Helping Priests in Need
Opus Bono Sacerdotii promotes the priesthood and stands by those who have lost everything
“Abandoned.” It’s one scary word. Where does a Catholic priest go when the walls close in, when he needs crisis care? Who ministers to the minister?
Opus bono Sacerdotii (Latin for “Work for the Good of the Priesthood”) is the name of a unique lay organization that helps priests in trouble, when no one else can or will. Founded in 2002, Opus Bono responds to any call for help – regardless of “guilt,” “innocence” or the nature of the problem.
“We turn no priest away,” said Joe Maher, president and cofounder.
“We are there for these guys. Period.” Maher added. “My wife calls me the ‘priest doctor.’ I go to bed with my cell phone at my side, because priests know they can call me anytime, 24/7.
Priests represent the living image of Christ, but they are also human. When personal problems arise in their lives, Opus Bono Sacerdotii is there to provide whatever is needed: emergency funds for special circumstances (for example, a missed mortgage payment or travel costs when a parent dies), counseling, canonical support, legal aid for criminal or civil litigation, and even consolation for priests in prison.
A WORK OF MERCY
Maher, a former communications executive who made his fortune in Hollywood, got tired of the Tinsel town rat race. In 1999, he moved back to Detroit with his wife and began searching for his life’s mission.
A few years later, an African priests serving in the United States was falsely accused of improprieties by a white woman. The case had explosive racial overtones. Maher heard about it through press reports and knew the priest was alone and desperate.
“I told my wife that somebody had to help him,” recalled Maher. “She said, ‘Do it. Help him. Entrust the rest to God.’ I knew that’s what I had to do. We were convinced he had been falsely accused, but to me it wouldn’t have mattered if he had done it.”
‘Your great love for the Church and for the priesthood is a source of strength for all of us.’
The priest was found innocent of the charges, and since that one case, Opus Bono has helped more than 5,000 other priests in various ways. Maher stresses that his work is not judicial in nature but a corporal work of mercy.
Opus Bono was co-founded by Paul Barron and Pete Ferrara, as well as by Father Eduard Perrone, who is pastor of Assumption Grotto in Detroit and chaplain of the organization. It has a skeleton staff and survives financially month to month. “We never worry about the money because we don’t have tie to fundraise,” said Maher. “God provides.”
Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, former president of hte commission governing Vatican City State and former archbishop of Detroit, is pictured with the staff of Opus Bono Sacerdotii at the organization's center in Oxford, Mich. ON Oct. 15, Cardinal Szoka celebrated Mass at the center's chapel and thanked the group for their efforts in assisting priests with difficulties.
Raymond Jendrowski, a member of St. Jane Frances de Chantal Council 13340 in Sterling Heights, also assists Maher. A retired sales representative for a precision tool company, Jendrowski, considers it an honor to work with Opus Bono.
He said the group has assisted 4,000 of the approximately 6,000 priests worldwide who have been suspended for various reasons. Help has also been given to priests still in active ministry.
“This is part of the priesthood that has been forgotten,” explained Jendrowski. Often, priests face conflicts in administering the complexities of their parishes. An underlying fear among many priests is that conflict and misunderstanding can lead to an accusation and immediate suspension from ministry.
The process of investigating and adjudicating a case can take years, and the stigma often never goes away.
“Most priests [in this situation] end up with nothing, out in the cold,” Jendrowski said. “It’s disheartening.”
‘CONFESSOR TO THE PRIESTS’
There was no blueprint, template or owner’s manual when Maher began his work. Instead, the staff of Opus Bono has learned to trust God everyday.
“Who has experience in this?” asked Maher. “We are still learning this job.”
Opus Bono Sacerdotii has four full-time employees and five volunteers. Among the volunteers is Gino Vitale, a member of St. Nicholas Council 7011 in Sterling Heights, Mich.
Maher recalled, “He came to my office one day and told me, ‘Helping priests is one of our charisms. That’s what [Knights founder] Father Michael McGivney wanted from us.”
Opus Bono has cooperated with Knights of Columbus councils and assemblies to sponsor events such as Masses of appreciation for priests. After all, the Order and Opus Bono Sacerdotii share a “love and concern for the well being of the priesthood,” said Maher.
In addition to giving direct assistance to priests in need, Opus Bono engages in various activities to “build up” the priesthood. Using his professional entertainment background, for instance, Maher has produced and directed Broadway-style musicals that present positive images of the priesthood. He is now working on a play based on the life of Father McGivney.
Maher is regularly invited to speak about the priesthood at parishes and secular media events. He and the Opus Bono staff also attend annual bishops’ meetings and sponsor gatherings of canon lawyers and priests – in each case seeking how to best met the needs of the Church.
Fourth Degree Knights from throughout Michigan District #1 provide an honor guard for a special Mass to honor all priests, past and present. Opus Bono Sacerdotii sponsored the event Oct. 30 at Immaculate Conception Church in Lapeer, Mich. Knights, and their families and chaplains were in attendance.
One bishop told Maher, “You are a confessor to the priests.” Opus Bono upholds a sacred trust of confidentiality, which encourages priests to contact the group for help when they are burdened.
“We seek just resolution of all cases,” Maher said. “We look to support each priest through charity and mercy in his desire to grow holy. We do that by striving to operate in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church and the Holy Father.”
In all of this, the staff at Opus Bono strives to “manifest [their] love for Jesus Christ the High Priest,” said Maher.
‘A SOURCE OF STRENGTH’
Opus Bono Sacerdotii has earned recognition from the Vatican and the Church hierarchy. Pope Benedict XVI has personally blessed the group’s work, and many cardinals and bishops have offered testimonials, including William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, and Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Your great love for the Church and for the priesthood is a source of strength for all of us,” Cardinal George told Opus Bono. “I pray that the Holy Spirit will bless you and guide you in al you are doing.”
The greatest testimonials, however, come from the priests Opus Bono serves.
“I didn’t think anyone would want to help me in my condition,” said Father William (real name withheld). “I was homeless, living in shelters whenever I could get into one and eating in soup kitchens or wherever I could find food”
He made a collect call to Opus Bono, and they accepted the charges.
“I was stunned and shaking with emotion,” Father William recalled. “They didn’t even know who I was. As soon as I heard the voice, I began to weep uncontrollably, but they were so kind and patient. ‘Take your time’ they said. ‘Are you a Catholic priest? I blurted out between sobs, ‘yes, or at least I was.”
After calming down, Father William explained his situation and was offered help.
Within a few weeks, Opus Bono had Father William on a flight to a monastery where he lived for more that a year. A bishop who had contributed to the work of Opus Bono then opened a line of communication with the priest and later invited hi to serve in his dioceses.
“I want to express my gratitude to the wonderful lay people of Opus Bono, who risk everything to assist us Catholic priests,” Father William said. “They are literally life-savers…because they have renewed my priesthood.”
Opus Bono Sacerdotii can be reached by phone at 313-937-6305, online at
and by e-mail at
Dan Valenti writes for the Catholic press from his home in Stockbridge, Mass. He has written many books and is the authore of “Dan Valenti’s Journal” at