When 10 men were ordained to the priesthood last year, the Rev. Jerome Spexarth, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church, learned a second priest would join him on staff.
Before, he had been the only priest at the parish of more than 1,000 families.
The addition of the Rev. Jacob Carlin meant the two priests could divide responsibilities, with Carlin taking weddings or funerals that Spexarth couldn’t cover himself. It meant they didn’t have to look elsewhere for someone to celebrate Mass when one went on a vacation. Having two priests also meant different gifts and strengths, Spexarth said.
“It’s extra camaraderie, working as a team to get together and assess certain situations and try to come up with a positive, spirit-filled response rather than just one person himself mulling over a task or a challenge,” Spexarth said. “It’s been a great aspect of teamwork. Jesus does send out the Apostles two by two.”
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On Saturday, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita ordained another 10 men to the priesthood. Those men, combined with those ordained last year, represent a roughly 20 percent increase in the number of active priests in the diocese.
That number stands out because the number of priests has been declining elsewhere in the United States and globally.
The number of priests in Wichita brings a sense of security to the diocese and allows it to be flexible in assignments, said the Rev. Chad Arnold, director of the Office of Vocations.
It means a chance to offer more ministries, Arnold said, and allows priests to spend more time with their parishioners.
Most parishes in the diocese have one priest. In a few instances, a priest covers multiple parishes. Now, about eight to 10 parishes have two priests and a handful even have three, Arnold said last week. Those numbers changed Saturday when Bishop Carl Kemme gave the newly ordained 10 their new assignments.
In addition to assigning priests to parishes, the diocese is also able to staff its high schools and colleges with chaplains, Arnold said. Other priests are able to pursue advanced degrees, while several work to train future priests. Others, like Arnold, hold clerical roles.
“In a spiritual sense, hopefully it means we can bring the hands and heart of Christ into more people’s lives and better facilitate that encounter and response to the love of God,” Arnold said.
Adding a second priest to a parish does come with an additional funding challenge. According to a December issue of The Catholic Advance, the diocesan newspaper, a parochial vicar (the second priest) creates a need for about $40,400 in salary and health benefits.
Because of this, the diocese created the Parochial Vicar Assistance Appeal to help four parishes, including St. Patrick, pay part of that salary for three years.
Arnold said in an immediate, practical sense, an increase in priests means the diocese will have to do training to help them learn the ropes.
It also means something more, he said: that “we can look to the future with a certain boldness and hope that we can just continue to fulfill the mission of Christ.”
As for why the diocese has so many priests per capita in a time when the number of priests is declining worldwide, Arnold pointed to several things: the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, a strong Catholic school system, good parish pastors and the leadership of the bishops.
“There’s so much gratitude in my prayer and my heart for the men saying yes, the families assisting their sons in this endeavor, of God calling them and the people of the diocese supporting these vocations,” Arnold said. “There’s just so many hands at work and so many hearts … trusting God that allow us to be at this point.”