"Thank you for the good work done by your organization. We are pleased to be able to support your programs. It is the mission of our Foundation to receive and steward charitable gifts in support of the spiritual, educational, and social service needs of families and individuals by helping provide for the long-term financial stability of entities like Opus Bono Sacerdotii who are aligned with the principles of the Roman Catholic Church."
The Foundation for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington
Once again, through your Lenten sacrifices, you can change lives! Your kindness and support helped Father Henry experience true friendship and real caring again!
“There ARE circumstances beyond our control against which we are utterly defenseless. An allegation against a priest of the sexual abuse of a minor is just such a case. Like everyone else, I’m a sinner, but I never committed the crimes for which I was convicted. For some, when there is even the slightest chance that a Catholic priest has fallen, our human frailty as priests becomes totally irrelevant.
“Last year during the first week of Lent, I stood alone and abandoned, staring out glass windows at endless hills of cut corn stalks. It was almost surreal, seeing now without the checkerboard barrier of cold grey razor-wire fences, these rich farm lands soon to be cultivated for new life, and knowing that in a couple of minutes I would finally be set free.
“Whatever joy I felt in anticipation had entirely left me. I was faced with the grim reality that I was a man without a home, without my Church, without my family. I possessed nothing except the old clothes I was wearing from seven years ago that no longer fit me, and a note on scratch paper from the prison social worker. Just a week before my release he had finally found someplace for me to go. His note read, ‘Don’t take the bus ticket. A man named Joe Maher will meet you in the lobby.’
“For the past seven years I had been abandoned by everyone, including all those who I thought loved me. There was no one left for me. That’s how it is when you finish your time. You are just ‘released’. You get your things and you walk out the door. If need be, they will provide you with a bus ticket to go someplace, if you have a place to go. I didn’t even have any idea where I was going.
“In those moments of waiting, I was filled with terror. An anxious feeling of distrust for everyone takes over in prison. What if this Joe Maher doesn’t show up? What if he is someone who wants to hurt me? What if . . . ? My stomach turned in knots and my greatest fear, that somehow, something will happen and I must return to prison, was overtaking me. I was trembling with fear of the unknown when I walked through that last check point and was given a small plastic bag containing my wallet and my old rosary – the items I had on me when I was taken into custody.
Waiting for me was a tall, kindly looking man in casual dress and sporting a big friendly smile. For the first time in a very long time, I heard the word ‘Father.’ He embraced me with a comforting hug and immediately assured me of ‘our love and support.’ ‘Our?’ I questioned. ‘Yes Father,’ he said compassionately, as he took me by the arm and gently led me out the front doors to a waiting minivan. ‘There are many of us who love you and want to help you,’ he said.
“That day will forever be etched in my mind. Thanks to you and all Opus Bono’s magnificent Partners in Mission, I have never felt more loved and cared for, especially when there wasn’t another soul in this world for me to turn to. Joe, you were right. I’m OK now.
My life these days consists of much prayer, especially for everyone involved in Opus Bono. I have a wonderful job, too, working for one of your Partners in Mission. But most of all, for the first time in a very long time, I feel the love and the warmth of true friendship and real fraternity with my brother priests whom you have helped in the past. This is what I so desperately need in my life. You have saved me!”
Thanks to you from Father Henry and all the priests YOU have cared for, often at the lowest point in their lives. Because of your goodness and kindness, Father Henry’s priestly ministry thrives in a new way!
“When you pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your faults.” Mark 11:25
YOU were compassionate to Father Philip at the lowest point in his life. Thanks to your generosity, he continues to whole-heartedly serve the Lord and the Church.
“Joe, I will never forget February 9th, 2012. It was one of the coldest nights on record where I lived. Officials from my diocese: the finance director, the diocesan attorney and the Vicar for Priests (who professed to be my friend) sat stone-faced in my office. Their task that night: to notify me that I was being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct. I was horrified, shocked and traumatized.
“No, never!” I responded emphatically. But it seemed like their hearts were as cold as ice. In fact, they were downright disinterested. They acted like robots! “We’re not here to examine your case Father,” the Diocesan attorney said sternly. “You need to leave the rectory tonight and take your personal belongings with you.”
“Stunned by the cruelty and callousness of his command, I glanced at the ice that had formed on my office window, then turned back to address each of them directly. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?” I questioned. “And where do you suggest I go?”
“Well, you can’t stay here, and there’s no place for you on diocesan property,” was the harsh response from the attorney. Looking at my “friends” for some kind of mercy or help, I was stunned by their non-reaction, especially by the Father Vicar’s heartless comeback. “It’s the bishop. These are his orders.” He said it severely, then got up from his chair abruptly and bolted out of my office, followed by the other two.
“I was left there, alone in my rectory office, staring blankly into space. As I heard the front door slam shut as they departed, a staggering feeling of abandonment and hopelessness came over me. I’m not sure how long I sat there. I just couldn’t move.
“All kinds of things began to race through my mind, but the worst was that I didn’t even have the presence of mind to ask them who accused me - or what the accusation was! Then I remembered reading one of your Opus Bono letters about a priest who had been accused. You told him to breathe, “just concentrate on taking one breath at a time,” and that’s exactly what I did.
“As I began to recover from the insanity I’d just experienced, I thought, “I’ve got to call Opus Bono; they’ll know what to do.” At that moment, a sudden calm came
over me. In becoming proactive, I felt a reassuring presence of peace and energy. Although my mind and heart were reeling in absolute shock and horror, I immediately picked up the phone and called you.
“From that awful frigid night to today, “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say) could fill volumes about all that Opus Bono did to save my priesthood. From the hundreds of phone calls, to helping me find a place to stay and providing me excellent canonical counsel, even advising me on what to say to inquisitive family and friends, Opus Bono was with me every step of the way. Without your crucial assistance, I would not be a priest today. I’m not even sure I’d be alive!
“When Lent begins next month, I will be at the Altar offering the glorious, Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But I’m a different priest now, as each day I remember so many of my brother-priests who are bearing a very heavy cross, a suffering I could not have possibly understood unless I lived through it myself. For them, I offer this donation in thanksgiving for Opus Bono saving the lives of priests in greatest need.”
Profound thanks to you from Father Philip and all the priests YOU have cared for, often at the very lowest point in their lives. Because of your goodness and kindness, Father Philip continues his priestly ministry today!
Jesus said: “Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.
Give, and it shall be given to you.” Luke 6:36-38
As we start this New Year, I express my deep and heartfelt thanks for the lifeline YOU are for our Catholic priests who depend on you for their material, spiritual and emotional well-being. As Father Tom describes below, without you and Opus Bono, their lives will no longer have meaning or purpose. In fact, their very survival could be in jeopardy.
“Dear Joe, my 10-year odyssey has come to a conclusion. I totally and categorically denied allegations of sexual abuse of a minor that were first made against me in 2006. Over the following years, with Opus Bono’s help, I argued my innocence, but with no success. It is incomprehensible to me, but I was found guilty of the sexual abuse of minors.
“On July 1st, 2016, I was given a decree from my bishop that I am permanently removed from public ministry as a priest. I cannot publicly celebrate the Sacraments. But thanks be to God and Opus Bono’s assistance, I’m able to celebrate Mass, if only privately. I cannot refer to myself as Father or Reverend, and I cannot be associated with any organization that serves young people or be involved in any ministry within the Catholic Church.
“Needless to say, I’m an emotional wreck, and even though I vehemently disagree with the decision of the Church court, I’m grateful that the bishop respected my right for a canon lawyer to argue my case. The canonical process was very long and extremely exhausting, and sadly, in the end it did not produce the result I had fervently hoped and prayed for.
“As you suggested so often during these agonizing years, I’ve tried my best to strengthen the Church and help build the Kingdom of God through my humble prayers, offering up my sufferings and my private celebrations of Holy Mass. I know God has blessed me and thousands of others through these sacrifices, and for this, I’m most grateful.
“Now I commend myself to the mercy of Opus Bono, and your Partners in Mission, because without all of you I would be condemned to a life of inhuman misery, spending the rest of my days utterly abandoned and alone.
“As you have often encouraged me from the very beginning, I do believe God has brought me to this point for His purposes. Opus Bono has been with me every step of the way. Even now you ask the seemingly impossible of me, namely, that I not give up hope, that I keep praying, keep trusting. My stomach turns thinking of the next step in this excruciatingly painful journey, but it could not be made without Opus Bono, and because of Opus Bono, it has brought me to this: I trust in the Lord, who, I realize more than ever, loves me and who asks me to love His Church in spite of the injustice and intense suffering that I - and many other of my brother priests - are experiencing.
“The Church has directed me to spend the rest of my years in prayer and penance, a lifestyle that you and I have discussed, which I now accept so that I might be of service as a hidden priestly intercessor for all of you at Opus Bono, your staff, your priests and your Partners in Mission. I need Opus Bono in my life – for the rest of my life! You all are the stronghold of my faith. Opus Bono is my source of hope for the courage to carry on in this vale of tears.”
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18
YOU were there to help Father Stan – in his most desperate hour – moments before being evicted and left homeless. Here’s his letter explaining.
“Dear Joe, I have a friend, Sharon, who is in a nursing facility and received one of your fundraising letters. After throwing it in the trash because she couldn’t afford to donate, she thought that maybe I’d like to know about your work. She wrote me a very emotional letter asking, ‘How is it possible that priests could be left abandoned, alone and feeling so unloved?’ Little did she know that I would end up being one of those priests!
“I was born in the USA and raised Methodist. When I was eighteen years old, I volunteered to serve as a missionary in Africa. While there, I was inspired by the compassion of many Catholic priests and nuns I met, caring for the poor, sick and starving. Eventually I converted to Catholicism, and later I felt called to the priesthood. I was ordained by an Irish bishop who had just founded a new African diocese. I spent 50 glorious years celebrating the Sacraments among the poorest tribes, and I loved every minute of it.
“With advancing age, my health started to deteriorate very quickly and the new bishop, a fine African, suggested I return to the United States. The diocese had no money to care for me, nor was proper medical care available there for me. I returned home to the USA penniless and alone, suffering from advanced diabetes. I have no family left. Because of my advanced age and frail health, I’m unable to work or help out in a parish, but the local diocese here provided me with some Mass stipends to help with my food costs.
“Before long, the friend who had offered me a place to live died of old age, and the executor of his will allowed me to stay in his home until they could sell it. The house sold quickly and I had nowhere to go. Faced with the grim reality that I could end up homeless and out in the cold, I called shelters in the area and searched for local food banks. The Catholic agencies I contacted said that they were not able to assist me in any way.
“Your letter, saved by my friend Sharon, arrived in the mail at 2 PM on the very day I was packing my small bag of belongings to catch a bus to a homeless shelter nearby. I was told that I had to be at the shelter early in the afternoon to get a bed for the night. I’ll be honest, I was terrified. ‘Is this really happening to me?’ I thought. Since I was in a daze about the awful truth that I would be homeless and living in a shelter, I almost didn’t open Sharon’s envelope. With winter’s cold weather, what would I do if I couldn’t get a bed at the shelter for the night?
“Your fundraising package envelope stated, Your Prayers for Priests have been Answered! I scoffed at that. I was in a really bad way. I threw it down and walked away upset. After a few minutes of packing, the intrigue of reading that line, and because of the dire straits I was in, I reluctantly opened your letter that Sharon had sent me and I read it. For a couple of minutes, I sat speechless, motionless and completely dumbfounded.
“’Opus Bono and its Partners in Mission help priests who are alone and abandoned.’ I thought, ‘that’s me!’ Then I remembered the bitter pain of rejection I felt from all the other Catholic agencies I had reached out to. I had been let down time and time again. Feeling dejected, I put the letter aside. As I sat there wallowing in misery, I began to rethink Opus Bono. ‘Maybe it’s one of those fundraising scams?’, I questioned. Then I thought, ‘What if it is for real? But they won’t help a priest like me anyway. I’ve already been down this road.’ Finally, as they say, desperate times called for desperate measures.
“I fervently prayed the Hail Mary and decided to make one last call for help.
“By now my hands were shaking and drenched with nervous sweat. I kept mis-dialing your phone number. My mind was racing. Watching the clock and agonizing over whether I should call or go to the bus stop. I kept telling myself ‘this isn’t going to help; I have to get to the shelter’. Then, finally, at the very last minute, I called. I asked for you directly, since the letter came from you. I figured that some call-center person would answer and then I would know for sure it was a scam and I could leave to catch the bus.
“When you answered, I was surprised, but extremely suspicious. I immediately told you that I was only calling to make an initial contact because I had an appointment to go to. I was afraid to tell you anything about my situation. But your sincerity in describing the mission of Opus Bono really struck me. I felt like you really cared, and that was something I had not felt from anyone else I contacted for help. Then you very pointedly asked me where I was going. Feeling very abandoned and ashamed, I responded that I was headed to a homeless shelter because I had nowhere else to go.
“What happened next is still a bit of a fog to me, but I do remember your words and thinking ‘Oh God, please let this be for real!’ ‘Father Stan,’ you said to me, ‘I want you to stay put until I call you back.’ I insisted that I had to catch that bus in order to get a warm bed at the shelter. ‘You’re not going to the shelter today or any other day,’ you replied emphatically. ‘Sit tight and I will call you back in a few minutes.’
“When you hung up the phone, my stomach was in knots. I was in a full scale panic. ‘If he doesn’t call me back, I’ll be on the streets tonight,’ I thought. Waiting and trusting in a man I didn’t even know caused me so much anxiety that I thought maybe I would have a heart attack.
“True to your word, you did call me back, and soon after I was offered a ride in a taxicab to a local hotel. It all happened so quickly. I was still feeling terribly frightened, not knowing enough about Opus Bono or what was really going to happen to me. I remember trying to console myself during the cab ride that at the very least Opus Bono is sending me to a hotel, and that’s got to be better than going to a homeless shelter.
“When the cabbie dropped me at the door of the hotel, I stood there for a moment wondering what to do next. The desk clerk must have seen the bewilderment in my eyes and asked if I was Father Stan. I nodded my head yes. She smiled, gave me a room key and directed me to my room.
“Within minutes, you called me. ‘Don’t worry Father, you’re in good hands. We represent thousands of our Partners in Mission who love you and want to take care of you.’ That was it; the flood of tears came like a deluge. The dam had finally broken. The thought that people who I never met were going to take care of me was too much. I’m sure you remember me having to hang up until I could get myself composed because I was crying like a baby!
“When we talked later, you gave me instructions on how to get something to eat that night. You said you didn’t know how long it would take for Opus Bono to find me an apartment. Joe, I kept thinking to myself, ‘Who are these people? Is this really happening to me?’ I re-read your fundraising letter, now more slowly and intently, and I was filled with great peace.
“As of last week, I now have a simple, but beautiful small apartment. It’s a palace to me! My house warming gift, as your card stated, was from your Partners in Mission who provided me with a new Mass kit complete with hosts and altar wine, and with the promise of monthly Mass intentions and supplies so I can offer Mass daily. In addition, the monthly grant I now receive from Opus Bono covering my rent and utilities is really, truly my life-line.
“Joe, every day when I celebrate Holy Mass, and in my prayers, I pray for you and your Partners in Mission who are helping me, a poor old priest. I never want to relive that day again. You’ve promised to always be there for me and I believe you. If all of you aren’t already Angels, you deserve to be!”
“Nor was there anyone needy among them. For all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds. They laid them at the feet of the apostles to be distributed to everyone according to need.”
Acts of the Apostles 4:34-37
Our beloved Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Patron Saint of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, once said “the greatest poverty is to feel unloved.” Without you, Father Bill would still be living in great poverty, as stated in his letter to us.
“Hello Joe, I am a priest who was pressured to seek voluntary laicization by my bishop. I was told that it was for ‘the good of the Church.’ I heard about your fine organization from the news and checked out your website online at the library. Reading about Opus Bono gave me more hope than I’ve had in a very long time. I was moved to tears – many tears.
“After all these heart-breaking years, I feel like Our Lady has finally found me a true and loyal friend in Opus Bono. Unless someone goes through the horror of a false accusation and the agony of total abandonment by family, friends and the Church you gave your life to, it’s impossible to understand the excruciating pain and sorrow we outcast ‘lepers of the priesthood’ endure.
“It is quite chilly here right now as I get ready to leave for my part-time job cleaning offices and bathrooms at a factory. It is all kept very secret and confidential. Since the local news outlets sensationalized the allegations made against me, I have not been able to stay employed very long at one place. I’m grateful to God that at my age (78 years old next month) I have the physical stamina to work. I work alone late at night when no one is there. The owner is a humble Jewish man, who, like the Good Samaritan, took pity on me.
“I was cleared of any wrong-doing long ago, but when a new bishop was appointed, he opened up the priest files and found my case. He published my name along with other priests who have suffered so-called ‘credible accusations.’ I assume this was done to protect the Diocese.
“I doubt any charges would ever have been brought against me if it weren’t for the activities of two men who told the accuser (now well into his 50s) to denounce me to the police. Because of the statute of limitations in our State, I never faced criminal prosecution, which also meant, I was never able to defend myself against the false and absurd accusation.
“One of these men was a prominent lawyer in the business of suing the Church. The second man was, unfortunately, a Catholic priest. That another priest, much younger than I, would put himself in the position of denouncing a brother-priest for something that supposedly happened decades ago is mind boggling to me. I feel badly for him. While I carry the full weight of my cross in this life, what will his fate be for doing this to me?
“Meanwhile, I try to do the best I can in a very sad and sorrowful situation. It is a lonely struggle, but I know that Our Blessed Mother has helped me in finding you. Please Joe, all I want is a friend – someone to talk to. Perhaps it seems too melodramatic, but I need to feel like someone cares, even if it is only for a moment. It’s been so long. I often find myself sitting alone in my rocker weeping. I feel so unloved.”
Because of our Partners In Mission caring, loving support for priests, we are able to assist Father Bill on a regular basis. And, one of our priest Partners in Mission, is offering him much needed spiritual support. After tremendous suffering and many agonizing years of feeling unloved and abandoned, Father Bill now feels truly loved.
“Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:14
Without YOU, Opus Bono and our ministry to wounded, suffering and abandoned priests would not exist! For you, for your caring, faithful, prayerful and financial support, I am truly, deeply grateful. A recent letter from Father Jack highlights how necessary, vital and essential your help is.
“Dear Joe, let me state up front that I was never a fan of Opus Bono.
“Four years ago, I was accused of sexual abuse by a deeply disturbed adult male who was a frequent user of heroin, cocaine, alcohol or whatever was the latest flavor of the day. I was promptly fired from the Diocesan-sponsored substance abuse center. My priestly faculties were suspended and a notice was sent to all the parishes. The media was quick to pick up the story.
“A year later, and after I had moved-in with my 92-year-old mother who was distraught beyond belief, the Diocese contacted me in writing that they were cutting off the monthly support assistance I had been receiving. They said that I should seek employment outside of priestly ministry.
“Try as I might, I was soon faced with the awful realization that finding meaningful employment, even through family and friends, was impossible. The media completely destroyed my reputation. I was branded a pedophile despite the fact that the accusation came from a 28 year old adult male.
“In desperation, I reluctantly turned to Opus Bono for help.
“When I called Opus Bono, I was preparing for an interrogation. However, to my surprise, I was greeted on the phone by a kind and consoling voice. Your attentiveness and concern for my situation, Joe, was an answer to many, many sleepless nights of agonizing prayer.
“Sadly, it was only after experiencing this tragedy and the horrible circumstances from the accusation of sexual abuse made against me, that I can now admit my apprehension of Opus Bono was completely unfounded and simply based on ignorance. In retrospect, I guess I just didn’t want to think this could be happening to us priests, or that it could actually happen to a priest like me. I’m so very grateful for your extraordinary ministry.
“As you so often assured me, I received the glorious news today that my Bishop has agreed to return me to active ministry once again as a hospital chaplain. I am overjoyed! But the credit goes to Opus Bono and to your many Partners in Mission who have supported me in my darkest days, and who have pleaded my case in prayer before the Almighty and Just Judge.
“All the hard work, countless hours of phone calls late into the night, and the overabundance of emotional and spiritual support you’ve given me, has been my saving life-line. Throughout this painful ordeal, you did not give up on me, or my case before the Bishop. Opus Bono and your donors saved my priesthood, and for that I promise you my life-long support!”
“Jesus bent down and started tracing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in their questioning, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.” John 8: 6b-7
Your prayers and your generous support have provided hope and encouragement to Catholic priests who are bearing extraordinary sufferings. Your goodness proves they are not alone. If not for your concern, some of our priests would have given up long ago. Like Father Michael quoted here, they are deeply appreciative of your devoted love and prayerful support.
“I have, in the past, contributed to your most important work of caring for our priests. I did so for the benefit of the priests you’ve assisted. Also, because I know how good you were to two priest-friends who were accused of sex abuse. One has since died and the other is coming up on ten years of early retirement. Sadly, I am also now the recipient of this “stigma” of sex abuse.
“At the parish where I was pastor, there was a young man working in our office who pleaded guilty to the possession of child pornography. Needless to say, this was a shock and caused a horrible scandal for our parish community.
“When this happened I was over the retirement age for an active pastor, but I had agreed to stay on because of the shortage of priests. I was 78 years old and had NEVER used a computer. I wouldn’t even know how to turn one on. I depended on the business manager to supervise this young man, but even the business manager had no idea what was going on until he found it on the young man’s office computer. We immediately notified the Archdiocese. They instructed us not to talk with the young man, but to contact the authorities.
“Frankly, I’m not sure how he was able to get away with it, since it seemed to me he wasn’t actually in the office that much, and was hardly ever alone when he was. I guess these kinds of problems can be very well hidden. In any event, little did I know that I’d be falsely accused of ‘guilty by association.’
“After a couple of weeks, the Archdiocese called me to the Chancery for an early morning meeting with the Vicar General. When I arrived there to meet with him, the archdiocesan lawyer was also present. Angrily, the Vicar General scolded me, stating that I was to blame for ‘permitting this activity under my watch.’ My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. Then, if matters couldn’t be worse, he said that several parishioners were uncomfortable with me remaining as pastor because of what had happened. Some had even made the horrendous accusation that I was probably a pedophile, too!
“I was instructed to leave the parish immediately and be out of the rectory by the end of that day. The following weekend a letter was read at all the Masses in our parish and it was broadcast all over the local news.
“The media had a field day! They accused me of knowing what was going on and not doing anything about it. Investigators showed up at the small apartment I had rented not far from the parish, wanting to know more about my involvement with the young man. There was absolutely nothing more to tell them than that he worked part-time at the parish office.
“Later that week, things escalated out of control. A victim’s advocacy group passed out flyers in the local area with my photo on it, requesting that people come forward who I may have abused. What horrible, vicious, deceptive and evil lies! I have never been so humiliated and terrified in all my life.
“Not having anyone else to turn to, I finally decided to contact you. I was so hesitant because of the embarrassment of the whole situation, but especially the deep-seated guilt and remorse I felt for not knowing what this young man was doing in our parish office. Even though I know nothing about computers, and had relied on the parish manager, I felt I let everyone down, especially my deceased parents who were so proud of their only son who became a priest.
“In my heart I doubted that I could live much longer. I was sure I would die soon of a heart attack because of the stress, lack of sleep and inability to eat anything. I hid in my little apartment with the curtains drawn. I dared not go outside for fear of being accosted. All of my earthly belongings, which are very few, were packed into garbage bags sitting in the middle of the room.
“Then Opus Bono came to my rescue! Your very patient listening and kind, gentle words were a saving grace for me during this almost unimaginable time of excruciatingly painful hopelessness and desperation. I am forever grateful to say that those dark days seem so distant now, thanks to your assistance!”
Because of your prayers and loving support, we were able to take immediate action to help Father Michael amidst these dire circumstances. Here is how we could assist because of your generosity.
First, we encouraged him to move from his current apartment to a new furnished place on the other side of the Archdiocese. Reluctant to move at first, he finally agreed with the understanding that it could be a temporary measure until things cooled down at the parish and in the media. Since Father was now distrustful of everyone who tried to contact him, we advised him not to answer any phone calls, but wait until people left him a message. He would then call us about the people who were making contact with him, and together we would decide how to respond and what to do.
Coordinating the effort to find him acceptable housing, make the necessary arrangements for his relocation, and seeking out qualified support people in the area (whom all of us could trust to assist him) took several days of urgent, intense and sometimes round-the-clock efforts.
In the midst of all of this, from our offices in Michigan we started a two-week long search for a competent civil attorney in Father’s archdiocese. This preparation was critical in case there were any potential criminal or civil proceedings being prepared against him.
The process of calling attorneys, interviewing each one, and finding the right match is difficult and cumbersome, but absolutely necessary to head-off the possibility of fraudulent claims or criminal charges. The attorney we selected with Father conducted thorough discussions with detectives and the prosecutor’s office. They assured him that there was no reason to press charges against him for what this young man had done in the parish office.
We finally secured a canon lawyer to advise him, and we began the long process of working with Father and the Archdiocese to have his suspension lifted and his priestly faculties restored. After a couple of months, the Archdiocese agreed to change his status to ‘retirement,’ but with restrictions on his public ministry and with no specific pastoral assignment.
We also wanted to make sure that his health insurance would continue and his retirement benefits would begin as soon as possible. After two very long years, the Archbishop finally relented. He lifted all restrictions on Father Michael, which permitted him to minister publicly again as a supply priest on weekends and on Holy Days of Obligation at a parish near his new apartment.
As with the thousands of priests who have contacted us since our founding 14 years ago, your generous support enables us to continue our regular check-ins with Father Michael, as we will do for the rest of his life. The “stigma” Father Michael wrote about at the beginning of his letter never fully leaves a priest. So, opportunities for him to talk about it confidentially, even years later, with people he knows he can trust, is paramount to his emotional and spiritual healing and his well-being.
“I am so grateful for the many ways God has blessed me through your faithful support and friendship. If it weren’t for Opus Bono, I’m quite sure my priesthood would have been over, and my life would have been, too! I still depend on our regular phone calls. It means so very much to me. Also, for my brother-priests who continue to need your compassionate ministry, I have enclosed a donation. I realize it’s a small amount compared to all that you have done for me and my brothers. I promise you I will send more when I can.”
Jesus said, “The king will answer them: I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers,
you did it for me.” Matthew 25: 40.
Can you and I ignore the pleas of elderly priests, desperately poor and crying out to us for help? Aged, ill and disabled priests, seeking your kindness for their urgent requests for housing, food and medical care, possibly will receive no assistance.
Sadly, Opus Bono is lacking the funds necessary for even the most critical needs of an increasing number of priests who are contacting us for financial aid. Your help is desperately needed right now!
Father Tim, Father Leo and Father Cal need your prayers and generous financial support right now. We just don’t have the financial resources available to help all the priests who are presently seeking our assistance. No longer supported by their dioceses, they have nowhere else to turn and they contact Opus Bono begging for help. YOU are Opus Bono! It is your charity, your compassion, your goodness that makes our mission to help needy priests possible. Without you this cannot happen.
“Help carry one another’s burdens; in that way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, 6:2
“Opus Bono saved my priesthood!” This was the subject line in an email I received recently. Father John went on to write . . .
“I am a priest of 45 years. Thirty-five years ago, while serving at my dream assignment, as pastor of my home parish, the bishop appointed me chaplain of the Archdiocesan Marriage and Engaged Encounter programs. A beautiful ministry!
“A couple of months into it, a middle-aged couple asked to meet with me because, as the husband put it, their marriage was on the rocks. I’m not holding anything back when I say that every meeting with them was a complete disaster.
“They refused to listen to any of my advice or follow up on any of my recommendations. Every time they came for a meeting, my rectory staff was unnerved by their obvious bitterness toward each other. After consulting with the bishop, I decided to discontinue our meetings and referred them to an experienced marriage and family counselor.
“I often prayed for their healing and reconciliation. Although I wasn’t able to assist them, I was grateful for the experience. It helped me become aware of my own abilities when guiding married couples in the future.
“Several months passed and I heard nothing from them. Then, one fateful day, a local police detective showed up at the rectory door. Sadly, the two were filing for divorce. During this process it “came out” that I had supposedly sexually assaulted the wife in my rectory parking lot, inside my blue Ford pickup truck.
“I was in complete and absolute shock! When the detective asked me if I ever owned a vehicle like that, or if I ever had any sexual contact with this woman, my response was an emphatic, NO!!
“After a few more ludicrous questions, the detective realized that these allegations were totally false. I immediately called my bishop and asked to meet with him. I’ll never forget the bishop’s words to me, ‘John, forget about it. You’re a good priest and you did what you could. If she should ever contact you again, call me, but don’t have any contact with her or her husband.’
“The matter was settled, or so I thought. Five years ago that bishop retired and a new bishop was appointed. Like many others, our archdiocese was buried in a deluge of sexual abuse lawsuits. As part of a settlement, our bishop turned over files of priests who had accusations against them. I was horrified to learn that I was part of this group! My file contained information about the thirty-five-year-old claim made by this woman who is now deceased. I was removed from ministry, my name publicly released in the media and a letter from the bishop read at all the Masses at the parish.
“A seminarian who had been coming to me for mentorship gave me an Opus Bono brochure. I called that very day and was fortunate enough to get a call back from you that evening, Joe. I can honestly say if I hadn’t made that phone call to Opus Bono, I’m sure my 45 years of beloved priesthood would have been over. Officially, I am now retired, but thanks to Opus Bono and all your efforts on my behalf, I’m once again in ministry as a weekend assistant in a near-by parish.”
“God can multiply his favors among you so that you may always have enough of everything and even a surplus for good works, as it is written: ‘He scattered abroad and gave to the poor; his justice endures forever.’ He who supplies seed for the sower and bread for the eater will provide in abundance; he will multiply the seed you sow and increase your generous yield.” 2 Corinthians 9:8-10
Your faithful prayers and caring support have assisted many fervent priests in difficulty, like the young Father Alex. Because of your help, he continues today in his sacred ministry, but now with renewed dedication, zeal and a sense of peace.
“Why did you come here in the first place?” the bishop asked in frustration. “Every place I assign you, you have a problem.” The bishop then sat silently, biting his tongue, as Father Alex once again launched into a tirade about liberalism, homosexuality and “the secularization of ALL the priests in this diocese.”
Soon his rantings reached a fever pitch and the bishop could take no more. “Stop; just stop!” he shouted. “This is getting us nowhere. I have no place for you to go,” the bishop said sternly. “For now, please return to your parish until I can think about what to do with you next.” Father Alex was at a loss for words. It was the first time the bishop had responded in such a seemingly hostile manner toward him.
Slowly Father Alex rose from his chair as the bishop left the conference room. The chancellor, Monsignor John, then walked with Father Alex to the door. With a consoling arm on his shoulder, Monsignor John’s parting words to Father Alex were, “Pray for peace, Father. Try your best to get along. I understand it’s not easy.” Father Alex found no consolation in Monsignor John’s words.
Back in his office, the bishop sat rocking back and forth in his chair, obviously agitated. When Monsignor John entered the room, the bishop turned to him, “John, what in God’s name am I supposed to do with him?” he asked. “He’s got so much promise. I really think he will make a fine priest, but his constant bickering! How could he have a problem with old Monsignor Brown? The man is a saint!”
After a few minutes of silent reflection, Monsignor John asked, “What about counseling? Is he willing to do that?” “No,” the bishop responded sadly. “I really don’t have anywhere else to assign him. What do I do?” Without hesitation, Monsignor John said, “What about Opus Bono? You mentioned them before, and if we have no place for him, maybe they can help.”
Within hours Monsignor John had contacted our president, Joe Maher, regarding Father Alex. The following day a very suspicious Father Alex telephoned us stating that the bishop asked him to call. After listening to him, it was clear that Father Alex wasn’t wrong about some of the situations he encountered, but the bishop was also correct in his concern for the young priest’s scrupulousness.
“Joe, following your suggestions has been very difficult for me,” Father Alex wrote recently. “I continue to struggle in dealing with liturgical abuses and the like, but I’ve learned how to be the best priest I can be without compromising my orthodoxy. As you wisely advised, I avoid situations with other priests who I perceive as not living their vocation appropriately. To be perfectly honest, after our many hours of conversation, I must admit that I’ve found most of my brother-priests to be sincere in their desire to grow in holiness and to be good priests, just as you said. It gives me great courage knowing that Opus Bono is always there for me!”
Thanks to our dear Partners in Mission, we continue to help Father Alex work through the issues he feels are hindering him in fulfilling his holy calling. Joe hasn't spoken to Monsignor John since that one phone call, but he did receive a text message from Monsignor John recently that said, “Thanks for all your assistance to Father Alex. The bishop is appointing him a pastor. I thought you’d want to know.”
“Strip away everything vicious, everything deceitful; pretenses, jealousies and disparaging remarks of any kind. Come to him, a living stone, rejected by men but approved, nonetheless, and precious in God’s eyes. You too are living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:1,4-5
YOU are assisting Catholic priests through your prayers and financial support in ways that are nothing short of miraculous, as Father Russell expresses here:
“I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for all that you’re doing to help priests. I believe that God is working through you, and because of that, I’m including, along with my donation, this letter to tell you how Opus Bono saved me.
In 2012, I was fresh out of the seminary, newly ordained just one year, and my pastor appointed me the Youth Director of the parish. Horror of horrors, I was accused by an anonymous person of spending too much time with a teenage girl.
There was no charge of sexual abuse, since the accuser stated that he or she wasn’t really sure that I was guilty of any inappropriate contact. In fact, the family of this teenage girl was furious with the accuser, and they immediately went to the Diocesan Child Protective Services Coordinator to complain. They were, and have always been, certain that the allegation made against me was totally false.
During their meeting with the Diocesan Coordinator, the teen’s family demanded that the Diocese reveal who made the allegation and show them what proof was provided. To their complete shock, the Coordinator stated that the Diocese had no way of knowing who had accused me, because this person refused to share their identity. The father of the teen was flabbergasted and angrily questioned the Coordinator about how they could possibly put his daughter, their family and me “through a virtual hell” without ever investigating the accuracy of the allegation?
None of this seemed to matter. Shockingly, my bishop removed me from active ministry and refused to speak with me directly. All communication was done over the phone, with the Vicar of Clergy and the lay Chancellor of the diocese.
I was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which I immediately did, hoping to clear up everything as soon as possible, and return to serving the Church and caring for God’s people. But this horror story continued when I was sent away for this evaluation. I was diagnosed with sexual infatuation, and ordered to enter an in-house treatment program. My poor parents, who were distraught over all this, consulted two experts in the mental health profession. Both said that I should never have been evaluated at a facility where they would also be performing the treatment. The diagnosis was completely biased, and in their opinion, lacked any credibility.
At this point I was overwhelmed with fear that my priesthood was over. Then a priest-friend excitedly called me with information about your organization. He had read about Opus Bono years ago in Columbia, the Knights of Columbus magazine, and had saved the issue just in case he might need Opus Bono for himself one day!
I telephoned your office, feeling almost hopeless, expecting to be told that there was nothing else that could be done. How mistaken I was! You and your staff literally dropped everything to help me. Within minutes I felt more optimistic and encouraged than I had been since this terrible nightmare began. After several phone calls, and with many hours of your guidance, together we were able to get my diocese to agree to a new evaluation with two other independent psychologists.
The results from both evaluations found there was no evidence of psychological dysfunctions. I’m happy to tell you I have now been fully restored to active ministry, and on July 1st this year, I will be appointed pastor of a parish. What seemed to be the end of my priesthood is once again my joyful vocation, all because of Opus Bono!”
“Let us not grow weary of doing good. If we do not relax our efforts, in due time we shall reap our harvest. While we have the opportunity, let us do good to all - but especially those of the household of the faith.”
March 2016 Easter Letter
Carrying Jesus’ Cross is never lacking for our dear suffering priests. This makes the Feast of Easter even more life-giving, knowing that your prayers and support have relieved the distress of priests like Father Tim, who recently wrote to us.
“Hello, dear friends. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you’ve done for me. If it wasn’t for Opus Bono, I don’t think my priesthood would have survived. Happy Easter to you, and to all the saintly people whose generosity provides for this outstanding mission so close to the Heart of Christ!”
Let me tell you about Father Tim. As a young priest, ordained just four years, he was assigned to lead a parish in a rural area at the far end of the diocese. His dream of becoming a humble pastor, ministering to his new parish family and leading them in their desire to grow in holiness, was at an all-time high. He couldn’t wait to get to St. Jerome’s!
However, just six months into his assignment, it was clear that this was a deeply troubled parish, with constant in-fighting among the staff. Father Tim noticed that the culprit in spreading discord was a person who had a particularly abrasive nature. She seemed to “rule” the parish staff and volunteers by fear. Her angry outbursts and disrespectful judgments about others seemed in stark contrast to her “sweet as pie” attitude toward Father Tim.
After many conversations with her, there was no change in her terribly disruptive nature. In fact, things only got worse. So Father Tim turned to a retired pastor, who was also a former Vicar General of the diocese, for advice. He had always been an inspiring example of the priesthood for Father Tim and a trusted mentor.
“Tim, you were sent there to clean that place up and they should’ve told you that,” he said angrily. “Your predecessor was an alcoholic, a gambler and raided the parish cash box for tens of thousands of dollars. The diocese sent him away and they’re trying to keep it all quiet because they suspect there was a relationship between him and this person who’s causing problems. Be careful, Tim; you’re in a hornets’ nest that might not bode well for you,” he advised.
Father Tim was completely unnerved. Frankly, he was terrified! He had no idea what to do or who to call for help. After much prayer and consideration, he sought out one of his seminary classmates, Father Nate, the bishop’s secretary, hoping for some direction on what to do. “Don’t call the present Vicar General,” Father Nate warned. “You didn’t hear this from me, but the diocese is afraid of an accusation, and it’s probably from this person causing problems,” he cautioned apprehensively.
Now Father Tim was even more anxious, and his anger rose to a fever pitch. “Nate, what do I do?!” After a moment of consideration, Father Tim’s friend quietly asked, “Do you get that newsletter from Opus Bono?” “No, what is that?” Father Tim asked. “I’ll send you a copy; call them,” he advised.
Thanks to you, our dear Partners in Mission, after months of patient advice and counsel with Opus Bono and our advisors, Father Tim was able to setup effective boundaries and communication with the disruptive staff member, who eventually resigned and left the area. In a recent phone call from Father Tim he exclaimed, “What a relief! I’m literally in Heaven at St. Jerome’s now, thanks to Opus Bono!”
The complexities of ministry in our world today have created new and often perilous situations that our beloved priests and their superiors can’t always handle without the broad range of experience that Opus Bono provides.
“If any of you is without wisdom, ask it from God who gives generously and ungrudgingly to all, and it will be given. Ask in faith, never doubting, for the doubter is like the surf tossed and driven by the wind.”
The very thought of this breaks my heart. Jesus really, truly is present on the streets of our cities today in the guise of our most distressed brethren, as Father Robert shared with us in his recent letter.
“Joe, I’m very grateful for all Opus Bono is doing on behalf of my brother priests. Although, thank God, I haven’t had a need for the compassionate ministry that Opus Bono provides, I include myself as a proud Partner In Mission with you.
“I realize you receive many requests from priests for help, and I hesitate to add to your already heavy burden, but recently I met a priest who is in desperate need.
“I came to know of Father Jonathan through the ministry to the homeless at our parish. Every winter, along with other area churches, we open our gym to the homeless and provide a safe, warm place for them to stay at night, as well as comfortable cots to sleep on. And our Parish Life Committee recruits volunteers to cook and serve hot, nutritious meals for the homeless when we host. It’s a beautiful ministry, which I’m sure Opus Bono can relate to in a very personal way.
“One of the gentlemen in-line for food approached to tell me that there was a Catholic priest among their homeless ranks. Joe, I was stunned!
“Immediately I went over to introduce myself. Unsure at first, it was apparent after a few minutes of conversation that this man was a validly ordained Catholic priest. In fact, he was ordained with my cousin in another diocese.
“His story is very sad and deeply distressing to say the least. He was charged and imprisoned for several years. He was completely abandoned by his family and friends, and much to my dismay, even by his own diocese. I wanted to find a place for him to stay here, but my diocese would not permit it. So now I’m reaching out to Opus Bono with a plea for help on behalf of this destitute brother.
“Father Jonathan moves from shelter to shelter. He has to be out of the shelter by 8:00 am each day, and then by 2:30 pm he lines-up outside in the cold until 4:00 pm, hoping to get a hot meal and secure a warm place to sleep for the night. This is excruciatingly difficult for him during these cold winter months at 73 years of age!
“He has placed his name on several waiting lists for housing, but the fact that he is a registered offender makes the search extremely difficult. I also discovered that because of this registration, he is not eligible for any kind of public housing or housing assistance in our area.
“Father Jonathan told me he was deeply ashamed that he had sinned against chastity with an adult woman from his parish. He said that even though the relationship was consensual, he was charged with assault. I checked with my cousin and the former Vicar of Clergy in his diocese and they both confirmed what Father Jonathan said. Joe, I’m hoping you will find Father Jonathan worthy of your help.”
Thanks to you, our dear Partner in Mission, within 24 hours of receiving Father Robert’s letter, we were able to secure a lease on a small efficiency apartment for Father Jonathan and also find him a part-time job. Every time we talk to him now, his eyes well-up with tears of gratitude for the mercy and love you’ve shown him.
Overhearing the remark of the Pharisees, Jesus said, “People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.’ I have come to call, not the self-righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13
In 2002, Father Thomas was one of the very first priests who asked for our help. Recently he wrote a heart-felt letter to Opus Bono. I’d like to share it with you.
“Hello Joe, I’m so very grateful for your support! This new year of 2016 is a very special one for me. It is the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. When the Sacrament was conferred on me, it was the happiest day of my life!
It had taken many years of preparation, study, prayer and personal sacrifice.
Then in 2001, the priest crisis in Boston was heating up and hysteria spread like wildfire across the country. In December 2001, an accusation was made against me. I was ordered to go to a treatment facility for priests. In truth, it was a mental hospital! As you know, I obeyed. While I was there, my bishop ordered me to ask for laicization from Rome, and again, I obeyed.
In the meantime, back home, formal criminal charges were brought against me: 2nd degree sexual assault of a child. I was falsely accused, unjustly sentenced and I went to prison. Very sadly, I am now listed on the national registry of sex offenders.
Again I was ordered to accept a plea bargain to all the charges made against me, “for the greater good of the Church,” even though I protested repeatedly that I was totally and absolutely innocent.
I could never have imagined that my beautiful priestly vocation would end that way! Oh how I wish you had founded Opus Bono just a few months earlier than you did. I’m quite sure that, with your assistance, my priesthood would have been saved.
I made so many sacrifices to follow the call to serve God as a Roman Catholic priest. I would never have left, except under obedience. I received the vocation in obedience, and left the vocation in obedience.
Each year, when people honor the Veterans of the military, I wonder if priests are also considered “veterans.” I served U.S. veterans for years as a chaplain in a VA hospital, and I also took care of my dying father who was a war veteran. I’ve always felt an affinity to the military service and had aspired to join, but opted instead to follow a different kind of service, with a different kind of fight for God. I no longer have any hope of being able to serve either in the Church or in the military.
I’m currently working as a busboy/dishwasher. I do have hope of eventually finding a decent job and living a more fulfilling life. Now that my father has passed away, I am alone in life, except for my pet Labrador and all of you at Opus Bono.
I don’t ever regret having given my life to God, and having helped so many people with their problems.
As this new year begins, I want to encourage you in the difficult struggle of loving and caring for Our Lady’s fallen priest sons. Whether innocent or guilty, there is no other place for us to turn but to Opus Bono. I believe Opus Bono is a gift from Our Lady, and you and all who contribute to Opus Bono should know what a truly awesome and outstanding gift you are to the Catholic Church and ALL of her priests. Thank you for all the love and support you have given to me through the years.”
Jesus said to those who believed in him: “If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
I want to share with you this wonderful letter from Father Ed for Christmas.
“Joe, I know there are so many of my brother priests who are hurting because of unjust things that have happened to them, or because of their own failings, and in a sense my story is no different.
“I had done nothing wrong. There were no accusations against me. In fact, everyone who knew me was shocked the Sunday I announced after Mass that I was leaving the priesthood. Frankly, I was sick of dealing with the politics of an institutional church steeped in a bureaucracy that made me and other priests feel like we were just another number in a corporation!
“Working at the Chancery Office, with all the back-biting and infighting among the clergy, had finally taken its toll on me.
“I literally just walked away from the priesthood and my Catholic faith. The archbishop and the staff were exasperated with me, and to be honest, my flippant and defiant attitude at the end probably caused it!
“You may recall my first email to you: ‘I’ve given up all hope and have lost my vocation. I want to donate my chalice and my vestments to Opus Bono. I can no longer be a priest.’
“Joe, although your reply to my email infuriated me at the time, over the next eleven years I would often think about what you said: ‘Father, I understand how you feel right now and it’s okay to take a break. But please consider keeping an open heart to the priesthood. Even if you don’t ever return to public ministry, we are always here to help you.’”
After many years, Father Ed called Opus Bono again and asked for help in returning to ministry. He said it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do, and I believe him, because my first response to his request was “Welcome back!” which sent him into a fit of tears.
Father Ed admitted, “As you well know, I had burned a lot of bridges at the Chancery and especially with my bishop. But you were right about memories fading and that the Divine calling, which I believed was gone, slowly began to return. I was so ashamed of my actions, and embarrassed about giving up. I thought for sure I would never, ever want to return.”
It took many months of discussions between Father Ed and his bishop, which included a required 30-day silent retreat based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was then given a temporary assignment in the Chancery for one year, with limited faculties for celebrating Mass privately.
Just two weeks ago, the Vicar of Clergy met with Father Ed and notified him that the bishop intends to assign him as a parochial vicar, and Father Ed will be residing at a parish and helping out with ALL the sacraments. “Joe, when I asked when he thought this would happen, he said the Bishop said to him, ‘Father Ed’s Christmas is coming!’ I will begin on December 1st. If not for that first email long ago, and all of your support through the years, I doubt I would have ever considered returning to the priesthood, and that would have been a disaster. Thank God for Opus Bono!”
“Above all, let your love for one another be constant, for love covers a multitude of sins. As generous distributors of God’s manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received.” 1 Peter 4: 8,10
Throughout elementary school, Father Andre struggled to learn and keep up with the rest of the class. As a result, he was held back a grade. For him, it was humiliating, but eventually he turned that negative experience into becoming one of the most-loved young men in his high school senior class. He was a star athlete, well liked, and was always up for whatever “the gang” was doing.
“In those days, Joe, if you didn’t have a girlfriend and you weren’t sleeping with her, you were considered to be gay,” Father Andre said matter-of-factly. “The peer pressure was incredible, but especially for me, I would do just about anything to be accepted.”
With great anxiety he then shared, “I can honestly tell you that the worst night of my life was at my graduation party in 1977. I’m ashamed to admit that I used another person for my own selfish desires, and what made it even worse was that this young lady really felt love for me.”
That one terrible moment of indiscretion would change Father Andre’s life forever. The next day, the guilt-ridden star athlete met with a young priest in his parish. He made a promise to Father John that he would never break – to remain chaste until marriage. He also made a vow to God that he would do whatever God asked of him. God’s call came several years later, in the midst of a successful career as an attorney in a large metropolitan prosecutor’s office. He felt an unmistakable desire to leave everything behind and study for the priesthood.
From the day of his ordination, Father Andre has been an exemplary priest and a much beloved pastor. Twelve years ago, Father Andre was assigned as pastor and chaplain to one of the archdiocese’s most prestigious boys Catholic high schools. In his tenure, several young men entered the seminary, scholarships for academics and sports were established, and millions of dollars were donated as an endowment to assure the legacy of the school.
As one alumni supporter said proudly, “Father Andre is at the top of his game!”
Unfortunately though, his past came back to haunt him. A new archbishop was appointed to the scandal-ridden archdiocese and upon reviewing the priest personnel files, Father Andre’s admission of guilt to his formation counselor in the seminary was discovered. He was 18 years old in 1977, but the beautiful young lady of his past, a junior who had advanced a grade because of academic merit, was only 16. The legal counsel investigating immediately pulled the file and Father Andre’s fate was sealed. Swift action was taken and the public was notified in the press of his removal “until a formal investigation into his past could be completed.”
Father Andre was devastated. No one would talk to him at the Archdiocese and many of his supporters, friends and family abandoned him. Rumors spread like wild fire and gossip became truth. For four years Father Andre languished in what he called “hell on earth,” until one day his mother discovered www.opusbono.org.
After months of correspondence and canonical discussions with the Archdiocese, Father Andre was given an assignment in the Chancery Office, with a promise by the Archbishop to discuss restoring him to public ministry in the future. Father Andre wrote to us afterwards, “No words can express the gratitude and admiration I have for the work of Opus Bono and how quickly you came to my aid. Quite literally, you are saving my priesthood, which is my total being!”
You have been told what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
Because of your continued prayers and support, after years of darkness, God’s Divine Mercy is bringing light, hope and joy to Father Jon. Please allow me to share with you his first letter to Opus Bono.
“Mr. Maher, I’m writing to you under devastating stress. In 2005, I was assigned to a parish with a pastor who was quite literally out of his mind. One day while I was away, he went into my room and searched through my closets. He claimed that he found a pornographic magazine. I have never purchased anything of the sort.
“I was ordered to go for a psychological evaluation, which recommended in-patient treatment. I had 6 months of intense therapy. Every test conceivable determined that I did NOT have any unhealthy or dysfunctional interests in children.
“The Vicar for Clergy told me, however, that he didn't think I could ever be reassigned to ministry. I was ordered not to celebrate the Sacraments in public or wear clerical garb. I did what I was told.
“A couple of years later, I was placed on the Diocesan website list of priest sex offenders. Suddenly everything was exposed in the press. Unknown to me, the diocese had made my file public as part of a settlement for abuse cases. My family was devastated, and so was I. I don't know why the diocese did this, since I have never abused a child or had inappropriate contact with anyone.
“During this entire time I had been living at a priest-friend’s rectory. However, as part of the settlement, I was forbidden to reside on any diocesan property. I had to move. With the help of my family I found a room to rent, and signed the lease after my case had been rejected again by the Diocesan Review Board.
“In April of this year, I was called to the bishop’s office and told to seek laicization. The bishop made it clear that if I did not comply with his request, he would begin the process of forced laicization. Can Opus Bono please help me?!”
Thanks be to God, as Divine Providence would have it, a new bishop was named to lead Father Jon’s diocese. Opus Bono was able to initiate a re-evaluation of Father Jon’s case, assisted by a canon lawyer that we recommended.
With praise to God and with deep gratitude to you for your continued prayers and support, dear Partner in Mission, here is the most recent note from Father Jon:
“What a difference Opus Bono has made in my life! Fearing the results, but following your advice, I wrote to the new bishop, telling him that I’ve been in contact with Opus Bono, and asking him to prayerfully reconsider my laicization. In total honesty, I shared with him that I have always been responsible and obedient. As you advised me, I also explained to him that I am requesting the opportunity to continue my priesthood, even if it means living under restrictions.
“To my utter amazement, the new bishop called me immediately! He assured me that he was not considering laicization for me, nor should I consider it myself. He asked that, since he is new to the diocese, I give him some time to review my case further and that some restrictions could certainly be lifted. Finally, he ended it by saying that ‘they are very fine men at Opus Bono’ and that I was in good hands!”
Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides. Matthew 6:32b-33
Not everyone can visit a priest in prison or assist him when he’s released, often with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. However, because of your continued generosity, you are fulfilling the Gospel message of Jesus Christ the High Priest: “For I was [a priest] in prison and you visited me.” Matt 25:39
“Dear Joe, I’m writing in the hope that you can assist a priest like me in my planning for life after prison. I am eighty-four years old. I was sentenced to a term of 12-15 years in 2004 in State prison. With time served in county jail before the trial, and in consideration of “good time” credits earned in prison, I will be completing my sentence and released next month.
I have no place to go. I have no money. And I’ve outlived the family and friends who could have helped me. My only source of income after incarceration will be Social Security (I think about $500/month). Of course, I have not been allowed to collect SS while incarcerated, so I have no savings. I was told to write to you by an official at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I was informed that they don’t help priests like me, but they said that you do.
I was ordained in 1960 and was involuntarily laicized in 2005 by an administrative process in which I had no part. Over the years, I have made attempts to speak with my bishop. At one point, I even asked a priest canon lawyer friend to represent me, but every attempt to communicate with my bishop or someone representing him, has been refused - usually by a lawyer in the Chancery Office. I relate that history to you by way of saying that I have no diocesan support, and have been told by the chancery lawyer that I will receive no support in the future.
At 84 years of age, I have some medical issues, but they are manageable with diet, medication and exercise. I’m presently living in the protective custody unit. I’m able to do all the things required of inmates in this unit, including walking to and from the chow hall, classrooms, medical unit, etc. I’m not a speed walker, but I walk unassisted and enjoy walking in the yard, weather permitting, as recreation and exercise. My intellectual faculties are intact. Of course, I am profoundly aware that my situation could deteriorate rapidly in the coming years given my advanced age.
I’ve been praying day and night with great urgency, and offering up the hardship here in prison for those, unknown to me, who Our Blessed Lady of the Assumption would find to help me upon my release. I truly had given up all hope until I received the information from the Bishop’s Conference official referring me to Opus Bono. I have no visitors, and I have absolutely no one else to contact to ask for help. I beg you and those who contribute to Opus Bono to have mercy on me, a poor, old priest.
I hope it’s not too late to entreat your kindness and goodness to assist me during whatever time left on earth our dear Lord will give me. I’ve done all I’ve been asked to do throughout this horrible, wrenching ordeal. I pray with all my heart that I will not end up homeless on the street, with nowhere to go and nothing to eat. I would deeply appreciate anything you can do to help me. I have nothing to offer in return except my humble prayers. I hope that is enough. Thank you for the Gospel-inspired work of Opus Bono as you minister to some of the loneliest and most abandoned persons in our society.” Father Patrick
“Is not this that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:7
Your help is desperately needed! Right now Opus Bono does not have the funds necessary for even the most critical needs of the increased number of priests who have contacted us for assistance. Aged, sick and disabled priests who are seeking your kindness with urgent requests for housing, food and medical care, possibly will receive nothing. For some elderly priests, the needs are actually life-threatening.
+ Father Stan is an 80-year-old priest whose “legs are useless.” He must rely on taxis to get him to his doctor’s appointments, and the meager subsidy he receives from Social Security barely pays the bills. He’s four months behind on his rent and eats one cold meal a day to save money. If we don’t help him financially, I fear he could die from the lack of medical attention or from malnutrition.
+ Father John is 76 and suffers from diabetes. For years he has battled the disease of alcoholism. It has ruined his health and nearly killed him. His Social Security and small pension are not enough to pay all the bills. He works a few hours a week at a minimum wage job, making phone calls for a salesman. He attends AA meetings daily and group therapy twice a week. He can meet his rent and utility bills, but he desperately needs help for his medical co-pays, transportation and food. If we don’t help him, his health will gravely suffer, with terrible consequences.
+ Father James is a Religious Order priest who was dismissed from his community after 35-year-old allegations were made against him. He’s 74 years old now and battles clinical depression daily. He has numerous health issues, is unemployable, and receives no Social Security or pension. He is destitute. He’s been eating at soup kitchens and staying in a Protestant-operated, short-term homeless shelter. The Director of the shelter called us because Father James is already over their time-limit. But he has nowhere else to go. If we don’t help him, he will literally end up hopeless on the streets, in further shame and disgrace.
+ Father Harry, much loved in his years of ministry, has now given up on life. He’s tired of the struggle. “If it weren’t for your support, I’d just shut myself up in my apartment and starve to death.” Recently he cried to me on the phone, “You people are the only reason why I live now.”
Father Stan, Father John, Father James and Father Harry need your help right now. We just don’t have the financial resources available to help these priests. And there are even more priests presently seeking our assistance. They are no longer supported by their diocese, have nowhere else to turn and call Opus Bono begging for help. YOU are Opus Bono! Your charity, your compassion, your goodness makes our mission to help needy priests possible.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your mat, and walk.’ Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.” John 5:8-9
Recently I wrote to you about Father Theo. Soon afterwards, Father Brad wrote to us at Opus Bono. I’d like to share his comments with you and all our Partners In Mission.
“Dear Joe, I just received your monthly update letter and appeal for help. I was very moved by the plight of my brother priests who are often discarded because of their own errors or for circumstances beyond their control. My own story is quite different, though, and I hope you would consider including it in one of your letters to Opus Bono supporters.
“I am an active, HAPPY priest in good standing in my diocese. I’m the pastor of a cluster of three small parishes in the country, approximately ten miles apart. I’m a late vocation; I worked as a manager for a large corporation before becoming a priest and was ordained at the age of 33. Shortly after my ordination ten years ago, the bishop tapped me for this assignment. I started out as administrator of one parish. Then after two years, I was made pastor, and we clustered the two other parishes for which I’m now also responsible.
“As a new priest, I couldn’t wait to do all I was asked to do by my bishop. I even participated actively in the parish clustering decision-making process and implementation. I felt my management skills would be a great asset to our diocese. However, the burdens of being the only priest ministering to three separate parishes, and all the challenges of managing the small staffs of each one, began to weigh on me. It seemed like every day there was an urgent matter that needed my attention, and often very late into the night.
“In just a couple of months, what is commonly called “burn-out” began to set in. Even though I was able to keep my daily adoration and devotions, I was in a constant state of anxiety and worry. I didn’t’ really know who to talk to and I definitely did not want to alarm my bishop. Finally one night, when I felt anxious, worried and couldn’t sleep, I saw your letter sticking out of a stack of mail. In a moment of desperation, I picked up the phone and called you. I don’t know if you remember that call, but it changed my entire outlook on life.
“I was amazed at your patience and your sense of humor at that late hour, especially after waking you! Our forty-five minute conversation gave me new life, and I’m happy to report that I followed your advice. I will always remember one thing in particular you said to me that night:
“Father, true humility for you is to figure out what you need to do for yourself FIRST, so that others can benefit from you, especially those who require your love the most.”
“Now I sleep well most nights. I’m eating food that gives me energy. My exercise regimen helps to keep me focused, and I’m much more peaceful in the midst of trials. I think it’s important that all of us who pray and contribute to your fine organization understand that Opus Bono is not just saving the lives of priests who have fallen. You are actually enriching the lives of priests who depend on your uplifting support from your many years of experience in caring for us priests.
“In our zeal to save souls, it’s so easy for us priests to put our personal needs out of mind, which can ruin our best efforts in ministering to God’s people.
“Included with this letter is not only my promise of continued prayers, but I have decided to increase my financial support to a monthly contribution so that you can help many more priests like me who just need a little encouragement and direction when the whole world seems to be crashing down around us!”
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life." Luke 12:22
As our trusted Partner in Mission, it’s important you know how significantly you are helping priests in dire need. Please allow me to share with you a touching letter from Father Theo.
“Dear Joe, I got your birthday greetings in the mail today. Even at 77 years of age, my heart still breaks remembering that fateful day in 2005 when a sheriff showed up at the rectory to question me. I was in utter shock and disbelief! As you know, my diocese refused to represent me legally. When I called to ask what to do about answering the sheriff’s questions, the diocesan attorney told me, ‘You don’t need a lawyer if you didn’t do anything wrong.’
“And so the 10-years-long nightmare had begun. Although the case was dropped almost as soon as it began (The sheriff told me to go home and not to worry because ‘there’s nothing to it.’) I was removed from ministry with no further communication from the bishop – even to this day. All financial support from the diocese was cutoff. My canon lawyer tells me that nothing else can be done to help me legally in the Church.
“No one was interested in the proof of my innocence. I’ve been dumped like yesterday’s trash.
“A year ago I lost my job because someone surfing the Internet discovered bad press about me. Since then I’ve been unable to find employment. Also, at age 77, my health isn’t good enough for manual labor anymore, which I would have been happy to do.
“I eat at the local soup kitchen, but it’s impossible for me to make enough money doing odd jobs to pay the rent on my little apartment. In desperation, I approached the local Knights of Columbus Council. I was heartbroken all over again! They told me that some of their members felt uncomfortable about my situation, and so they wouldn’t help me. I then contacted Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, but they told me they don’t help single men like me. So, I called the bishop’s office and pleaded with his secretary for a meeting.
“After several weeks, the Vicar of Clergy agreed to meet with me. I tearfully poured my heart out to this young priest. I told him I had sought assistance from the K of C, St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities. I shared with him how I tried every possible avenue to find work and to beg for money to pay the rent. I asked if the diocese would help me.
“After a few tense moments of silence, he began writing on a small piece of paper and slid it across the table in front of me. ‘You have only one recourse, Theo. Call Opus Bono in Michigan. This is Joe Maher’s cell phone number. You can call from here if you like.’ And he quietly left the room.
“Joe, I sat there crying like a baby, trying desperately to regain my composure so I could call you. I didn’t know anything about you or Opus Bono, but it was either call you or end my miserable life. After we talked, I walked out of that room with my head held high for the first time in years. It was the first time since this nightmare ordeal began that someone called me ‘Father’ and asked for my blessing.
“Could you please let your benefactors know how much they are helping me and many other wounded Catholic priests? Because of the charity of Opus Bono’s wonderful donors, we are surviving and have purpose again in our spiritual lives. Every day I pray and offer my private Mass for the petitions you send me, and for all your generous benefactors who are supporting the ‘least’ in the priesthood.”
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me." Matthew 25:40
Father Jerome started the conversation very agitated and clearly in a lot of emotional pain. “I never fully realized how many enemies we priests have against us until now. Joe, one of the officials at the Vatican suggested I contact you.”
Ten years ago, Father Jerome was a zealous pastor of a very large parish, the “jewel” of the diocese as his bishop called it, and at fifty-two years old, his media evangelization ministry in the diocese was booming. People from all over the state would drive to hear the passionate Father Jerome preach at an event. Even Vatican prelates hailed Father Jerome as a “great light in the darkness of our times.”
You could say that Father Jerome was the favorite son of his archdiocese. Tall, dark and handsome, his deep voice and gentle demeanor seemed to penetrate to the very core of those souls he touched, renewing them in body and spirit.
Or so he thought, until that fateful day ten years ago when a couple of adult women from his parish felt uncomfortable with his preaching style and that he was being too friendly toward them and other women. That was the day Father Jerome fell from grace.
“There has never been a canonical trial, Joe. Never any civil proceedings. But even my canon lawyer couldn’t get my bishop to budge,” Father Jerome said with deep concern. “I was removed from ministry because the Review Board felt there was a possibility that I violated boundaries with these women, and how was I to disprove it? How in God’s name am I supposed to prove my innocence if there’s no proof of my guilt other than the false statements of these people?”
“Once it hit the media, Joe, the mob mentality took over. You know, if you get enough people to believe a lie, then it becomes the Gospel truth! There were hundreds of letters written to the bishop in my defense, testifying to my excellent conduct and good character. I swear to you before God, I never approached or touched anyone inappropriately – never!”
After listening intensely and offering some words of consolation, Father Jerome said his new bishop has made it clear he will not return him to active ministry. His bishop suggested he find a job. In addition, Father Jerome’s monthly check of $450 for sustenance from the archdiocese was unexpectedly discontinued.
The Vatican official advised Father Jerome to have his canon lawyer petition his bishop canonically for financial support, since it is the bishop’s obligation to provide some sustenance for his priests. However, in the meantime, Father would need financial support until he could find another job. He is currently working part-time, when he can even find work, given all the negative publicity about him.
“The Monsignor I communicated with at the Vatican said that the benefactors of Opus Bono are people who’d be willing to help me until there’s a resolution with the bishop, or at least until I can find more work.” Then he said humbly, “Can you Joe? I’ve lost everything. All those I thought were my friends. Even my family has abandoned me for the most part. I literally have nowhere else to turn!”
I reassured Father Jerome that we would indeed help him, and that there are many good, caring people, like you, who love him and will assist him in his darkest hours. “In the meantime, Father, pray for your bishop,” I said. “Be at peace. He is young and new and wants to do the right thing. Give him some time. Let’s pray he will at least reconsider his financial support to you, but until then, you can count on Opus Bono to help you.”
"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake." Matthew 5:10-12
Your prayers and your faithful financial support have helped to inspire a miracle of Easter miracles! It all started over four years ago when Pete Ferrara, our Opus Bono co-founder, received a phone call from a priest who was barely intelligible.
“I’m not sure, hum, I don’t know, hum, he told me to call. It’s in this letter right here.” Pete struggled to understand what was being said and asked, “Are you a priest?” “No, no, no, not anymore, no” was the response. Then the call ended.
“Okay, that’s not good,” Pete thought as he checked caller ID on our phone system. “Unknown Caller” it read. The conversation was over, but Pete felt a nagging sense of anxiety because out there somewhere was a priest in a very bad way. This haunted Pete for weeks.
It was nearly a month before this troubled priest, Father Charles, would call back. Pete got the call again, but this time Father Charles was sober and much more intelligible. His story was not only tragic, but it would require years of painstaking work on our part.
“I have a letter here from a pastor,” Father Charles said. “I went into his church for money to buy food.” Father Charles paused for moment, and then sheepishly admitted, “Okay, well, not really for food.” That pastor happened to be one of Opus Bono’s Partners in Mission, and he gave Father Charles an appeal letter with our phone number.
“Do you really want help, Father?” Pete asked compassionately. “Oh my God Pete, I’m dying, really. I can’t stop drinking Pete. It’s all I do, and I’m going to die.” Then he started crying. “Everyone’s given up on me ‘cause of how I am. I’m just not worth saving anymore!”
The truth is that no one actually gave up on him. He gave up on them, and after nearly twenty years of drunken stupors, people were burned out trying to save him. He barely ate, seeking help from area soup kitchens and local church food banks and begging for money wherever he could get it. He lived in a tiny apartment, as filthy as you might imagine. I’ll spare you the horrible details.
Pete spent several weeks, and many hours of phone calls and text messages, communicating with addiction professionals. What astounded Pete was discovering how many of those programs Father Charles had been in, and how many people remembered him. Finally, Pete found a place that would accept him for treatment only with the promise that Opus Bono would support these efforts.
“We never turn a priest away,” Pete assured the Center’s director, “and we never give up on them.” The director was hesitant. “Do you know what you’re getting into? This guy is going to require a lot of time and effort on your part. It could take years before you see progress, if any at all,” the director said sternly.
Nineteen years ago Father Charles literally walked away from the priesthood. His addiction to alcohol had grown so intense that he would do anything to get it, even if it meant sacrificing his priestly vocation.
But, thanks to your prayers and support, Father Charles has made a miraculous turn around. He’s been sober for over a year, and he’s even running seven miles a day on the treadmill! Father Charles now drinks water instead of alcohol – a gallon a day to be exact. He eats healthy, and more importantly, he is back to the spiritual discipline of praying the Divine Office daily.
However, the greatest miracle will occur when Father Charles celebrates Easter Mass for the first time in nearly twenty years! This is all thanks to your prayers and your continued support of Opus Bono.
The Samaritan bandaged his wounds. Then he brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Luke 10:34
Father John was right on time picking me up outside the terminal. What a pitiable sight, I thought, as he waited beside his 1980s rusted-yellow Chrysler K car, wildly flagging me down with one hand, as he struggled to keep his jacket about him in the frigid winds with his other hand. He literally looked like he had just crawled out of a cardboard box. I was in shock! His pants were frayed and stained. He wore shabby shoes with a gaping hole at the big toe of his right foot. His jacket was much too small for his robust stature.
“Get in Father!” I yelled, as I rushed against the billows of wind and snow to his car. “Okay” he said, “But I have to get in first and slide over. The driver’s side door doesn’t open.”
As he struggled between grunts and groans to maneuver his large frame across the seat, I realized that the car looked even worse inside than it did on the outside. After a couple of attempts to close my door, it finally slammed shut. Then with a big smile, Father turned to me, completely out of breath from the hurried episode, and gleamed, “Welcome to the East Coast, Mr. Maher!” He seemed almost jovial as he turned to look at his backseat filled with clothes and books and God knows what else. “And welcome to my home,” he said sadly. It quickly became a very melancholy moment for me.
“We only have a short drive from here,” Father John said. “But we’re going to have to get on the highway, and I’m afraid with all the ice, this could be a long trip.” The smell of must and mold emanated from the vents of the car’s heating system which was set on high. I grimaced at the thought of spending another minute more than I would have to inside this stinking death trap. “But, Heavenly Mother, he is your priest,” I prayed, “and our Partners in Mission are counting on us to help him.” So, after a few sputters and hiccups from the old worn-out engine, we were finally off. At least the exhaust fumes hid some of the putrid odor!
I can honestly tell you: that ten-mile trip was the longest one of my life. My fear now was that the place he was taking me to could be even worse. Pulling off the exit, it was clear that the neighborhood we were entering was a ghetto. But thanks be to God, a few blocks later and across one main street, things were improving. We pulled up in front of one of a long line of weather worn, but neatly kept row houses. Inside the front door, waiting for us, was the landlady. She was a kindly looking older woman who knew Father John from when he was still active in her parish, before his bipolar disorder and manic attacks forced him to resign the priesthood many years ago. In his advancing years, he could no longer serve and would probably have been dead if it weren’t for Opus Bono’s recent intervention.
After brief introductions were made, we looked over the small, clean apartment. I could tell that Father was very excited, but then the kindly lady’s demeanor suddenly soured. She turned toward Father with a stern look when she questioned, “How in the world are you going to pay for this if you don’t have a job as a priest anymore?” Father stumbled over his words in embarrassment. “Well now, Mabel, that’s why this nice man is here. His group helps priests like me.” I could immediately sense the landlady’s distrust. But what was even more disturbing was the painful humiliation Father John was experiencing.
I immediately chimed in, “Mabel, I understand your concern, and I want you to know that there are many of us who are eager to help Father John find the right place to live.” “So you’re going to be paying the rent then?” she asked. I assured her, “Father will have the money he needs for the rent. I’m just here because he asked me to help him find the right place to live.” In a flash, Mabel’s disposition went from interrogation to exhilaration as she enthusiastically guided me by the hand around the apartment, proudly showing off all of its benefits.
Because of your love for the Holy Catholic priesthood, this Lent Father John is no longer homeless. And by the grace of God, with your continued financial support, he will never be homeless again. In fact, he is offering all of his prayers, works, sufferings, and most importantly, his private, daily Holy Masses at his little altar in the living room of his apartment, for YOU.
“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish . . . to set free the oppressed, to share your bread with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter.” Isaiah 58:6a,7a
It was a pleasant evening in the dead of winter. Although the New Year’s celebrations were over, streamers and confetti still littered the tiny streets of this small seaport town in the southern United States.
The bishop and I had just finished our meal at his home when he invited me to share an evening stroll. The air was crisp for the South. As we walked along the quiet streets, the bishop became very animated and said, “Joe, you will see, in time all the bishops will support you. We believe in what you all are doing. Opus Bono is a long awaited gift to the Church!”
I thanked him profusely, especially on behalf of you and all of our Partners In Mission. But, as is typical of our difficult work, this picture perfect moment was suddenly interrupted by a disturbing phone call to the bishop from his Vicar of Clergy. One of his priests had been caught in a compromising situation on the Internet. My stomach turned.
We rushed back to his house, where the bishop apologetically excused himself and disappeared into his room. I went upstairs to my room and within minutes I got a phone call from a friend of the very same priest whom the bishop was now dealing with. As the bishop was discussing matters downstairs, I was on the phone with his troubled priest-son upstairs. It would prove to be a long night for both of us.
I didn’t see the bishop until the following morning at Mass in his home chapel. After Mass, I apologized for not being able to have breakfast with him since I “got a call last night to see a priest” before returning to Detroit. The bishop and I both knew it was his priest I was going to see, and that neither one of us was in a position to speak about it.
I can still remember how unnerving the whole situation had become in just a few short hours. This bishop is truly a wonderful man and unfortunately, his priest was in the wrong and about to be in for a world of hurt. And the diocese was about to draw hell-fire from an unquenchable media all too willing to camp out on their doorstep. Unbelievably, they would paint the bishop into a co-conspirator for another man’s actions of which he had no prior knowledge.
I could see how utterly devastated the bishop was about his priest-son. It was as if he had aged ten years overnight. My one consolation through it all was that I was standing in the presence of a successor to the Apostles, and if the Holy Spirit had decided that this should happen when we were together, then God had His plan for all of us, especially for the bishop and his priest-son.
When it was time for me to leave, the bishop’s eyes seemed to penetrate deep into my soul. “Don’t be afraid,” he said with steadfast conviction. “There are things that only you can do at Opus Bono. Things that we bishops cannot do, but you can – you can!” He shook my hand with a firmness and intensity that struck me to the very core. “Do whatever you can to help him.” “I will your Excellency, I will,” I said.
Unfortunately, the toll on the bishop, the priest and the diocese was very damaging. Ruthless lawyers with unconscionable law suits, unrelenting media attention and enormous pressure from the diocesan insurance provider, coupled with the priest’s own inappropriate behavior on the Internet, was too much for the bishop to permit this priest to continue in public ministry.
However, thanks to you, our Partner In Mission, we were able to assist the bishop by getting this priest the help he so desperately needed. It hasn’t been easy, but Opus Bono’s care for priests struggling to remain faithful to their Divine calling is life-long, thanks to your continued support.
Finally, after all the media hoopla and legal battles were over, the bishop called to thank me again for our love and support for him and his priest. “Remember Joe, Opus Bono IS a long awaited gift to the Church,” he said.
In 2005, at the age of 42, Father Joseph was ordained as a late vocation for his diocese. One year later, his best friend from the seminary, Father Dan, was appointed pastor of the neighboring parish. They were both grateful to be serving God’s people nearby to each other.
Later that same year an adult woman accused Father Dan of boundary violations, and the bishop removed him from his parish. Father Joseph was devastated, but did everything he could to help his best friend, Father Dan.
Shortly thereafter, the diocese contacted Father Dan informing him that a settlement had been reached with his accuser, even though the bishop said he believed Father Dan’s consistent profession that he was innocent of any violations. In shock, Father Joseph called the diocese. The Vicar for Clergy assured him that they intended to restore Father Dan to ministry soon.
However, as part of the conditions of the settlement, the following day the diocese issued a press release stating that an accusation had been made against Father Dan and a monetary settlement had been reached. There was no mention that it was an adult woman who accused him. Father Joseph was now livid and felt that Father Dan had been betrayed. He called Father Dan, and the two met at a local restaurant. There, the emotionally spent and broken Father Dan revealed even more bad news to his best friend. The bishop told Father Dan that because of all the “bad press” about him, he could not return Father Dan to active ministry. He recommended that Father Dan find a job and start a new life.
Father Joseph couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I guess it’s all over now,” Father Dan wept, as he left the restaurant. It seemed like hours that Father Joseph sat there alone at the table. He pondered and he prayed as best he could, but shock and bitterness welled-up inside him and in his anger he lashed out: “Are we just a number Lord, that we can be so easily discarded by our own?” As a result of his dear friend’s horrifying experience and betrayal, Father Joseph lost his desire to continue his ministerial priesthood.
By 2010, Father Joseph had moved across country, to a large metropolitan area. He was working as a social worker and had left the Catholic Faith altogether. Even in this new life, he could never fully overcome the resentment that still filled his heart.
Divine Providence came to his aid one morning on his walk to work when Father Joseph literally bumped into the pastor of the local Catholic parish. As the two exchanged pleasantries from the accidental bodily collision, something moved deep inside Father Joseph toward the kindly older priest. He broke down and began to cry, right there on the street, and fell into the arms of the pastor. This compassionate priest immediately took him to his rectory.
Father Joseph poured out his heart to the pastor. He listened intently as Father Joseph related his terribly sad story. At the end of the meeting, the older priest encouraged Father Joseph not to lose hope. He recognized that Father Joseph still had a strong vocation, and being an Opus Bono Partner in Mission for many years, he advised him to call us right away.
Thanks to that loving pastor’s concern for his brother-priest, a man who was a total stranger to him before their providential meeting on the street, Father Joseph contacted us that same day. Over the years since then, we have been hard at work consoling, advising and connecting him with other priests for spiritual direction, counseling and canonical advice. Recently we received the following letter from Father Joseph:
“Dear Joe, after eight long years, and hundreds of phone calls to you, I’m writing to tell you that I am returning to priestly ministry on December 21st, just in time for Christmas. This is something I never thought possible! I want you to know that all of your prayers, advice, sacrifices and good work do help. Time and time again, I received comfort and hope knowing that, almost unbelievably, there are people willing to help a priest who’s down and out. I have such a deep sense of gratitude for the importance of your vital mission. By the way, the archbishop here is a big fan of your work for the good of the priesthood and he has welcomed me in ways I never imagined!”
Because of all your prayers and support for Opus Bono, this Christmas as the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ the High Priest will be realized again in the hearts of the faithful, Father Joseph will be finally, impossibly, at the Altar for Midnight Mass, remembering all of us in what is sure to be one of the most emotionally uplifting moments of his priestly life!
Father Dan slowly stumbled his way down Main Street back to his little apartment above the old shoe repair shop, long ago closed.
Passing the stately red brick fire building across from the shoe shop, a landmark for his daily journey to the local liquor store and back, the volunteers sitting out front jeered: “Father, you going to be alright?”
It wasn’t that they were purposely trying to be disrespectful. Actually, Father was much loved by everyone in town, but they had already broken into his apartment twice in the past two months to revive him from yet another drunken stupor.
After making it safely across the boulevard, with a little help from two of the volunteers who graciously stopped traffic for him, Father Dan reached inside his brown bag for the bottle of rum and the liter bottle of Coke. The money he had gathered by returning cans and some loose change he had discovered in an old shoebox from downstairs.
His apartment was filthy and unkempt. In his bathroom next to the front door, a yellow stained sink with its constant drip, echoed throughout the silent apartment.
One drop of water after the next, like a clock slowly counting down the long desperate minutes of his misery gave him pause for a moment of reflection. A tiny statue of Saint Therese, the Little Flower, perched on the bathroom sink was the only remnant of the deeply spiritual life he had left behind. For a moment he gazed upon her, until his eyes flooded with tears. Abruptly turned toward the kitchen, leaving her behind.
Now greatly agitated, Father Dan angrily grabbed a dirty glass off the kitchen counter and shuffled his way into the living room.
As if in a trance, he slowly began the process of unscrewing the cap off the bottle of rum. His hands shaking, his brow drenched in sweat, he was unable to stop the compulsion driving him.
“Just one more!” He whispered in desperation. “One more Therese, then I promise…”
Suddenly he was roused from his position by the sound of a loud knock at the door. Frantically he looked around to the clock on the kitchen wall, “No! It can’t be?” He thought in a panic.
“Just a minute Pete, I’ll be right there!” He yelled.
Father had misjudged the time, and throwing the bottle of rum under the chair, he rushed to open the door.
And so it began. Because of you, Father Dan’s life was changed forever that day when Pete and I rescued him from what would be his last senseless episode. It has now been several years since that fateful day and his demeanor has completely changed. Father Dan is happy, almost care free, he’s lost weight, wears clean clothes and has a new apartment.
He never returned to his old home, nor has he ever returned to his old ways. His bishop has begun the process of reintegrating Father Dan into his rightful place in the clergy community. Father has even started offering Masses in public as a weekend supply priest. All of this is because of your prayers and your generous support!
Recently, Pete received a letter from the good Father Dan:
“Because of Opus Bono, I have a completely new perspective on life – being well physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.”
Lives have literally been saved because you and Opus Bono were there at the precise moment needed to answer a desperate phone call, to visit a prison cell or a hospital room.
Perhaps in honor of St. Therese the Little Flower, whose special charism was always to pray for priests, you would consider a generous gift of $100 or more to assist the priests who daily turn to Opus Bono in need.
It was his darkest hour. The walls of his cell closed in about him. The flickering light from a tiny candle weakly cast his shadow ahead of him.
Slumped over his hard cot, his body was now in complete agony. His legs had grown weak, his knees ached from the hours spent pleading, kneeling, suffering. With every breath now came low groans and sobs.
It had been years since Father had been forced into this prison in his monastic home. And yet it was here, under stringent confinement, that this priest-sinner’s greatest mission was about to unfold.
One day the world would hail him as saint. One day the world would acknowledge that the allegations against him were horrible lies. One day few would believe his own brother clergy and superiors meted out such unjust punishments and sanctions.
And yet, on this day, in that lonely cold stark cell, as he gazed upon the small wooden cross hanging on the dark wall, he cried out, “Why? Lord, Why!”
Suddenly the room began to glow, and he saw Jesus looking down from the cross on His suffering priest-son and he heard Him say:
“Beneath the Cross, one learns to love. And I do not grant this to everyone, but only to those souls who are dearest to me.”
Padre Pio of Petrilicina is today one of the most beloved priest saints. Will you join us in praying for the intercession of Saint Padre Pio for his brother priests who suffer in our own day very much as he suffered for decades?
Like Saint Padre Pio, our priests turn to the Cross for consolation, healing, mercy and salvation. It is Jesus, from the Cross, who looks down upon us to fulfill His desire to care for His suffering, sinner, priest-sons. It is Jesus Himself who has called them. Let them not be abandoned and discarded, left alone, imprisoned in whatever situation they now find themselves.
You are the hands and the heart of Jesus when you reach out to help priests through you prayers and generous support of Opus Bono Sacerdotii.
As you know, since our founding in 2002, Opus Bono Sacredotii has served the Church for the good of the Holy Priesthood. Lives have literally been saved because you and Opus Bono were there to answer a desperate phone call, to visit a prison cell or a hospital room.
You have always been here alongside us to be Jesus’ hands and heart for his priest-sons. This is holy work entrusted to us. Please be generous in your giving and in your prayer for priests.
Thank you for ministering with Opus Bono in our mission to care for priests and to assist them in their desire to grow in holiness after the inspiring witness of their brother-priest, Saint Padre Pio.
Pete and I sat anxiously waiting on the curb outside a Costco warehouse. It was NOT our first choice for a meeting place, given the extreme temperature of the day. The blistering hot concrete, with little shade from the sun, made our rendezvous that much more unpleasant. But this was the location of choice for Father Mark, behind Costco, so as not to be noticed by anyone, especially the general public entering the store.
When he arrived, there was no time for pleasantries, not even a hand shake. He was abrupt, shaking nervously, and in obvious pain. “You tell me the truth, is my priesthood over?” he demanded (as if we had some immediate power to determine his fate). “Because if it is, then my life might as well be over, too!” Being as gentle as I could, I began to speak, but was cut off sharply by Father Mark. “Look at me!” “I’m 58 years-old! All I know is how to be a priest. Who is going to hire me at my age? I have no other job skills!”
He looked horrible, and his unkept appearance matched his troubled behavior. The whole ugly matter of an accusation against him had taken its toll. He cried out again: “Well, why are you here?” We were taken aback, and for a brief moment I felt like defending us by reminding him that it was HE who called US. I thought better of it, however, and said nothing.
“How are you going to fix this and get me back into ministry?” he desperately pleaded.
Without hesitation, Pete interjected assertively: “I’m sorry Father, but I doubt you will be able to continue in ministry anytime soon or maybe ever again.” Slowly he slumped down on the curb next to Pete and with quiet resignation he murmured, “Thank you Pete, thank you. I know this is true, but no one else would tell me.”
On this day we were privileged to witness the gentle touch of the Blessed Virgin Mary, soothing the soul of Her Alter Christus, Father Mark. Although the pain of loss and the depressing feeling of abandonment would never fully go away, somehow Pete’s simple words and straightforward approach lessened its effects. Father Mark would never be allowed to return to ministry. He now lives alone as a hermit. He credits Opus Bono for his peaceful existence, serving God in the simple hidden daily duties of life. Thanks to our Partners in Mission, we were able to provide a small trailer for his “hermitage” in the countryside.
I ask you to please consider making a special donation in honor of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of $100 or more so we can continue to assist many more priests like Father Mark who so urgently depend on our care.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.
The familiar prayer above is a call to the best in each one of us to be the Heart of Jesus in the world today. How are you and I living out that call?
“Father it’s going to be fine, really.” I assured him. “No! It is not going to be F I N E – really!” He exploded in a panic. “Joe, this is my fourth job in two years. I can’t keep going on like this. How am I supposed to support myself? When will it ever end?” After a moment of quiet pondering, I empathized. “I understand how you’re feeling, Father.” With exhausted resignation, he began to weep.
“I’m not this strong, Joe, I’m not. What does God want from me? I’m better off dead. Why won’t He just take me?”
You see, Father Gilbert is one of those outcast priests. Like the many who contact us for assistance, Father was removed from ministry nearly ten years ago for an accusation dating back over thirty years. He is forbidden from offering any public ministry, wearing clerical garb or presenting himself as a Catholic priest. The accusation against him was made public in the media. Eventually, every place he had been employed found out who he was and fired him. Today he was fired again, thus the hysterical phone call to me.
“In the meantime, Father, let’s figure out what you need financially to survive. Then we can determine the next step to see what we can do to help you find meaningful employment,” I said. “I can’t depend on Opus Bono forever, Joe. I need to do something,” he responded. “Well Father, there are many of us here who love you and care about you and your future. We’ll find something, you’ll see. God will provide.” A quiet “Okay” was all he could muster the strength to reply.
After a few months of searching, God miraculously directed us to one of our Partners in Mission who needed proofreading and writing done for his service company. Father Gilbert fit the bill perfectly. He was elated! He now works full time from his efficiency apartment. He offers his private Holy Masses and prayers in thanksgiving for all of us, and in his words, “for going above and beyond the call of duty” in caring for him.
Thank you for being the Heart of Jesus today for thousands of Catholic priests like Father Gilbert. Please consider a donation of $100 or more to help more priests who urgently depend on our care during this month of June devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. With you, I pray, Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine!
It was odd. The atmosphere was very quiet, and yet, so disquieting. It was sterile for sure, and there was, what one would call, a “deafening silence” in the room. This tonal void was broken only by the constant tempo of the metronome of life. A digital wonder of modern science developed to assure all that life had not yet left us. “Beep, beep, beep…” Oh, how Pete and I depended on that constant sound, hoping with an almost frantic nervousness, that this annoying rhythm would not end soon.
Pete would later comment how the gurgling sound of Father Dean’s breathing made it almost impossible to understand what he was saying.
We had visited him only months before. He was so full of life. Jokes were told. Introductions to other priests and friends were provided. Suddenly, a more serious discussion began. “I’m dying,” he said emphatically to us, “and it won’t be long.” There was that all too familiar awkward pause of reflection. Then, with complete peace and a kind of inner joy, he exclaimed, “I’m ready. I believe in the Resurrection!”
I remembered that conversation well, as Pete and I now sat here keeping our solemn silent vigil at the death bed of our beloved Alter Christus. I also remember his final words to us that day:
“I only ask one thing from you and all of those who are part of your ministry. Please continue your work for us priests!”
It wasn’t long after Pete and I left that he was gone. Father Dean had prepared well, and was amazingly peaceful and thankful to be “finally on his way,” as he put it. It is truly a grace from God that we humans can fall so much in love with another person we hardly knew just months earlier. We had spent so much time helping him over these past few months that it was hard to imagine not having him in our lives.
Several weeks after his passing, we received a note from an attorney who was settling Father Dean’s modest estate. He had left us a small sum of money from his life insurance. The note read, “so that we could continue the work for the good of the priesthood”.
We want to thank you for making our mission to care for thousands of Catholic priests like Father Dean possible again and again. I ask you to please consider making a special donation as part of your Easter thanksgiving of $100 or more so that we can continue to assist many more priests like Father Dean who so urgently depend on our care during this Holy Easter season.
Ash Wednesday 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.