When I saw the recent article of the National Catholic Register’s Jennifer Fulwiler, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the headline. Sure, living near your Church is great, but what about living in your Church, or at least in the rectory?
My first job working for the Church, before I was married, was as a youth minister in an average sized American parish. The pastor, recognizing my need to save money for my impending wedding day, kindly offered me a spot in the rectory until I could get settled. For the next 4 1/2 months, I lived in a little room across the building, originally designed for the associate pastor the mission diocese could only rarely assign. I remember from the job bulletin board at Franciscan University of Steubenville that parishes offered this arrangement from time to time. If it’s been offered to you, you may be considering it. Here are some ways it influenced the course of my life:
- I gained a greater appreciation for priestly schedules. The moments the pastor had available at random moments throughout the week were pretty hard to pin down. There is always something going on in the life of a priest. If it’s not celebrating Mass, it’s administering the Anointing of the Sick, teaching a class, meeting in his office, meeting in another priest’s office, meeting in the bishop’s office, preparing an engaged couple, proofreading a bulletin, planning future parish development, interviewing employees, reviewing employees, organizing diocesan liturgies, counseling parishioners, taking care of the poor, planning parish pilgrimages, arranging parish missions, and a whole host of other things. Priests’ vocations earn their vacations. More than that, they need them for the sake of sanity.
- I got used to being in the Church a LOT. Well, I would have gotten used to this, if I hadn’t already lived within a few blocks of a Church for the previous 4 years of my life. If you’re taking a job at a parish that will put you up in the rectory, take advantage of being that close to the tabernacle. I went to daily Mass a few hundred feet from my bed and I still feel like I missed a lot of opportunity for prayer (especially now that I live a bit further away from a church). That will transform your life more than anything else.
- I learned an important lesson: the Church has no concept of appropriate timing. We’d been without a bishop for a long time, and since it was a mission diocese, we assumed that trend would continue. Surely, there were more important dioceses that needed bishops more urgently. Then came the announcement at Whispers in the Loggia on the morning of April Fools’ Day. It was the first thing I saw that morning and it was kind of a big deal, so naturally, I buzzed the pastor’s room. Groggy, he answered. “We have a bishop!” “Ha ha. April fools!” “No, Father, really!” “You won’t get me that easily.” “Seriously, Father, you probably want to go down the chancery. He’ll be arriving in town today.” Retraction: I must be getting old. My memories are starting to run together. I realized a few hours too late that this event actually took place a few months after I was out of the rectory. The point is still true, though!
- I quickly got used to being available. Since I lived in the rectory, it was pretty easy for people to assume that I was on Church property 24/7. This one must really bother priests, even when they aren’t at the rectory (the vast majority of the time – see #1). What lay person would put up with people constantly visiting his home? Hiding out in my private quarters didn’t help – the parish receptionist could always tell the visitor she’d just buzz my room. In my case, it was extra easy to assume that I’d be in because I didn’t even have a driver’s license when I moved in. If you’re going to work for the Church, get used to being available. Even if you’re not living at the Church, you will be spotted and stopped at the grocery store more times than you can count.
- I got a driver’s license. There were times I desperately needed to get out of there! Yes, at the spry, young age of 23, several months into my stay, I got my license to operate a motor vehicle. Freedom was sweet! Of course, most of you probably have a license already (I simply didn’t need one until that point), but you the point is that will find yourself in great need of a way to get away. Have a favorite place of retreat for those times you need a little solitude.
- I got married. Living at the Church allowed me save enough money to have the wedding and reception I needed. Because the wedding was just after Christmas, there were only 35 guests. Without those savings, it would have been even smaller. No, it was not the wedding and reception I wanted (not that I was ever flipping through bridal magazines and daydreaming about the day). We were on a budget, after all. Almost an entire paycheck went toward my bride’s dress ($650), I had to haggle with the organist ($80), the cantor was a friend who once did a solo piece at St. Peter’s Basilica (free), the wedding was at the church of my wife’s choice ($200, later refunded out of pity), the hall rental was at the parish where I’d been living (free), the food for all 35 guests was catered by a local Italian joint ($150), the cake was typical ($150), and the music was from my iPod (negligible). The whole thing was less than $1500 and it was all I could afford! Imagine if I hadn’t saved the money by living in the rectory!
- I gained weight. I’d say it’s a fair assumption that most Catholic parishes in America have housekeepers. Ours was from Guatemala, and she brought all her recipes with her – I was particularly fond of the fajitas and the pasta con camarones. Needless to say, the tux at my wedding was a little tighter than I anticipated when I tried it on months prior. I still haven’t gotten the weight off. Working for the Church is almost certain to put some meat on your bones, especially during Christmas Party Season and Bloat Tuesday.
If you’re considering a job that allows you to live in the rectory, it can be a great opportunity for personal growth – just make sure it’s in your character and not in your waistline.
Priests, do you have any other words of wisdom on rectory life?