ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON DECEMBER 20, 2020
MOST RECENTLY REVISED APRIL 26, 2021
To the Family at Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church:
May 26, 2021, will mark my 20th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood! It has been a profound privilege far beyond what words can describe. I have the best job in the world and the most joy-filled life I could ever imagine. I love being a priest and remain deeply grateful to God for His call.
During the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of serving in a variety of ways. I have over ten years of being a pastor of four unique and beautiful parish families, including here at Our Lady of the Isle. I was able to reshape the future landscape of priestly vocations in our Diocese through seven years as Vocations Director and 12 years as Director of Seminarians. I have served Bishop Fabre as Vicar General for five years and, with a great team of others, co-coordinated 24 months of intense strategic planning for the Diocese. I have invested three years in helping implement the strategic plan. Therein, we redesigned how the Pastoral Center now supports parishes in adult formation, youth formation, and major life moments. I have had 14 years of serving priests through the Institute for Priestly Formation as an adjunct faculty member, have led over 25 priests through Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises 30-day retreat, and I have authored ten books and four eight-week video series.
In an attempt to keep priests refreshed and vibrant, our Diocesan Policy Manual states that periodically priests may apply for six months of sabbatical, rest, and further study. During the Fall of 2018, I began a conversation with Bishop Fabre regarding my desire for just that: a little rest, personal renewal, and further study. However, circumstances did not allow for a sabbatical at that time. We continued the conversation in 2019 and 2020, but again, circumstances did not allow for a sabbatical at that time.
Bishop Fabre approved my request for six months of sabbatical and further study during 2021. In his letter dated December 19, 2020, Bishop Fabre clearly stated: I will remain Pastor of Our Lady of the Isle. The sabbatical does not change my commitment to being your pastor. Therefore, so that there is no question or room for speculation, let me share my plans for the six months of sabbatical and further study.
During April and May of 2021, I will be on a hybrid silent retreat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in north Georgia. The two months of retreat will be a time to prayerfully reflect upon the abundant blessings of the past 20 years. I wouldn’t change a thing about these past 20 years; however, I feel it is time to rest, regroup, and look ahead to the next 20 years.
In June, July, August, and September I will be at the Shrine the Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham, England. I plan to study all that is sacred about the priesthood and identify aspects within the “culture” of the priesthood that needs reform and renewal. I then would begin some writing towards a plan for the ongoing formation for priests, including our priests in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. I’ll partner with my friends at the Institute for Priestly Formation and the Catholic Leadership Institute for some writing. I hope to eventually have a comprehensive plan for the ongoing formation of priests of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.
I return to the island on October 1. I’m all in once I return. The sabbatical is over at that point, and I look forward to fulfilling my first six-year term here at Our Lady of Isle.
Of course, it will be business as usual when I am away. Kristie and I will make arrangements to ensure that we have a full priestly presence while I am away. In my absence, we will still have daily and Sunday Mass, confessions, etc. I’ll arrange for a substitute so that you continue to receive service.
I share this news with you today so that we might celebrate together the first 20 years of priesthood. I also share with you this news so that you might pray for me. I furthermore write to you today because, unfortunately, we live in a time where the sin of hearsay and the evil of those who gossip wounds the people of whom they speak. I would never want good people to suffer from the immaturity of other’s speculation; therefore, let me clearly state a few things.
First, a sabbatical is a gift. It is a healthy way for priests to stay healthy. A sabbatical is a proactive initiative so that healthy priests continue to stay healthy. While we occasionally may hear of a priest leaving his assignment for a leave of absence or time away, a sabbatical is not a leave of assignment, a leave of absence, or time away. I love being a priest. I couldn’t imagine doing anything different. My sabbatical is a gift, and it is one that Bishop Fabre and I have discerned together over a few years.
Second, I love being a priest. In fact, my desire for a sabbatical is because I love being a priest. The sabbatical is an intentional effort to nurture my vocation, not to escape from it. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years of the priesthood may bring!
Third, I love Grand Isle. In fact, I haven’t been this happy in 15 years. My transition to Grand Isle came at an important time in my life, and lifestyle change was critical. In short, I couldn’t keep living as busy as I was. Lest there be any question, my sabbatical is not a leaving of Our Lady of the Isle. I have great anticipation of fulfilling my first six-year term here at Our Lady of the Isle. Who knows, maybe I can ask for another six years after!
Thank you for your prayer and support. I pray that these remaining days of Lent are filled with grace and that our experience of Easter is life-changing!
In Christ, FM