Priests on the move: How assignment changes are made in the diocese

It’s that time of year again when official announcements are made about priest changes. For some, it can be hard to let go of a beloved priest, and it can be hard to transition to a new priest.

What is it like for the priest? How does the bishop decide where priests move? Why do some stay for many years and some only a short time?

A lot of thought, preparation and follow-up go into these decisions, which are ultimately made by the bishop based on the research, dialogue and the recommendations of his advisory team called the Diocesan Priest Personnel Board.

“There are a lot of factors that go into the planning process for priest personnel,” said Father Tim Baltes, who has served as chair of the board for the last six years. He also serves as pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Sartell.

“The board is a cross section of priests [and one deacon] so we hope we have a collective wisdom that helps us,” he said. “And, obviously, we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work among us in this process.”

The process begins each December when the board sends a letter to all pastors asking who among them might be retiring or desiring to move.

They review the priestly needs of each parish or parish cluster, taking into consideration factors like retirements, scheduled ordinations, the possibility of priests who might be sent to serve outside of the diocese for various reasons, such as further education, as well as the length of time priests have served in a particular area.

Once the data have been collected and it is determined which parishes will be expecting a new pastor the following July, a second letter is sent to pastors, letting them know which parishes will be open. If they are interested, they are asked to express it to the board in writing.

“Then the real work begins,” Father Baltes said. “We certainly don’t have a crystal ball but we ask ourselves, ‘Do we believe that this is a good match?’ We try to look at the parishes, the parish sizes, what is going on in a parish. We also look at the gifts and talents of the priest. We look at as many factors as we can.”

Once board members feel they have come to a suitable recommendation, they approach the individual priests and discuss the proposed move with them, asking them to prayerfully consider their request and giving them time to do so.

“Often it’s not a lot of time but we do listen to their responses and if there’s a concern, we take the information back to the board,” Father Baltes said. “We evaluate their reasons and sometimes the board will reconsider their recommendation. Sometimes the board might see something the priest does not. Ultimately, the bishop makes the final decisions.”

And sometimes, the bishop has to move someone who might feel reluctant to do so.

“From my personal experience, there have been assignments that I’ve been asked to take that I would never in my life have agreed to,” Father Baltes said. “But I also found that once I was in the assignment, great things happened. The bishop felt for the good of the diocese as a whole he needed me in that particular spot at that particular time.

“We try to keep that in mind as priests and at the same time, as a board, we recognize that not everyone is cut out for everything. That’s not to say that one priest is better than another — we’re all just gifted in different ways. We try to recognize those gifts and make the best use of those gifts as we possibly can. Ultimately, we are trying to meet the needs of the diocese in terms of providing priestly ministry in all of our parishes,” he said.

Father Baltes said that in the best of all worlds, the priests in the St. Cloud Diocese are assigned for six years with the possibility of a second six-year term.

“But we have the reverse challenge now,” he said. “With fewer priests from which to choose, we are asking priests to move after a much shorter time, moving some every two or three years to meet the needs of the diocese.

“It’s not good for the individual and it’s not good for the community. So we look at trying not to do that but sometimes we don’t have those choices,” he said.

Occasionally, the board finds out afterward that its decision wasn’t the best for everyone.

“And then we deal with that, too,” Father Baltes said.

Within the first six months to a year of a new assignment, the personnel board visits the parish or parishes and meets with both the priest and the parish leadership.

“We want to hear their perception of how things are going,” he said. “We also want to hear what some of the strengths are and what some of the challenges are. Any time there’s a move, it affects not only the priest but the parishes as well.

“As priests and as individuals, we all have our own unique personalities and when you’re a pastor of several parishes you may find that your personality meshes better with one parish than another. You can run into those challenges. Parishes are unique and priests are unique,” he said.

“We recognize that parishes are all different and that all of our parishes are graced with lots of great people,” Father Baltes added. “What we are trying to do is to ensure that the priestly ministry there can be as effective and beneficial as possible for everyone.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

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