A LETTER FROM FR. MARK DECEMBER 19, 2020
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 12 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 or Chancellor for six years and co-coordinated 24 intense months of strategic planning for the Diocese. With others, I have invested three years in the implementing 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 seven books and four eight-week video series.
It has been an abundantly blessed 20 years. But, whew, it’s been full! Admittedly I am tired. 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 an attempt to keep priests refreshed and vibrant, our Diocesan Policy Manual states that, when needed, priests may apply for six months of sabbatical, rest, and further study. During Christmas of 2018, I began a conversation with Bishop Fabre regarding my desire for just that: a little rest, personal renewal, and further study. We continued the conversation in 2019 and 2020, but circumstances did not allow for a sabbatical at that time.
As mentioned in his letter dated December 19, 2020, Bishop Fabre has approved my request for six months of sabbatical and further study during 2021. I plan to unpack all that is beautiful about the priesthood and identify how the milieu of the priesthood needs reform and renewal. I then would begin writing a few ideas for the ongoing formation for priests, including our priests in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.
As 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 preliminary plans about how things will look.
I am already looking forward to us having a great Lent. This Lent, I will walk us through a preaching series entitled “Behold the Lamb of God: The Jewish Roots of the Mass.” You’re going to love it! Our Lent preaching series concludes on Sunday, March 21. Starting March 22 I will be away from Grand Isle for a few weeks for a retreat so that I can look back on the first 20 years of priesthood. I’ll be on a personal silent retreat most of April and May 2021.
Knowing well how the island and Our Lady of the Isle peaks Memorial Day through Labor Day, I will return to the parish in time for Memorial Day weekend. I’ll be here, on the island, and in the parish throughout the entire summer. And we’re going to have a great summer!
Sometime after Labor Day, I’ll leave for the second part of my sabbatical. During September and October, I’ll dive deep into study, hoping that I’ll learn more about what I “see” happening within the priesthood. Then, during November and December, 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.
So, I’ll leave sometime after Labor Day and return for Christmas. I’m all in once I return for Christmas 2021. The sabbatical is over at that point, and I look forward to fulfilling my first six-year term here at Our Lady of the 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. A 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 Advent are filled with grace and that our experience of Christmas is life-changing!
In Christ, FM