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True Stories of Priests In Need
Many of our Partners in Mission and our Advisors have asked us to publish some of the situations we encounter in our mission of caring for Catholic priests experiencing difficulties. Although names are protected of the priests in the following accounts. All of the stories are true, and in fact, all of these stories could be applied over and over again to some of the thousands ofCatholic priests who have contacted us for help and the many that continue to call us on a daily basis. These account were written by our president and mailed to our Partners in Mission on the dates indicated.
February 13th, 2013
“It is Lent you know!” he said with great consternation. “I can’t take another Lent like this!” he muttered.
As consoling as I could be, I pleaded, “Father, I’m not going to try to talk you out of what you think you have to do.” With great trepidation and hoping beyond hope that he did not notice the shaking nervousness of my voice, I said, “I’m just saying that we DO love you and I’m not the only one. There are many, many of us here at Opus Bono who DO love you.” Unexpectedly, he released a horrifying deep, guttural groan of exasperation. I could literally feel the hairs on the back of my neck rise up with the wrath of his mounting anger, which was about to explode directly at me.
“Well, I don’t believe you Mr. Maher. I’m sorry, but I don’t. I’ve been alone too long. Nobody really cares anyway. I’m telling you, I’m just going to walk out in the ocean and never come back.”
I pushed him; maybe I pushed him too hard. After all, he’s heard it before. He told me so. People, friends, family, even brother priests made promises. “But their lives got busy. They forgot all about an old broken man like me” he said earlier, as he sank deeper into his fit of depression.
My mind was now flying, trying as best as I could to keep my own emotions in check. I was trying to say something worthwhile, something that would console the anguish inside him that was driving him away from living.
On top of it, the anxiety that was now growing inside of me was beginning to turn my stomach into knots. “I’m losing him.” I thought. “Don’t panic, you can’t lose him. Think, Joe, think!”
With riveting candor and more than a bit of impatient frustration, I blurted out: “Look Father, it doesn’t matter whether you believe me or not! That doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. We are here for you; we won’t give up on you - ever! You can call me anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and I will pick up. Didn’t I just pick up?”
That was it. That was it! I knew it, because I could hear the sudden resignation in the tone of his voice. We won, we won! Thank you Jesus! The devil’s hold on Father Allen was broken: “Well, I guess that’s true. You did pick up the phone.” He sighed. “And I’ll always pick up the phone Father. Always! You CAN count on us.” I said emphatically.
And Father Allen has counted on our friendship many, many times since then. For priests, the confidence that we will always be here when they need us is the essence of our mission of caring love for the Catholic priesthood.
Through your support of Opus Bono, YOU saved Father Allen’s life and the lives of thousands of Catholic priests! I ask you to please consider making a special donation as part of your Lenten almsgiving of $100 or more so that we can continue to assist many more priests like Father Allen who so urgently depend on our care during this Holy penitential season.
Gratefully in the Sacred Heart of Jesus The Crucified,
P.S. Your assistance is urgently needed to help alleviate the sufferings of Catholic priests. Please, please consider making a special Lenten donation of $100 or more to provide for the pressing needs of priests who are desperately in need of your help during Lent. Also, the rising costs of utilities this winter has made it extremely difficult for many poor priests who are struggling with the basic necessities of life. With Father Allen, I make this cry from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for your charity and goodness to care for thousands of Catholic priests.
“Mr. Maher!” I was taken aback at the stern voice on the other end of the phone. “I’ve supported you for a long time...” He barked. Then abruptly his voice softened almost to a whisper, “but I never thought I would need to call you for help.”
“I am so embarrassed,” he stammered. I could hear his strained breathing as he struggled to say, “I’m sorry”. Suddenly, there was silence. He hung up. Before I could say one word to him, he was gone. The caller ID on our phone system read “Private Number”. I immediately felt that sick, sinking feeling of panic set in - I could not call him back! My stomach was churning as I slumped over my desk in exasperation, my head in my hands.
I sat there anxiously praying and avoiding other phone calls, quietly hoping that the phone would ring again and it would be him. But staring at the phone wouldn’t make it ring. So I alerted the others here at Opus Bono about what seemed to be an urgent situation involving a priest. I got up soberly and headed for Our Lady of Priests Chapel located in our offices.
As is our custom here at Opus Bono, I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and offered a petition: “Dear Jesus, You are the High Priest, remember the rejection and abandonment Saint Joseph felt at the inn on Christmas when he was desperately trying to find a warm, safe place for Your birth and to protect Our Blessed Mother. Please protect this priest now, and if it is Your Holy Will, please grant him the grace of courage to call me back!”
Frankly, this is the part of our work at Opus Bono we fear the most: A Catholic priest who is obviously overwhelmed by some difficulty and has nowhere else to turn, but to us. He is losing hope, and given the fact that it is Christmas, the season of great joy and one of the high points of the liturgical year for a Catholic priest, we are particularly sensitive to the emotional strain a crisis can put on a priest. Christmas can be a sad, lonely holiday for a Catholic priest overcome with difficulties.
But, miracle of miracles, after a few long days of worry the priest called again! As it turned out, Monsignor Tom has been a Partner in Mission with us almost since our founding ten years ago. He is a retired Catholic priest living in a efficiency apartment in a small town in the frigid Northwestern United States. He now suffers from a severe back condition and can no longer work. Monsignor Tom has no pension to draw from, and his social security barely pays his monthly expenses. His heat and electricity would be shut off that day unless we helped him to pay his utility bills.
Because of Monsignor Tom’s dire situation, I told him that we would make a wire transfer directly into his bank account so that he could pay for his heat and electricity that day. Suddenly, again there was silence on the phone, but this time he hadn’t hung up. He just couldn’t get the words out amid the tears of joy. Finally he cried, “You saved my life, my God, you all saved my life!”
Through your support of Opus Bono, YOU saved Monsignor Tom’s life and the lives of thousands of Catholic priests! It is truly because of your continued generosity that we were able to help Father avoid disaster. And we pray that, with your continued support, we can assist many more priests like Monsignor Tom who so urgently depend on our care during Christmas.
Gratefully in the Sacred Heart of the Divine Infant,
I had just gone to bed after a long, intense day at Opus Bono. My worrisome thoughts had finally drifted away with my night prayers. I was comfortable and at peace. With my cell phone and alarm clock at my side, I was very tired, but content.
Within minutes my cell phone began blaring its all too familiar ring tone. My wife, Michelle, bolted up from her sound sleep, shoving me out of bed. “It might be a priest! It might be an emergency!” She knows the routine, and waking me up from a deep sleep takes more than a little effort on her part.
On the other end is the timid, cracking voice of an otherwise assured and confident pastor, “Mr. Maher, I need help. I need help right now. The police have been notified. What do I do?” A barrage of frantic questions come rushing out of him, one after the other.
My mind is clouded, but I know exactly what questions have to be answered first: “Do you have an attorney, Father? Have you talked to anyone? Where are you located?” He tells me he’s not too far away. A drive through the night should get us there before his regularly scheduled morning Mass. I call Pete Ferrara, my Opus Bono associate. His wife, Tiffany, goes through the same wake-up exercise with him. We are on the road within 30 minutes.
During our drive Father Scott calls us repeatedly. He can’t sleep out of sheer terror that the police will arrive to arrest him at any moment. We assure him that he will be fine. We don’t really know, but we trust.
At 7:40 a.m. we pull into the rectory parking lot. Father Scott is waiting for us outside. He won’t be offering his Mass this morning. We need time; time away from the rectory and the Church in case the police do arrive. Pete locates the best attorney in town and explains to him our broad range of experience in cases like this. Pete assures the attorney of our ability to help with investigations or any other services he may need us to perform to assist in Father’s defense. We drive Father Scott directly to his office. No one but the attorney, Father and the two of us know we’re here. Things begin to calm down. The attorney calls the police and the prosecutor. There will be no arrest right now. No screaming crowds. No reckless assumptions on an evening news broadcast. We are all relieved, and intensely thankful to God.
In the next couple of days, before our return home, Father Scott will be removed from ministry because of an allegation. We will quietly move him out of his rectory and into a religious retreat house we found in a neighboring town. No one will know where he is. The attorney meets with the prosecutor and informs him that Father Scott intends to fight the allegation against him “tooth and nail”. The adult woman who claims he sexually assaulted her suddenly recants! She was not expecting a defense like this.
On our way out of Father’s monastery room, he breaks down: “If it weren’t for you guys, I would be in jail right now. They would have taken my priesthood away. My God, you’re angels, you’re all angels!”
When you support Opus Bono, YOU are an angel! It is truly because of your generosity that we are able to help Father avoid a near catastrophe in his priesthood and his personal life. And we pray that, with your continued support, we can assist many more priests like Father Scott who so urgently depend on our care.
Gratefully in the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
A few weeks ago, on a sultry, sunny afternoon in the deep south of the USA, Pete Ferrara and I embarked on an Opus Bono mission. Our goal was to provide assistance to a suffering priest in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America. A Catholic priest living in “the projects” had written to us in a panic, begging for help in paying his back rent or face immediate eviction with nowhere else to go. His advanced age, ill health and the publicity surrounding an allegation made against him many years ago, prevented him from finding gainful new employment.
At times, the plight of some priests is so desperate, and to be frank, so unbelievable, that it demands immediate, personal attention at Opus Bono. This day it took the form of a surprise visit to a priest who emailed us about living in the “dangerous projects,” with “gangsters” blowing off weapons like it was “the fourth of July”, drug runners stalking the streets day and night, and terrifying police raids on neighbors.
The projects look like broken down military barracks, laid out uniformly in endless rows of three story, red brick buildings. Most are unmarked due to disrepair. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is outside because it’s just too hot and humid to remain indoors without air conditioning. Shouting, drinking, gun fire, little children darting through the spray of open fire hydrants and the constant drum of ear-splitting bass subwoofers fills the air. It is complete and utter human chaos! What astounds the senses most is the putrid stench of human waste and rotting garbage cluttering the streets, sidewalks and living spaces.
As we slowly drove through the projects, trying to make out the building number for our Alter Christus, we found ourselves face-to-face with one of the many local drug dealer look-outs. He was a young man who probably assumed we were on the prowl to buy dope. When we simply asked him for directions, he was taken aback. Then, after a moment’s thought, he pointed to the building directly behind him.
We parked amid the debris of trash spewed out over the parking lot, under the watchful eyes of the young lookout. I can tell you that Pete and I were both more than a bit apprehensive, praying that he was not leading us into trouble. But, God is good all the time, and after a couple more anxious moments and a few stairs to climb, we were knocking on the door of Apartment 3.
Slowly the door crept open in front of us, revealing the weather-worn face of a balding, older gentleman, clad only in black shorts and a white v-neck t-shirt. As beads of sweat from the sweltering heat slowly dripped down off his graying brow, he peered timidly out of the crack of his door. Then with great trepidation he called out, almost in a whisper: “Who are you? What do you want?” “It’s Opus Bono, Father.” Pete reassuringly replied. For a moment there was silence behind the door. Then the door swung fully open and there in front of us stood our Alter Christus trembling with excitement: “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Father Marcus exclaimed. “Oh thank you, Jesus! Come in, come in!”
Father was overwhelmed with emotion to hear that we had come at the request of all our Partners in Mission, who through their on-going support expressed their love and caring concern for him. It is truly because of your generosity that we were able to help Father Marcus pay his back rent and avoid eviction. And we pray that, with your continued support, we can assist him again in the future with better living arrangements and meaningful employment.
Gratefully in the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
It’s 5 a.m. on a blistering cold winter morning and I have been tossing and turning all night. I’ve given up on sleep. My nerves are shot. In a few minutes, the phone will ring for my 6 a.m. wakeup call from the front desk. I’m the only guest in a three story hotel located on the outskirts of a tiny northern town in the Midwest. It’s a dark, frigid, barren wasteland here.
I slowly make my way along the lonely ice covered road to that ominous place. In the silence of morning, the vision of gently falling pure white snow seems a stark contrast to the monstrous grey water tower looming over the endless rows of perfectly symmetrical and lifeless concrete buildings in front of me. They all look the same. Trying to muster the courage to walk through the front doors of hell is nearly impossible. Maybe for better men than me, but I’m not afraid to say that I hate this part of our missionary work for priests. I HATE it!
There is nothing redeeming about prison, and visiting an inmate in one is uncomfortable enough. Being a part of the gut-wrenching proceedings of a parole board meeting for a convicted Catholic priest is almost unbearable, if not all together senseless. Or so I think. Priests just don’t get paroled that often. Because priests are kept in protective custody units for fear of their life being threatened by enraged inmates, I have to be escorted deep into the bowels of the cold steel beast.
The prison personnel are matter-of-fact, blunt and straight to the point. There is no consolation in here, only the terrifying echoes of the indestructible steel barred doors slamming shut one after another behind me. It’s claustrophobic. All along the way I am treated to the usual barrage of filth: vile cursing, piercing shrieks and a plethora of wicked insults. Nothing personal, of course. It’s just the way communication happens behind bars.
Unnerved, I keep repeating: “For I was in prison and you visited me. For I was in prison and you visited me.” Then . . . “For our partners in mission. For our partners in mission.” Somehow it helps calm me. But honestly, I hate being here. Before I even make the trip from the safety of my warm comfortable home, I can’t wait till it’s over. Prison is hell – period.
Finally, the door is opened to our destination: a small concrete block room. As I mentioned, everything is cold, lifeless concrete in here. Sitting at the table, dressed in a coarse, starched grey uniform with one solid black stripe down his worn trouser and obnoxious large printed numbers across his back, is the one I have come to serve. My heart leaps, my nerves calm and an incomprehensible peace overtakes me.
The rigid lines of leather-like wrinkles on his face reveal the harsh life of incarceration. But when our eyes meet, a beaming smile breaks through. The Catholic priest rises, we embrace, tears flow freely down his face. In prison there is no pride, only pain. Then I remember again why it is that I have come. It is He I embrace, Jesus, the Nazorean! I do it for Him. And I do it for all of you, our partners in mission this Lent.
I pray your Lent will be filled with the same powerful grace Our Lord bestowed on that prisoner crucified at His side, the Good Thief.
December 1st, 2011
Monsignor Patrick is an elderly priest living in the Northeastern United States. He immigrated from Ireland many years ago to serve the Catholic Church in America. All his family is now deceased. Very sadly, he has been out of ministry since 2003 after an accusation dating back 35 years ago was made against him. Monsignor had been the pastor of a very wealthy suburban parish and never before had to beg for assistance for himself. He kept very little of the money he received during his fifty three years of active ministry. The rest he gave away to people in greater need.
Monsignor Patrick is now physically unable to continue working in the manual labor position at the local hardware store where he was employed. Having nowhere else to turn, he called Opus Bono for help. Humiliated and embarrassed, he explained how his pension is not enough to cover his basic living expenses. He assured me that if we couldn’t help him, he would surely “get by” since he said, “I know so many of my brother priests are worse off than me”.
Like all the priests who call us for help, Monsignor Patrick did not want to impose too much on us, and so it took quite a lengthy phone conversation to understand his most pressing needs. As I listened intently to him, I noticed his voice was trembling and I could swear that his teeth were chattering! I asked him, “Monsignor are you cold?” He replied, “Freezing.”
Monsignor Patrick has been sleeping on his cold kitchen floor, atop a thin worn out futon mattress. He kept the oven door propped open in order to get heat in the winter after he could no longer pay the oil bill for his furnace.
My heart sank to the pit of my stomach, and that all too familiar feeling of outrage and deep, heartfelt sadness crept over me. Monsignor began to weep out of the shear humiliation of revealing his awful plight. He asked for my forgiveness for his sudden breakdown. “It’s not too bad,” he said through his sobs of bitter anguish. “When we were kids in Ireland, we had to sleep on the floor on our mattresses with the fire going to keep warm. It’s just very tough now getting up and down with my arthritis in the cold.”
I assured him that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that many of his brother priests are receiving help from Opus Bono. I emphasized that I am simply the person who has the privilege of representing thousands more of our Partners in Mission who love him and want to help. Within a couple of hours we paid the oil bill for his furnace. By the following day the oil company had visited his house and the furnace was once again running. Monsignor Patrick will be warm for Christmas.
On behalf of Monsignor Patrick and the thousands of priests like him who depend on your help, I sincerely thank you and ask again for your continued prayers and support. YOU are the God-sent hope this Christmas of so many fearful and forgotten priests who have no one else and nowhere else to turn as they seek the Lord’s mercy and strength.
Gratefully in the Heart of the Infant Jesus,
Joseph R. Maher, KCHS
September 11, 2011
Father Leo is a priest who has been out of ministry for some time. When Pete Ferrara and I visited him recently, we were shocked and troubled to find the house where he lives alone in shambles. His refrigerator was empty, and the stench of mold and mildew permeated the air. In an embarrassed and apologetic tone, he told us that he has no resources to “keep the place up properly.”
Father Leo is a highly educated man who earned two doctorates in ministry. Sadly, he has been on hundreds of job interviews over the last few years but still can’t find meaningful work other than an occasional manual labor position. And then, as soon as someone finds out that he is “one of those priests” with an accusation leveled against him, his employment is terminated.
Pete and I visited Father Leo to offer him your assistance, caring and consolation. Because of your goodness and kindness, his spirits were lifted. When it was time for us to leave, Pete and I knelt for his blessing. Overcome with emotion, he choked up and could not say the words of blessing. Visibly distressed, he could barely make the Sign of the Cross over us. He confided that it had been many years since someone asked for his blessing. He no longer felt worthy. He was humiliated by his situation. He said he no longer felt dignified as a human being, much less as a Catholic priest.
Upon leaving, we embraced Father Leo, promised to return, and reminded him that we were just two, representing many, many more of our partners in mission who wished to express their love and encouragement personally to him through us. Once again he was moved to tears.
Weeks later, we received a thank you note from Father Leo, expressing his gratitude to all of YOU who make our service to priests like him possible. Included in his note was an inspiring quote from the humble St. Francis of Assisi, himself not a priest, which Father Leo applied to our ministry:
“I am determined to reverence, love and honor priests. I refuse to consider their sins; because I see the Son of God in them and because they alone administer to others His Body and Blood.” St. Francis of Assisi
As I’ve shared with you before, urgent, dire need is a daily reality for us. Every call to our office from a new priest is another crisis! It is vital that we answer the phone and respond in a caring way. We must do it. We must do it for you and all our partners in mission. You provide the means for us to care for so many priests through your on-going prayers, and the financial sacrifices you make for Catholic priests who are experiencing often terrifying difficulties.
On behalf of Father Leo, and the thousands of priests like him who depend on your help, I sincerely thank you and ask again for your continued prayers and support. YOU are the God-gifted hope of so many fearful and forgotten priests who have no one and nowhere else to turn as they seek the Lord’s mercy and strength.
Gratefully in the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
Joseph R. Maher, KCHS
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