The way of aloha

Wednesday 24 June 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor –— Priests’ Moving Day

You know me, dear readers. I find words fascinating. Take the Hawaiian word “aloha,” for example. Now, there’s a multi-purpose word if there ever was one. Everyone knows aloha means hello and goodbye but, more than that, aloha is a philosophy of life. I’m not a kahuna, but then you don’t need any kahunas to tell you that, in the cosmic scheme of things, hellos and goodbyes are part of the fabric of life in which our own lives are but a thread. That one word aloha says it all, proving once again my inverted adage, “A word is worth a thousand pictures.” 

Today is “Aloha Day” in the Diocese of Fall River. Today priests who have been transferred report to their new assignments. Today is the day of hellos and good-byes. It’s the cycle of life.

Relatively speaking, there aren’t that many transfers this year, so the effects are somewhat localized. Even the smallest pebble, however, when thrown into the pond, will cause ripples. Fewer clergy transfers though there may be, my life is directly affected by the ripples (as you well know, everything is always all about me). 

No, dear readers, I’m not hauling anchor — but Father Peter John Fournier is. My worthy parochial vicar has been called to serve in one of the largest parishes in the diocese. He and I have been onboard together in Falmouth for three years. 

This day is proving to be bittersweet for me. That’s an emotion I never anticipated. I’ve been assigned as parochial vicar (formerly known as curate) to many pastors over the years. I wonder if they felt this way when I was reassigned. Somehow, I doubt it.

Peter John is the only parochial vicar with whom I have ever shared ministry. Quite frankly, I never imagined I would have the opportunity, since a parochial vicar is rarer than a red diamond (which goes for about $1.5 million per carat). 

“The Box” has appeared in The Anchor. I know a bit about what Father Peter John is experiencing. “The Box,” by the way, is what we priests call the bishop’s official announcement, which (for graphic emphasis) appears in this newspaper highlighted by a border. 

The occasion of your name appearing in the box comes as no surprise to you (usually). You have (usually) already received in the mail from the Bishop’s Office a succinct notice of reassignment. The envelope is cream-colored, with the episcopal crest printed in blue-grey ink. The letter inside is hand-typed and signed by the bishop, using his favorite fountain pen. There is also (usually) a facsimile copy of a different letter of intent mailed simultaneously to your next assignment.

The process of transfer usually begins with a telephone call from the Bishop’s Office. “Can you meet with the bishop at such and such a time on such and such a date?” You respond, “Let’s see. I think I just might be able to squeeze it in.” Then comes the interminable wait. “What can the bishop possibly want?” you ask yourself. Your imagination comes up with bizarre possibilities.

Finally, you meet personally with the bishop and the reassignment is named. The bishop carefully listens and observes your reaction to the assignment. A priest is expected to accept the assignment, although there may be extenuating circumstances of which the bishop is unaware. On rare occasions, after hearing all the details, the bishop may withdraw the contemplated assignment. 

Somehow the word quickly gets around among your brother priests. Soon it reaches the parishioners. The reactions can be awkward. “Will you miss us, Father?” “Don’t you like us here?” “Why didn’t you just say no?” “Will you come back to visit us?” “What are we ever going to do without you?” “Good riddance.”

Meanwhile, you have to wrap up your personal affairs. This means change of address forms, new calling cards, making arrangements to move your belongings, inspecting your new quarters, meeting with the staff, and considering the possibility of a new barber, dentist and primary care physician. You have to change your driver’s license and vehicle registration, find a nearby coffee shop, and locate the nearest pizza joint. You have to pack. Then you deliver your “swan song” at weekend Masses. Finally, it’s aloha.

I’ve enjoyed working with Father Peter John. He’s kept me current on what younger priests are thinking and doing. This has given me great hope for the future of the Church.

One day, when I’m sitting in my rocking chair on the porch of the priests’ retirement home and some curmudgeonly comrade comments, “These young priests!” I’ll just smile, knowing full-well the Church is in good hands.

I bade farewell to Father Peter John and went back into the rectory. “Peter, Peter! Wait! You forgot your dog!” Too late. I have, it seems, inherited the greyhound Justin. These young priests!

There’s a knock at the door. It’s Father Ray Cambra reporting for duty — with Maximillian, his Great Dane, in tow. 

Aloha, Ray!” He looks puzzled by my greeting. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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