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Last Word - July 2013

A Happy 40 Years

In July this year, I will celebrate 40 years of priesthood. I was ordained on July 14, 1973, at my parents’ parish church, St. Joseph in Lewiston. But it is not my intention to make this a retrospective on those 40 years. Rather I would like to talk about priests in general, including myself, in light of a workshop that the priests of our diocese attended in May of this year. Though I probably should not give away the ending, what we learned there is something we already unconsciously knew from our own lives: as priests we are among the happiest people in America!

The workshop was presented by Father Stephen Rossetti. Fr. Rossetti has a Ph.D. in psychology and has spent most of his ministry promoting the spiritual and psychological health of priests. He has published several books, among them: The Joy of Priesthood and a landmark study, Why Priests are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priest. In the workshop, he addressed the matter of priestly happiness. What I report here is a very small part of what he gave us in his presentation.

We all know that there is a considerable shortage of priests stretching the men thinner and thinner and that there has been a lot of negative press around both the Church and priests in the past decade. Yet, in two studies conducted by Fr. Rosetti priests report a very high degree of happiness. In 2004, 90% of priests either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Overall, I am happy as a priest.” In 2009, that number had risen to 92.4%. In the same two surveys, 80% of priests either agreed or strongly agreed that their morale was good in 2004 and that number went up to 88.9% by 2009: a significant increase in what were already high levels of reported morale.

Now you might wonder if these findings were a fluke, but similar studies have found exactly the same thing. In a L.A. Times 2002 study, 91% of priests said they were satisfied with the way their lives were going these days. And in a 2001 National Federation of Priests Councils’ survey, 94% reported being happy or very happy.

But, you ask: how does that compare with other Americans? Well, in a NORC survey in 2006 of 27,000 Americans, they determined that clergy have the highest level of job satisfaction of any job holders in the country. And surveys show that 50% of Americans are unhappy with their jobs.

So with 40 years now under my belt, I am here to say that I am as happy as I think I can be this side of paradise and my brother priests are generally saying the same thing.

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal