Rural priests on the road need more than better gas mileage

By Catholic Rural Life on April 7, 2015

Rural Outreach and Ministry

Fr. Greg MasteyParish priests in rural areas are many things: ministers of the sacraments, religious educators, counselors, community organizers, and conflict mediators.

Add professional road warrior to the list.

That was a reality communicated in a recent USA Today article that featured CRL’s-own Fr. Gregory Mastey. The story, entitled “Priest turns road warrior to cover 4 Minnesota parishes”, documents the incredible lengths–literally–that Fr. Mastey goes to serve the people of the Holdingford Area Catholic Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn:

[Fr. Mastey] is on his third pickup since becoming a priest. The first two each logged more than 250,000 miles; his current vehicle is going strong at 140,000 miles.

“At the end of the month, I usually turn in 1,400 miles or so,” Mastey said.

“I spend a lot of time driving.”

That time adds up. As CRL has pointed out, rural priests are already stretched thin between multiple parish assignments. Take out another chunk of time to account for travelling between these different parishes, and a priest has very little time to do anything beyond celebrate Mass and minister the sacraments.

We’re well aware of this rural reality, the pressure it puts on a rural priest, and the consequences it can have on parish life. For while Mass and the sacraments are the source and summit of the Catholic faith, opportunities to grow in understanding of Catholicism and how it weaves into our daily lives are needed. Sometimes a homily isn’t enough, and with the parish-cluster priest stretched thin with Masses and baptisms and funerals and marriages, it’s difficult to determine how this supplemental faith development will be provided.

This is why CRL is committed to developing lay people in rural areas to be faith leaders in their parishes. Our Life in Christ program equips them to lead small group discussions that center on Scripture and the Church’s social teaching. It may not cut down on a rural parish priest’s time in the car, but it can at least give him some peace of mind knowing that lay men and women are stepping into leadership positions to nurture the faith of their brothers and sisters.

CRL’s lay leadership program has been going strong for over five years now, and is active in three states and several dioceses. We’re always eager to provide this incredible program to parishes in need, and many parish priests are just as eager to have it implemented. As Fr. Gregory Leif, a priest in the Diocese of Winona, Minn.–where the lay leadership program is rapidly expanding–, put it, “I’m so happy to see this, because I don’t have to come up with it on my own!”

So while buying a rural parish priest a new pick-up with better gas mileage might be appreciated, a more meaningful gift might be bringing the Life in Christ lay leadership program to your parish or diocese. If you’re interested, contact CRL’s executive director Jim Ennis for more information, at jim@catholicrurallife.org .

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