave me valuable lessons and demonstrated character and friendship. They were all role models. Many were there at the worst times of my life to provide guidance, advice, or a hug. You don’t forget that kind of friendship.
I hope that more people will enter religious service. There’s going to be far fewer priests and nuns in the future, and churches will close. And that’s a shame, because these days, we need them more than ever.