Priest sabbaticals allow for education and rejuvenation

Everybody needs a break once in a while, and that includes priests.

That’s why several pastors have taken sabbaticals in recent years, saying the much needed time away offers a chance to learn new things, make friends and find the rest and renewal needed to continue with parish duties.

Deacon Lawrence Roberts, coordinator for priest personnel, said the diocese offers priests a chance to attend a structured sabbatical program through the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Father Michael J. Oenbrink, pastor of St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head, attended the Rome program in 2012 with Father Tim Lijewski. They attended daily sessions on topics ranging from canon law to Scripture study and pastoral care.

He said the priests received regular chances to concelebrate Mass at different churches in Rome. His sabbatical took place during Lent and Holy Week, and he said it was especially moving to be in Rome for Palm Sunday and the Chrism Mass.

“It was a good chance to recharge, to talk with and get to know different priests,” Father Oenbrink said. “A sabbatical is a chance to reflect back on where you were and where you are now. It’s an overall change of pace, a chance to relax from some of the administrative pressures.”

Father Andrew Vollkommer, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Chapin, took a two-month sabbatical in 2011 shortly after his 25th jubilee celebration.

He attended a month-long educational program in Jerusalem run by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Zion. It included an in-depth study of the Gospel of Mark, with classroom time and expeditions all over the area. He had the opportunity to meet people from Great Britain, Africa and Australia.

“We went all over Jerusalem, Galilee, the Jordan desert, the Dead Sea,” Father Vollkommer said. “There were other priests in attendance and we had special liturgies by the Sea of Galilee and at other places. I got to concelebrate a Mass at the Holy Sepulcher.”

After Jerusalem, Father Vollkommer said he flew home, “changed suitcases” and headed to Mexico City for a month of advanced study in Spanish. One of his most memorable experiences was visiting Zamora and celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

He also helped at a local motherhouse for women religious and attended a celebration for the sisters, some of whom had been in the order for 70 years.

“There was a special dinner in the convent courtyard with mariachi bands, and 150 nuns attending,” Father Vollkommer said. “It was very moving to spend time with these sisters, being able to see the witness of women who had given 60 or 70 years to the Church and talk to them about their journey of faith.”

Father Ray Carlo, pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City, is preparing to go on his first sabbatical from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. He’ll attend the same program in Rome as Father Oenbrink did, and said he has high hopes for the journey.

“I want to renew and refresh, make some new priest friends, visit Lisieux in France and some other places I have been wanting to see,” he said. “And, hopefully, have gelato every day!”

Also, Msgr. Joseph F. Hanley will begin a three-month sabbatical in August.

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