LL TOO CLOSE to World Day for Consecrated Life (Feb. 2nd), the Archdiocese of Boston suffered great loss in the passing of two faithful and active pastors: Msgr. Richard Mehm, Pastor of Immaculate Conception in Malden, Massachusetts and Fr. John W. Gentleman, pastor of both Sacred Heart Church, Manchester by the Sea and John the Baptist Church in Essex, Massachusetts. The sadness is made more difficult by their relatively young ages. Rev. Mehm was 66. Rev. Gentleman was 55.
Msgr. Mehm was an avid supporter of sacred music. His Director of Music and Organist, Rosalind Mohnsen, is an extraordinarily accomplished organist and recording artist. But she also had Msgr. Mehm’s support in bringing truly reverent sacred music to this suburban parish; they have been singing the propers for years. Furthermore, I was deeply honored when Msgr. Mehm backed a commission for an organ work for Rosalind Mohnsen’s twenty-fifth anniversary at Immaculate Conception Parish. Based on the Introit for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Gaudens Gaubedo was most fitting for his parish. This was an unusually supportive pastor and a great loss.
While I never met Fr. Gentleman, I have witnessed the outpouring of grief from fellow priests upon his passing. We shall keep them in our prayers for the repose of their souls as well as for thanksgiving for their humble service to God and his people.
HEIR PASSINGS UNDERSCORE the frailty of human life. One would have expected both to serve the Archdiocese for many more years. We not only needed them, but depended upon them. The Archdiocese of Boston, like many dioceses around the United States, faces a large number of priests retiring and not enough to take their place. While the seminary in Boston has rebounded dramatically in the last decade, there remains a relatively smaller population of diocesan priests to serve the people.
As such, a similar reality has faced much of the country: Priests and pastors are responsible for multiple parishes. (Even parochial vicars sometimes split time between parishes.) This requires a greater reliance upon lay leadership, recognized with authority or not. There is nothing new here. But it is becoming the new normal everywhere.
HIS WEEKEND, PARISHES ARE CELEBRATING the World Day for Consecrated Life. With the best and most effective priests being stretched thinner and thinner, musicians and priests must be mutually supportive. Both are immersed in the work of the liturgy, the celebration of which Geofreddo Boselli calls, the “most important act of evangelization.” (pg. 209, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy) Furthermore, lay leaders need their volunteers. (I am nothing without mine.) We are all responsible for the spiritual growth and well being of our parishes.
For music directors, the pastoral nature of one’s job demands that one be a servant leader. This usually entails leadership without authority, as ultimately a pastor will always have canonical authority in a parish.
But sometimes leadership without authority is the most effective kind. It is teaching by example. It is serving by giving those in our charge the tools and therefore the ability to succeed. It is leadership by keeping the spiritual well being of an entire parish in mind, meeting them where they are at and then challenging them to move forward. (This is far different from making everyone happy and also far more important.)
Leadership without authority keeps one humble and keeps others’ best interests in one’s heart. During difficult times in the Church, let us pray for vocations and pray for our priests who need additional strength to carry out God’s work. Furthermore, pray for the lay leaders of the Church who will be carrying more and more weight in serving the Church. Pray always, and be grateful for the opportunity to serve God and his people.