I thought I would share with you in writing the announcement I made after the Masses two weekends ago:
On Thursday afternoon (5/4/17), during our parish pilgrimage to the Green Bay area, I received a call on my cell phone from Bishop Callahan. He told me two things: First, he asked that I put the discussion on the merging our parishes on hold for the time being. Second, as a complete surprise to me, he asked that I take a new assignment. He asked that I be the pastor of Notre Dame Parish in Chippewa Falls, effective the end of June. In my place, your new pastor will be Fr. Antony Arokiam, one of our international priests from India. For the past three years, Fr. Antony has served as pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Mauston.
Again, this all comes as a complete surprise to me, and, from what I understand, up until Thursday (5/4/17), I was not even on Bishop Callahan’s radar screen to be moved. The Bishop knew we were discussing the possibility of merging and he had been supportive of the discussion. And therefore, he intended to keep me here since the stability of a consistent pastor would be necessary. But, due to some unanticipated and very difficult circumstances in priest assignments that needed to be made elsewhere in our Diocese, he had to ask me.
I know and understand that it is hard on a parish and it is frustrating not to have the stability of a single pastor for more than one, two, or three years – and I’m sorry about this. I know that there are many of you who have been generous with your time and energy in working with me on discerning the possibility of merging and bringing about other positive changes for the future of our parishes – and now this abrupt change is disorienting, and perhaps frustrating.
I know Bishop Callahan knows this, and I know he is not being careless or capricious in assigning his priests. In his defense, he has to make a lot of hard decisions because of his responsibility for a diocese of 165 parishes. Many of those parishes are small like our own, and our priests are spread thin. If you move one or two by necessity, then you will likely have to move others to make things work again. Smaller parishes like our own are generally the most vulnerable to seeing a changeover in pastors because they are usually less complex in their pastoral responsibilities than larger parishes. I do not envy our Bishop’s position.
I say all this because I detect that the greatest spiritual danger our communities face is to let ourselves get frustrated and angry, and to lick our wounds. This is a temptation we must reject and work against. May we not forget that in God’s Providence, he can and will use all things – all of life’s circumstances, ups and downs – for the good if we let him and surrender to his will. And who knows what great blessings will come from the changes ahead of us! This is the difference that faith and hope make.
As for our whole merging discussion, which is on hold for now, I ask that you still complete the surveys that were mailed to you and submit them by next Sunday (Mother’s Day). It will be important for us to finish some of our loose ends. I think there are a lot of very good things that have come out of our merging discussion so far – ideas for ways in which our parishes will be able to think constructively about the future, and ways in which we will be able to work together more effectively. I will do my best to pass these things onto Fr. Antony and to Bishop Callahan.
Now on another matter, I’d say that one of my greatest concerns for when I go to Chippewa Falls, is that if I make fun of Fr. Martin in my homilies, no one will know who I am talking about! After all, I think he makes up for about 90% of my jokes. I’m going to have to find a new priest to talk about. Lord knows Fr. Martin will continue to take shots at me.
Also, while I do not know Fr. Antony very well personally, I can say that he is the tallest Indian priest I have ever seen. I’m beginning to suspect that there is an unwritten height requirement in order to be the pastor of our parishes, and that’s probably why Fr. Raj was reassigned four years ago.
Finally, I can say that I am nothing but grateful to Bishop Callahan, to you all, and to God for my three years here at these parishes. I have come to know so many wonderful people, and I have learned so much. If you are inclined to write a letter to the Bishop, I ask that you please tell him: “Thank you for sending us Fr. Burish, and thank you for sending us another priest,” and tell him that you are praying for him and his ministry as Bishop of our Diocese. I think nothing would give greater witness to the spiritual maturity of our parishes than a letter like that.