Thursday, August 3, 2006

Young priest profiled in Christian Science Monitor

H/T to Gerald Augustinus for this article in the Christian Science Monitor:

Backstory: Keeping faith in a sea of prejudice

How one young priest in an era of Catholic church scandals stays on a spiritual track.

By Mary Beth McCauley Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

HAVERTOWN, PA. – Kevin Gallagher bounds down the rectory stairs at 8:25 - cutting it close as always - a few steps away from ready for weekday morning Mass. He's every Irish mother's son - dark hair thinning and freshly combed, ruddy face scrubbed and shaven, polo shirt neatly tucked in over a frame beginning to show his love of cooking.

He jokes with staff, and yells a greeting out the open window, pulling himself into his vestments. Double-checking the Scripture passage, he finally gives the nod that it's time to begin.

In the 31-years since Fr. Gallagher was born, the number of Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. has dropped sharply, from about 59,000 to fewer than 44,000 today.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Gallagher ministers, is no different. In 1975, 15 men were ordained for the archdiocese - but Gallagher was one of only five in his 2002 ordination class. That same year, emerging national news of sexual abuse of children began to thin congregations, fuel cynicism and foster mistrust among clergy and lay people alike.

But anyone who thinks the Catholic priesthood is dispirited should take a look at the Fr. Gallaghers of the church.

"I just want to say how happy I am," he declares unnecessarily. "And I think most priests are."

Gallagher is second in command at St. Denis Parish, a compact complex of church, rectory, convent, school, and cemetery serving a congregation of 2,600 families here in this Philadelphia suburb.

After Mass, the priest moves quickly through the rectory's big, comfy kitchen, gulping cereal, making introductions, absent-mindedly shoveling errant strawberries into the mouth of a visitor whose cerebral palsy makes her hand shaky. This morning, like all mornings, starts with a list of good intentions. Most of them get tossed as the day progresses, interrupted, as it is, by the never-ending beeping of voice mail, e-mail, intercom, phone, and the tuition payment queries, and church maintenance questions. There's a 9 a.m. spiritual direction appointment, which no one seems to notice is slow getting underway. There's the new family to register. There's a trip into Philadelphia to help prepare for the installation of a bishop. There's a meal with the family whose loved one Gallagher buried not long ago.

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