How much can I handle?


I have some news to break to you which I feel difficulty in expressing. It’s about my future and my relationship with all of you. The Paulist pattern for priests who are pastors and religious superiors is what we call a 4-2-2 system. A priest is appointed for a four-year term, which can be renewed for two more years. After the six years it can once again be renewed for a final two years.

I arrived here as pastor in August of 1993 and began a four-year term. In 1997, I asked to be reappointed for an additional two years. This year, I’ve decided not to ask for the final two years. The process of coming to this conclusion was long and difficult for me.

In my outlook on the pastor’s position, I intended to serve the full eight years, but this past December that abruptly changed. Each December Paulists typically receive the “green sheet” from headquarters. The form asks whether one wants to stay at his present assignment or wants to move; where he’d like to go; what he’d like to do; studies, health, retirement, etc.

But accompanying my form sheet was a personal letter to me from Father Frank DeSiano, president of the Paulist Fathers. Let me quote some lines:

“Dear John,

As we sent out the personnel sheets for this upcoming year, we have discussed, in the Presidential Board, about whether you have concerns about your health that would affect your re-nomination for a further two years as pastor/superior in Clemson.

Your health has been up and down … you may have considerations about energy, attention and what is being asked of you at this point of your life ….

We all appreciate the great efforts you have put into Clemson during these past years. It seems to be a growing ministry in just about every respect. You have much to be grateful for. So as you fill out the ‘green sheet’ this year, please give us any thoughts you have ….”

In itself this letter is no big deal. I was surprised, however, at the great sense of relief I felt, even a sense of liberation: “I don’t have to do those last two years.”

I called Father Frank the next day. He said the Presidential Board was not trying to push me out; I could stay if I wanted. They just wanted to give me an out if I needed one.

In December and January, I did a lot of praying, thinking and consulting. When I thought of the wonderful people, the nature of the work, the climate, the concern parishioners expressed for me at the time of my open heart surgery and when I was lost on the mountain — how could I give up? What pointed to my departure was the fact that I was feeling overwhelmed, not because of any particular thing I was expected to do, but the sheer quantity of them. I found myself dreading another phone call — a death, a hospital call, some crisis. I just can’t handle any more agenda! Two more years seemed to demand more and more. I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to them; I was just hoping to get through them.

In one respect, the decision may be obvious. If someone has had a quadruple bypass, several angioplasties, has been an insulin-dependent diabetic for 30 years and will be 68 next September, why can’t he ask for an easier job.

Since 1970 I have been pastor and superior wherever I’ve been except for academic 1992-93. I do have some talent for teaching and preaching. A new assignment elsewhere might give me an opportunity to employ these effectively without having the administrative burden.

I want to say that I am not leaving because of what someone said or did or because of the direction the parishes are going; I’m happy with the progress. This has been a personal struggle for me, but it came down to: At this stage of my life, how much can I handle?

My term runs out Sept. 1. I will be fully active till then. A new pastor/superior will be named, probably by May, for a four-year term. I’ll keep you informed. Please pray for me. And thank you for your support and understanding.

Paulist Father John Kenny is pastor of St. Andrew Church in Clemson and its missions, St. Francis in Walhalla and St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca. This column originally appeared in the parish’s newsletter.