‘Set apart, not above’: The call to eternal priesthood

By Rose Brennan

BRIDGEPORT—Priests may come and go, but throughout the generations, the institution of the priesthood endures. And a new podcast from the Diocese of Bridgeport Office of Vocations hopes to provide an insight into the lives and livelihoods of those called to this sacred vocation.

The podcast, “A Priest Forever,” is hosted by vocations director Father Chris Ford. To him, providing a new medium to foster religious vocations—and potentially dispel some myths about them—is important to appeal to a new generation of potential priests.

“One of the realities of the young adult world is that their parish is less their home,” Father Ford said. “The young adult groups have become really more their community. And so part of the thought with the podcast was, this is a way to maybe reach people more directly, as opposed to going through the intermediaries of the parishes or diocesan ministries—which (are) still an essential part of what we’re doing. But we need to be more direct.”

Father Ford said while the podcast’s name will remain the same, the goal is to divide the biweekly episodes into different “seasons” so it can address a variety of different topics pertaining to vocations and the priesthood. The theme of the first season of “A Priest Forever” is “Shepherds after my own heart,” wherein Father Ford will interview priests serving throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport about their lives and their stories of how they heard and followed the call to the priesthood.

The very first guest on “A Priest Forever” was Father Michael Dunn, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Danbury—where Father Ford spent his transitional diaconate and the first few years of his priesthood. While Father Dunn might not have always felt a calling to the priesthood, he did feel a calling him to a larger purpose.

“I always wanted to do something that I felt was worthwhile, and try to make a difference in the lives of others,” he said.

Originally, that calling led Father Dunn to work in counseling. But it was on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje when he started feeling the rumblings of a vocation to the priesthood. And while he might not have seen a Marian apparition while there, Father Ford said receiving clarity on his calling was a miracle all on its own.

“You went over there thinking, ‘Maybe I’m going to see something remarkable, I’m going to see Mary appear’ or something like that,” Father Ford said of Father Dunn’s pilgrimage to Medjugorje. “And maybe that didn’t happen, but it sounds like that miracle, that something remarkable, happened in you, rather than necessarily on the mountaintop.”

Father Dunn initially had doubts on whether God was truly calling him to be a priest—a phenomenon Father Ford said is common when discerning a vocation. But he also said it’s ultimately up to God, who “calls whomever he wants.”

Father Dunn observed this as well with his vocation to the priesthood, noting a multifaceted laity calls for a multifaceted clergy team to support them.

“There’s an advantage to call all different kinds of men,” Father Dunn said. “Just as there are all different kinds of saints in the Church, and all kinds of different baseball players with different strengths or different things they do, God calls all different kinds (of people) to utilize whatever God-given strengths or talents that they have.”

But even as a priest, Father Dunn said he’s still a person with his own interests—albeit with a unique calling.

“I still like sports and ball games,” he said. “I go out to eat and do all the fun stuff I used to do. But first and foremost, I serve God and his Church.”

Father Ford is hopeful “A Priest Forever” will not only reach men who are discerning a potential vocation to the priesthood, but might also give the laity a better idea of the people who live a life of service to them.  The humanity of the men in the Catholic priesthood is something very important Father Ford hopes to emphasize, dispelling the myth that priests are perfect. Rather, they are “set apart, not above.”

“We are a witness in a very powerful and particular way to God’s presence in the world, but that doesn’t make us better,” Father Ford said. “We still have to strive for holiness, the same as everyone else. We still have to go to confession, the same as everyone else. We still have to open our hearts constantly to conversion, to renewal, to grace, to the merciful presence of God, and respond generously, just like we encourage our people to do.”

Father Ford is finalizing the list of guest priests for the first season of “A Priest Forever.” He is particularly enthusiastic about a potential “special episode” later this year, which would invite the new slot of six transitional deacons set to be ordained to the priesthood in May. The special would spotlight the newly ordained priests and ask about their ordination day and the final preparations they took in the days leading up to it.

That special episode would include interviewing the new slot of six transitional deacons set to be ordained to the priesthood in May, and would spotlight their ordination day, in addition to their individual stories and calls to the priesthood.

Ultimately, Father Ford is hopeful the podcast will tie into Bishop Frank J. Caggiano’s vision of “The One,” and will take the call to evangelize to the next level, creating what he calls a “culture of vocations.”

“Our hope is that all the faithful can develop a new appreciation and a deeper love of the priesthood and their priests,” he said. “It’s not just for guys who are discerning. It’s for everyone, because we all need our priests.”

The first two episodes of “A Priest Forever” are now available on all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher and Google Podcasts. A video version of the podcast is also available on the vocations office YouTube channel, “Bridgeport Priest.”