Msgr. Michael Walsh, left, a retired priest of the Diocese, shares conversation with Father Carlos Florez, pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville.
Msgr. Michael Walsh, left, a retired priest of the Diocese, shares conversation with Father Carlos Florez, pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville.
For Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., and 140 priests of the Diocese, the 2022 Convocation of Priests provided the opportunity for them to unpack the word “joy” and be reminded that the most effective way to experience true joy is to place Jesus first in their lives.

Held Sept. 13-15 in Galloway, the convocation allowed them to enjoy a mid-week break of rest, relaxation and spiritual renewal. Each day they came together for Morning and Evening Prayer, Mass, attended conferences and enjoyed sharing meals, conversation and fellowship.

Photo Galleries: Convocation of Priests Sept. 13; Convocation of Priests Sept. 14-15 

Reflecting on the convocation that featured Redemptorist Father John Collins, rector and director of San Alfonso Retreat House, West End, as the keynote speaker, Bishop O’Connell told his priests at the end of the Mass he celebrated Sept. 14 that what gives him the greatest joy “is being with you.

“That fills my heart with such joy,” he said.

“I’m grateful to you for all your good works and the love and care you show to our faithful people.”

Adding to the joy of the convocation was the celebration of Bishop O’Connell's 40th anniversary of priestly ordination this year. At the Sept. 13 dinner, the priests presented the Bishop with a cake and gift, and all viewed a video produced by the diocesan Department of Multimedia Production which included photos and video clips highlighting significant events in the Bishop’s priestly life.

Father Collins gave the priests food for thought when he reviewed the “Four H’s” that are needed to achieve joy – “The Endurance of Humanity;” “The Practice of Humility;” “The Cultivation of Humor,” and “The Call to Holiness.” Reflecting on when God became human in the Person of his son, Jesus, Father Collins said. “God … embraced humanity so that we could [ultimately] experience divinity. Man … should lovingly accept his own humanity that had been entrusted to him,” he said.

For humility, Father Collins suggested that priests be able to embrace their gifts and to be humble in accepting their challenges, limitations and even sins. For humor, Father Collins spoke about being able to “laugh at ourselves,” and for the call to holiness, he reminded them that it’s all about modelling Christ in their lives. “Let yourself be grounded in God,” he said.

In his second talk on Sept. 15, “From Transition to Transformation,” Father Collins asked his brothers to consider the many transitions they had experienced in their lives as priests and as men of faith. He then asked them to consider future transitions and how they might approach them more positively by keeping in mind the “Four Ts” – “Trust,” “Talk,” “Time” and “Truth.”

Placing trust in God at all times is first and foremost, Father Collins said. He then exhorted the priests to communicate with God through prayer; to recognize that all transitions take time, and to acknowledge their experience – no matter how messy or uneven it becomes.

During the Mass he celebrated Sept. 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Bishop O’Connell spoke of how in the minds of the community of believers, the Cross, “calls to mind Jesus Christ. “It means something to people … it’s more than a decoration,” he said. While historically, the Cross was viewed as a sign of failure, the day’s observance of the Triumph of the Cross is anything but a failure.

“With the Lord, life is restored in Christ Jesus” who carried his Cross for all.  “The Cross is an invitation to us to follow Jesus,” he said.

The Bishop urged the priests to think about the things in their lives that they bring to the foot of the Cross, perhaps a health issue, a resentment or even a sin, and then to remember that “When you look at the Cross, remember that Jesus forgives everything. … He loves you.”

Priests in attendance were encouraged by Father Collins’ talk and the Bishop’s homily.

“I was reminded about what it means to be a happy priest,” said Father Carlos Florez, pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville. He added that his favorite “h word” – humor -- resonated, especially when it comes to taking himself too seriously.

Father Chris Picollo, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, noted that there are not too many occasions throughout the year when the priests and Bishop can all be together.  The convocation is an opportunity to be “spiritually recharged,” he said.

Father Daniel Hesko, pastor of St. Catherine Laboure Parish, Middletown, said the convocation is a time for priests to reflect on “our common mission in proclaiming the Gospel.”

Sometimes there is a tendency for priests to become “isolated and insulated” in their own parish communities, he admitted. He added that he appreciated hearing the importance of being humble and to “never lose our perception of humor.” Father James Smith, parochial vicar of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, said it was insightful to realize that when it comes to priests taking time for themselves, it does not mean that they are being selfish.

“The opportunity to be recharged … will allow us to better give ourselves to our people, the ones to whom we are called to serve,” he acknowledged.