AUTUMN LEAVES AND PASTORAL ASSIGNMENTS FALL INTO PLACE
By JT McDonald
Cooler temperatures and the crunch of fall leaves aren't the only changes in the environment that Diocese of Erie parishioners are adjusting to this fall. This summer, Bishop Lawrence Persico announced the most significant change in priest assignments since the parish restructuring plan was implemented in 2017 as a result of pastoral planning.
On July 6, 35 priests began assignments at new parishes in every corner of the diocese. For both parishioners and priests, these changes have brought about an adjustment period. The change, however also presents an opportunity for a chance to build new relationships and strengthen faith.
“A priest is not ordained for ministry in a particular parish or for a special ministry. A priest is ordained for service in the diocese,” Bishop Persico remarked in his homily at the installation Mass of Father Daniel Hoffman as pastor for St. Eulalia Parish in Coudersport.
It hasn’t taken long for priests with new assignments to begin settling into their new roles at different parishes. As Father John Detisch sits in his freshly painted office at St. Tobias Parish in Brockway, he reflects on the past few months of changes and adjustment.
"I'm the third pastor here in 51 years, so they're not used to change, but everyone has been wonderfully welcoming,” said Father Detisch.
Before the reassignments, Father Detisch, who was born and raised in Erie, was the pastor of St. Jude the Apostle in his hometown for 12 years. His ties to that parish are deep: his parents were founding members of St. Jude.
"Leaving there was very bittersweet. It was emotionally draining leaving a parish and a group of families that you deeply love and have a deep personal connection to. But it was what the bishop asked me to do, and it was also time for me to make a move personally,” he said.
Father Detisch took over as pastor of St. Tobias from Msgr. Charles Kaza, who trained him over 50 years ago as an altar boy at Our Lady of Peace in Erie.
"I came into St. Tobias to tell him that I'd be replacing him. We just looked at each other for a moment and laughed,” said Father Detisch. He credits his connection to Msgr. Kaza with helping parishioners of St.Tobias feel more comfortable with him as "the new guy."
Father Detisch is enjoying many of the changes that come with a new assignment, and said it has renewed him to the point of feeling newly ordained. Some initiatives he is working on include more community calls, new music options, and involving more young people in the parish.
For St. Jude parishioners like Maryann Flaherty, who have built personal bonds with Father Detisch, the transition has been an adjustment. Father Detisch was a longtime friend of Maryann and her late husband Bill, and he provided comfort for the couple during hard times.
”When Bill’s health began to deteriorate, Father John was there for us,” said Flaherty. “He reinforced our faith with his love, help and support.”
But just as Father Detisch was welcomed years ago by the parishioners of St. Jude, they now look forward to getting to know and building bonds with their new pastor, Father Ross Miceli.
For Father John Jacquel, transitioning from the partnered St. John the Baptist and Holy Rosary parishes in Erie to the partnered parishes of St. Bernard of Clarivaux and St. Francis of Assisi in Bradford was challenging but rewarding.
"It's difficult when you are 64 years old to go from one community to another," said Father Jacquel. "It's tough to shift gears and to get to know people again and establish new relationships, but it's going well."
Father Jacquel is looking forward to getting more parishioners involved with the parish and bringing parishioners back into the pews, as many have still been worshiping from home after the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Bradford's just coming out of that now,” Father Jacquel said. “They just started back up with a couple of their Bible study groups, a Catholic women's group and other socials that are getting people out of the house and back into the parish."
Father Jacquel also is looking forward to finding ways to get more youth involved in the parish through a faith formation program. A committed hiker, he is enjoying exploring nature around Bradford.
"I like all of the trees, the open spaces and the fresh air,” he said. "There are beautiful hilly mountains around, and I get to explore God's creation. That pleases me a lot."
For Father Kevin Holland, the past two months haven't been just a fresh start, but an entirely new beginning. Father Holland began his first assignment as a pastor in July at St. Boniface Parish in Kersey, and is quickly adjusting to the new role.
"Two years ago, I was in the classroom learning, and now I'm applying things that I've learned and watched other priests do," he said, "It's different now that I'm making the decisions such as the direction of faith formation, and even just knowing all of the Masses and making sure that my schedule works."
Father Holland has been finding his stride and leans on many of his fellow priests for guidance as he adjusts to priesthood.
"I'm making sure that I have a balanced life and to not becoming overwhelmed with everything, knowing just to take it day by day," said Father Holland.
For Fathers Detisch, Jacquel and Holland — as well as their past and present parishioners — there has been, and will continue to be, an adjustment period. While describing this time of transition for the diocese, Father Holland offered these words of wisdom: "It's a journey and not a sprint. There are going to be certain things that will have to wait, or we will all need to adjust to over time, and that's okay."
As Bishop Persico often reminds the faithful: “Change must become a way of life for our diocese.” In a time where nothing is certain, the certainty of change might just be the thing that brings us together.