Change by God’s Design

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Father David BonnarIn March of this year during the nascent stages of the pandemic, a conference call was convened by diocesan officials for the 16 of us pastors who were anticipating our respective grouping of parishes being merged on July 1, 2020. The purpose of the call was to solicit our feedback as to whether we should follow the original timeline. One by one, we each were allowed to state our preference. Of the 16 of us asked, I was the only one who recommended that we delay the mergers.

My rationale at the time was centered on the fact that I felt it would be even more challenging to build new communities in a time of the pandemic. Besides, I just did not believe it was prudent to ask anyone to be transferred at that time and go through the process of moving given the pandemic. Well, in the end, the process continued, and I was one of only two pastors transferred. Despite my reticence, I embraced the transfer and found it to be exciting and reinvigorating. Even in a pandemic, the act of moving brought new life and many new relationships that transcended the inconveniences and frustrations of moving.

After unpacking most of my belongings except for a few miscellaneous boxes, I breathed a sigh of relief, trusting that I would not have to endure this exercise of packing and unpacking again for a good while. In fact, with every day in the new parish, I became more rooted and committed to my new life and ministry.

But on one Monday, November afternoon, as I was just minding my business, I received one of those life-changing phone calls from the apostolic nuncio informing me that the Holy Father was transferring me to Youngstown, Ohio, to become its sixth bishop. Not only was I moving again, but this time I would be traveling across the Pennsylvania border to become an Ohioan and a bishop, no less.

This would not be just another move with the packing and unpacking of boxes. This move would be more emotional and significant than any other, inasmuch as I am not only leaving an assignment, but also a presbyterate that I have come to know and love in 32 years of being a priest. It is hard to put into words this change. The diocese that formed me, called me to holy orders and supported me through these many years I will be leaving behind to embrace a whole new diocese as a shepherd.

But this move is even more poignant because it means, by God’s design, I will be leaving parish life as I currently know it. All I ever wanted to be was a parish priest. What a blessing it has been to realize this dream and to be not only a parochial vicar but also a pastor in various parishes.

I keep telling myself that I am simply going to a bigger parish in a neighboring state with a larger staff and a little more responsibility as a leader. I suppose you may be able to take the priest out of the parish, but you can never take the parish out of the priest. The parish remains a special place where every day God meets his people. While our parishes are known by different names and each has its own history, they all are fountains of divine grace. What a privilege it has been for me to be a parish priest and watch every day God’s grace flow into the hearts of the faithful.

BISHOP-ELECT DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, has been appointed bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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