Lonely Pastor

A parish priest would like to ‘clock out’ from his leadership role, but can’t...
November 06 2018 | by

DEAR DR. POCAK: you and the readers will find this letter most unusual because it is coming from none other than a parish priest. I am now in my third parish, but I am slowly beginning to feel the need for the type of friendship I had before becoming a priest, when I was just a lay person among other lay people. Whenever I am with my parishioners I am, in fact, always in a leadership position – there is a professional boundary that needs to be respected. I also experience this restraint when in the company of fellow priests. I would like to experience an ordinary friendship as an ordinary man with other ordinary men and women. However, don’t get me wrong: I like being a priest. I feel called by God to this profession, and I firmly believe in Him and the Church.


While our situations are different, I can appreciate the importance of maintaining professional boundaries with people and how this can sometime make it difficult to just ‘be yourself’ around others. When you are professional helper, it can be difficult to find other people around whom it is safe to be vulnerable, to express fears or concerns, discuss hopes and dreams, confess personal struggles, of even just be silly. And while counselors, doctors, teachers and other helping professionals can give themselves permission to ‘clock out’ when they leave their workplace, a priest is always ‘in persona Christi.’ While this is an incredible gift, it can also place an incredible burden on a person if they don’t allow themselves to also be a human being.

The good news is that, because you are not alone in this desire for fraternal, human connection, I believe that by taking a few small steps you can create a supportive community for yourself, and be a witness to your brother priests that it is okay for them to find appropriate ways to let down their guard as well.

Spiritual Direction: I encourage you to find a good, faithful spiritual director with whom you can meet at least monthly for confession, prayer support, spiritual counsel, and friendship. A spiritual director is not a therapist. He is a faithful mentor who accompanies you on your journey toward God. Good spiritual direction not only gives you a place to authentically be yourself, it can also help you discern when and where it is appropriate to let other people into your life.

Create Social Connections: Take the initiative to invite a few other priests you know to begin doing social things together. Get out of the rectory. Join a sports team. Take a class for fun.  Invite a few of your priest friends to make a little time to do the things that ‘normal’ people do.  Pope Francis has reminded pastors to be men who smell like their sheep.  Be a man who can witness to others by spending time doing the kinds of things that your sheep do. You’ll be surprised at how responsive people will be to a pastor who isn’t afraid to let himself be among others, to be a real person and witness to the ways that life is a gift.

Let Your Families Adopt You: The best pastors I know are an integral part of the families in their parish. They regularly share in their parishioner’s family meals. They go to breakfast with families after Mass on Sunday. They participate in family birthday parties, anniversaries, holiday traditions. Will you be asked, at times, to offer a blessing, or spiritual counsel? Of course, but mostly, you will be able to be a human being relating to other human beings, and that is where real ministry happens. Ministry is not a role you play. Ministry involves any action that communicates God’s love for another person. By making time to be more involved in the lives of the families in your parish, you are sharing the ministry of relationship, the gift of presence and as much as you will be blessing others with your time, you will be blessed by the love of these families, as you allow yourself to love them as persons (instead of just parishioners) and let them love you as a person in return.

Updated on November 16 2018