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A Time of Transition

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Father David BonnarThe pandemic has turned many of our lives upside down. Schedules have gone awry as many plans have had to be modified or canceled. In fact, our time during these last two months might best be characterized as “canceled and closed.” Basic freedoms like attending holy Mass, going to the gym, taking in a baseball game, watching a movie or show in a theater and dining out have all been taken away from us.

The other word that could be added to this caption is “distance.” Relationships have been challenged by this reality. What is more, the future seems so distant as we find ourselves in what seems like a perpetual present. Indeed, the pandemic has caused much upheaval to what was for so many of us a relatively “normal” life.

Nearly a month ago, I received a phone call from my bishop. As he began speaking, it was quite evident that there was soon going to be more change in my world. My life and ministry as I know it is going to be turned upside down once again. You see, our diocese is involved in an extensive initiative called “On Mission for the Church Alive.” The whole idea is to establish “vibrant parishes with effective ministries” for the future.

For nearly the past two years, I have been overseeing two parishes in a grouping with the purpose of building a bridge of unity between the two. The heavy lifting is just about complete, along with my role in the process. On Wednesday, I met with the bishop, and he presented me with a decree naming the new parish, which will be known as St. Michael the Archangel Parish. At the same time, he reassigned me to a newly merged parish to be identified as St. Aiden Parish. Like my current situation, this new parish will take effect on July 1, 2020.

One of the facts of life for any diocesan priest is change. Our vocation is never to a particular assignment or parish, but to the diocese, and based on its needs at the discretion of the bishop. This transfer will mark the eighth move for me in almost 32 years of being a priest.

Any transfer is bittersweet. It is always hard to love and leave God’s people, not to mention a top-notch staff with whom I have thoroughly enjoyed collaborating. What adds to the heartache is not just leaving the current ministry behind, but also, because I have lived where I work, the sense of home as well, all in a time of pandemic. I would never choose to move at this time, but the Holy Spirit sees it otherwise, and I accept that as part of my life as a priest. Transfers can be just as surprising as death, as we know neither the day nor the hour. We must always be ready.

And yet, transfers are always a time of new beginnings and fresh starts. Purging and packing can be therapeutic. Needless to say, the last month has been like an extended retreat as I have meticulously sorted through and packed cards, photos, memories and all kinds of possessions, all the while hearing the whispering voice of Jesus to “travel lightly.”

One thing that does not change in this transition is the love and support of family. This morning my sister, Cathy, texted me and said: “May God bless you as you take your first steps today on your journey to a new parish. The best is yet to be. I hope you know how surrounded by love you are.” Thank God for family!

And thank God for the People of God, who always exude love wherever we find ourselves as priests.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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