Reflection: The Ministry of Presence to Our People

The Ministry of Presence to Our People: The Mentorship of Field Education Supervisors

By Deacon Jason Fox ‘24

Field Education Supervisors were recognized by Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary at a special dinner on May 1, 2024. Deacon Jason Fox was the featured speaker. Deacon Jason reflected on the important work that field ed supervisors perform to prepare men for life as a priest in a diocesan parish.  He spoke to the supervisors with gratitude on behalf of all the seminarians enrolled in the program. Below is the full text of his speech.

Deacon Jason will be ordained to the priesthood on May 18, 2024, for the Diocese of Columbus in Ohio.

In early September, I found myself at the front door of St. Malaki’s Parish in Burlington, Massachusetts, a new church I had never been to and to a new pastor I had only briefly met in a meeting in the seminary library earlier that week. Little did I know that walking up to that door would begin a transformative journey enriched with invaluable mentorship and guidance from Fr. James Mahoney.  He would shape my personal and professional growth in ways that I never could have imagined. 

Before I could even ring the doorbell, the office door swung open, and I was greeted with a heartfelt “Hello! Welcome home!”  It was such a boisterous greeting that I jumped, shocked at the use of the word: home.  But over the next few weeks, I could tell how sincere he was in that greeting.  He truly meant that this new assignment, as we call it here at the seminary, was indeed intended to be looked at as just that, a home. 

It would be a place where I would learn the ins and outs of parish life, not just in a working capacity but in rectory living. I would have an example of how to successfully live with other men in a capacity of collaboration to make a parish a home, not just for the priests who live there but for all the parishioners, because that is what our Church is supposed to be, a home, a refuge from the secular world that is constantly trying to break down the relationship of a parishioner to an institution.  I use the word institution because that is how this secular society views the Catholic Church as a gigantic institution that is heartless and corrupt. Still, over this school year, I have found that this institution can be one in which, through the guidance of pastors like Fr. Mahoney, a Church that is less institutionalized and viewed more as that place to hang one’s hat, to find solace and comfort, forgiveness, and to escape the rigors of the world by creating an environment that is inviting and warm.  To have the Church viewed as not a building of wood and stone but of an encounter with a loving God, a place of relationship and camaraderie, in essence…a home.

We are gathered here tonight to express our combined gratitude for the men and women, including all of you, who have been tasked with forming us into future priests with just that capacity. Your role in shaping us into inviting and welcoming leaders who can turn this institution into a place of refuge for those who need an environment of encouragement and support is truly invaluable.

Imagine what kind of men we would become if our formation did not include every one of you.  To only be taught the rules and regulations of the Church.  How ill-prepared would we be to foster an environment of trust and openness if our only learning came from the classroom?  You cannot teach compassion; you cannot lecture on warmth.  These traits can only be forged and acquired by example and experience. 

We need to see and meet the people in the Church firsthand to be exposed to their struggles and successes and to participate in the running of parish life. Your example better prepared us to incorporate the social aspects of encountering people where they are and from their perspectives. As future priests, we need to be led into learning the ways of understanding, not regulation.

Jesus did not take his disciples, sit them in a field, and lecture them.  He took them on the journey with Him so they could experience what it means to bring God to people and to see and witness the challenges they would face in the real world of priestly ministry.

This is what the seminary has asked of you gathered here tonight: to give us, as future priests, the ministry of presence to our people.  From engaging with our elderly and bringing the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to those unable to attend Mass, teaching our youth the tenets of the faith, offering hope and healing to women faced with difficult, life-changing decisions, and living parish life in providing the sacraments of baptism and how best to engage the people from the ambo as just a few examples.

All of these skills need to be mastered before entering the real life of priestly ministry, and our seminary has decided that you, gathered here tonight, are the examples and mentors we need to be successful in our future endeavors.

I thank you; the seminarians thank you; the faculty thank you!  Without your guidance and support, we would not be the men able to make our Church a home to those who entrust their spiritual care to us.  We owe you much more than a dinner.  We owe our future priestly ministry to the care you have shown us in our formation. We are forever indebted to you.  May God bless and keep you.  May He encourage you to continue this invaluable ministry to those who will follow after us.  Those who will need your guidance and example to bring them up to the potential the people in our parishes deserve and need.