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'Extern' priests serving in Vermont

There was a time when the Diocese of Burlington sent priests to serve in missions in the developing world with groups including Maryknoll and The Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle.
 
But as the clergy shortage became more acute in Vermont, parishes here began to welcome more and more priests who were born outside the United States; in effect roles were reversed and Vermont became “mission territory.”
 
Of the 74 priests in full-time ministry in Vermont, there are currently 22 “extern” priests serving here with permission of their home bishop or religious order.
 
The extern priests serve at 41 churches and the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
 
“Without their assistance, we would not be able to provide pastoral coverage to a large number of churches,” said Msgr. John McDermott, vicar general for the Diocese of Burlington. “Their presence is essential at this time in the life of the Diocese.”
 
Father Romanus Igweonu was ordained for the Diocese of Abakaliki in his native Nigeria and served there as a parochial vicar, pastor, teacher, principal and chaplain before coming to the United States to study in 2004, earning advanced degrees in education. An educational specialist, he worked in special education in Pittsburg before then-Burlington Bishop Salvatore R. Matano invited him to serve in the Diocese of Burlington.
 
Though he also looked into educational positions, Father Igweonu chose to come to Vermont “because my first vocation is as a priest; I have to pay homage to the Church.” Education, he said, is his “second career.”
 
He arrived in Vermont in 2006 and served churches in Fairfax, Milton, Ludlow and Proctorsville before his current assignment as administrator of St. Bridget and St. Stanislaus Kostka churches in West Rutland and St. Dominic in Proctor. 
 
“When I came to Burlington, I met life. I met love. I met brotherliness and unity and acceptance,” he said. “I came as a missionary to Vermont, but I feel one with the presbyterate of Vermont,” which makes him feel more of a diocesan priest than a missionary. “As imperfect as I am, they treat me as a brother.”
 
The growing numbers of African-born clergy and religious ministering in the United States are at the vanguard of an important moment in both the U.S. and worldwide Catholic Church, said Jesuit Father Allan Deck, a teacher of theology and Latino studies at Loyola Maryknoll University in Los Angeles.
 
"The Church is growing in Asia, in Latin America and most especially in Africa," he said. "So at this moment in time and as we move into the future, the life of the universal Church, the leadership of the universal Church -- and all the hard work that we need to do to evangelize -- more and more has to be assumed by up-and-coming groups, and one of those groups is the Catholic faithful of the various countries of Africa.”
 
Father Deck served from 2008 to 2012 as the first executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.
 
The priest called the influx of foreign-born ministers "a globalized priesthood, a globalized religious."
 
Father Maria Lazar, pastor of St. Charles Parish in Bellows Falls, was ordained a priest of the Heralds of Good News order. In his native India he was a parochial vicar, pastor and Catholic school administrator.
 
“One fine morning my superior [in the religious order] called me and said to prepare to go to Vermont,” he recalled. “Vermont was not on the map according to me back then,” he added with a smile.
 
But he arrived in Vermont in 2009 with another member of his order. “I didn’t know anything of Vermont,” he said. “I had no idea about the climate, the culture or the people.”
 
And though he thought he could speak English, he realized he did not speak it fluently. In fact, at first “it was not distinguishable,” he said.
 
Acclimating to a new place can be a challenge for a missionary priest, but Father Lazar did not balk; the object of his order is to train and supply priests where they are needed. “I’m a minister to the people. I cannot be hiding in a room,” he said, noting that in seminary he was told he could be sent “anywhere” so he would have to “bloom where you are planted.”
 
He has served churches in St. Albans, Barre and Rutland.
 
Asked if there is a priest shortage in his home diocese, Father Igweonu said, “yes and no.” Many parishes still need pastors because of an expansion program, so though there are many young men going to the seminary, “there are not enough priests because of the expansion,” he said. “No amount of priests is enough because the Church is growing in Africa.”
 
His plans to stay depend on the wishes of his home bishop and the bishop of Burlington. “I see my life as a priest anywhere I’m called to serve,” he said.
 
Father Lazar is committed to the Diocese of Burlington for 10 years, and when that is complete, he would like to go home to India, but he will, in obedience, go where he is needed. “I said ‘yes’ to God when I entered the seminary and when I was ordained. I should continue to [say ‘yes’] until my last breath.”
 
Father Julian Asucan, pastor of St. Augustine Church in Montpelier at North American Martyrs Church in Marshfield, was ordained in 2000 for the Diocese of Talibon in the Philippines where he assisted the bishop and was a parochial vicar and pastor before coming to Vermont in 2008 after learning the Diocese of Burlington needed priests.
 
“I wanted the experience of knowing what was beyond the borders of my country and to know the universal Church,” he said. “What we do there is the same thing we do here – celebrate the sacraments.”
 
He has served parishes in Bradford, Hardwick, Fairfax, Milton and Colchester.
 
He never thought of the United States as “mission territory,” but he understands the need now because of fewer American-born priests.
 
“For the Church to continue to exist, you have to have your own priests in the Diocese,” he said. “What if other Dioceses [and religious orders] did not send their priests?”
 
Father Lazar hopes that he will inspire young Vermont men to heed the call to priesthood. “Mission priests cannot stay here forever,” he said. “Mission priests are coming and serving and then they go to different places. Promoting local vocations is the only solution [to the clergy shortage], something every [Catholic] should work on.”
 
--Catholic News Service contributed to this story.
 
--Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Pastoral plan

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne is convening a Diocesan Synod to establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont.
 
Work was done on the last pastoral plan for the statewide Diocese from 2003 through 2006. It was promulgated by then-Burlington Bishop Salvatore R. Matano “as a way of trying to address the reduction of the number of priests available to minister to the people of Vermont,” explained Msgr. John McDermott, vicar general for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
In addition, it attempted to address the demographic changes that had occurred and are occurring in Vermont, among them aging population, reduction in births and population shifts.
 
“An element of the synodal process will be to examine the present and future ministerial needs in Vermont,” Msgr. McDermott said. “It may be that the Diocese will need to make more pastoral changes to parishes in order to best serve the people of God.  At this time, there is no way of projecting what these changes might be. We will have to see how the synod process proceeds.”
 
Dioceses throughout the United States are engaged in pastoral planning processes to deal with similar issues as those facing the Diocese of Burlington.
 
For example, in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Mont., the three major priorities that surfaced at the Leadership Summit for pastoral planning were parish life and liturgy, evangelization and discipleship and vocations to the priesthood. In the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisc., areas of pastoral concern were identified as evangelization; youth, young adult  and family; leadership; education; Eucharist; and the dignity of human life.
 
In the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., pastoral concerns include liturgy and sacraments, catechesis, New Evangelization/youth, family life and vocations and stewardship. The pastoral plan concerns for the Archdiocese of Atlanta fall into four broad categories: Knowing Our Faith, Living Our Faith, Sharing Our Faith and Evolution of Our Parishes.
 
As the Diocese of Burlington prepares its pastoral plan, Msgr. McDermott said, “Our hope is to engage parishioners in the conversation to determine how best to strengthen Church life in Vermont.”

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This story was original published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Msgr. McDermott makes good on pledge to have head shaved for Daddy Warbucks part

BURLINGTON--Ever wonder what a $2,000 haircut looks like? 
 
Look here:  www.dropbox.com/sh/8niadbp3ck6xt0e/AADh08qqaz3wfh5n3yFniU4ia?dl=0
 
Msgr. John McDermott is vicar general of the Diocese of Burlington and pastor of Christ the King/St. Anthony Parish.  He is playing another part on Nov. 4 and 5: Daddy Warlocks, the iconic and beloved millionaire, in Christ the King School’s production of “Annie, Jr.”
 
Daddy Warbucks is famously bald, and Msgr. McDermott is – was -- not. However, he agreed to really get in character by shaving his head -- at a cost of $1,000.
 
He challenged the community to give $1,000 within a week, with all donations going to replace the school’s aging theater lighting, and he would have his head shaved in front of the entire school.  The $1,000 goal was reached in a matter of days, but the donations kept coming in, and by the end of the challenge the school had collected more than $2,000.
 
Thursday afternoon Msgr. McDermott brought in a professional hairstylist, Lori Detore, who removed his locks on the CKS stage in front a cheering crowd. 
 
By the end of the $2,000 haircut, he looked much more the Daddy Warlocks part and the school was a big step closer to replacing the theater lighting.    
 
  • Published in Schools

Help Christ the King School raise funds for Msgr. McDermott's haircut challenge

BURLINGTON—You could call it a $1,000 haircut.
 
Msgr. John McDermott has challenged the Christ the King School community to raise $1,000 for new stage lights, and if the goal is reached, he will have his head shaved in front of the entire school.
 
“I made the challenge because the school has been trying to get new stage lights for a while. This may get us closer to getting them,” said the pastor of Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish and vicar general for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
Of the 16 theater lights, only eight work, and not well. Efforts to raise money to fix the theater lighting have been ongoing for the last three years. The cost is estimated at $12,000 to replace the current bank of lights with the least expensive new version available.
 
Msgr. McDermott has had crew cuts before, but never a shaved head. “However I'm a lot closer to a bald head than I was as a newly ordained priest,” he said.
 
The new look will be fitting for his role in Christ the King School’s production of “Annie.” He is playing the famously bald Daddy Warbucks.
 
“I've done theater since elementary school. I love the stage and the opportunities to work with others to put on a show,” Msgr. McDermott said. “I was asked to join the cast, and I'm thrilled to help out. Being on stage is much more exciting than being in the audience.”
 
Christ the King School Principal Angela Pohlen expressed deep appreciation to Msgr. McDermott for the “clear love and joyfulness with which he engages the school.”
 
“Annie” will be performed Nov. 4 and 5 at 7 p.m. at the school.
 
Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Call the school at 862-6696 to reserve tickets and then pay at the door.
 
All donations to Msgr. McDermott’s fundraiser will go directly to replacing the aging stage lights.
 
“The community's response is more aptly connected to Msgr. McDermott himself than to the challenge for the lights,” Pohlen said. “Our community loves him. He's present at the school and visits classrooms every single day; he knows the teachers, children and parents by name.”
 
It is fun for her to watch him rehearse with the students: “He fits right in, adding his talent, joviality and even a little silliness, with theirs. These kids will never, ever forget this experience. As a result, the community has responded with enthusiasm to the challenge. But that's not surprising. How do you not return love with love?”
 
Give online at www.cksvt.org/warbucks or drop off a check at the school’s front office.
 
“The arts are an important part of educating the whole child and a great way to bring a community together,” Msgr. McDermott said.
 
  • Published in Schools
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