Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the East Harlem section of New York City is seen in this 2015 file photo. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The Toughest Job in the Church

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Father David BonnarThere is an old slogan about working for God and his Church that has always offered solace to me: “Working for the Lord does not pay much, but the retirement plan is out of this world.”

Indeed, anyone who works for the Church is not in it for the money. The work is unlike any other as it is typically not a job but a vocation. The hope is that the retirement plan involves an eternal place in the mansion of heaven.

Working for the Lord is not always easy or without a struggle. Ministry can be messy. What is more, to work for the Lord is often to go against the secular and selfish ways of this world. To work for the Lord is also to always take the high road by exuding trust in God no matter what and kindness and compassion even with the most difficult of people. In the spirit of the Gospel, it means loving one’s enemies and praying for one’s persecutors.

When it comes to this charge, who do you think has the hardest job in the Church? Do you think it’s bishops? Is it pastors? What about parish secretaries who every day are on the front-line fielding complaints and concerns? After being employed by the Church now for 32 years, I believe that the toughest job in the Church today is that of being a principal in a Catholic school.

Let me be perfectly honest in saying that I love Catholic education. I am a lifelong product of the Catholic educational way. As a priest, I would find it difficult to be in a parish where there was not some affiliation with a Catholic school. It would be hard to imagine our Catholic faith without Catholic schools, because these schools are so instrumental in forming the mind, heart, body and spirit in the name of Jesus Christ. Catholic schools are also the place of exciting beginnings that stay with one forever. As the promotional saying goes, “Catholic Schools: Where Great Beginnings Last a Lifetime.”

But Catholic schools are becoming an endangered species. The pandemic has resulted in the closing of many schools throughout our country. Those that remain open face incredible financial challenges. Parish schools are more and more giving way to regional schools. I just was transferred from an assignment in which two of the parish schools under my charge merged with two others to form one regional school.

My new assignment hosts a regional school that has been in operation for a few years. Recently, I met with the principal, who has much on his plate. Like any principal he has many bodies to answer to that include the regional administrator and board, faculty, staff, parents, students, alumni and the parish that hosts the school. There is also the diocesan school’s office, as well as the state. Oh, and let’s not forget the Parent-Teacher Guild or the athletic association with the coaches, players and boosters.

As if these relationships are not enough to negotiate, add to this a pandemic riddled with uncertainty. Will there be classes in the building when it’s time for the school bell to ring? If so, what needs to be done to keep everyone safe? What about the cleaning and sanitization of the school? What about sports? Will classes be done virtually? And what about fundraising? How will the school be able to raise money given all of the restrictions in place? How will the students gather for Mass?

Needless to say, there are so many questions for every principal in this unprecedented time. Perhaps you understand why, from my vantage point, I see this job as one of the most challenging in the Church. And yet, I was so humbled when I met with our principal because he was like a little kid the night before Christmas. Bob’s smile was wide and contagious. You see, as hard as the job may seem, he loves what he does. It just goes to show, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” Thank God for our principals. May God bless them in this difficult time.

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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