For a Catholic priest, starting over in a new parish is usually a challenge. You are replacing someone who has been a big part of parish life and you may bring changes that are seen, initially anyway, as unwelcome. For Fr. Bernard Healey, new pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, the challenge has been all the greater because of the untimely and .
He seems up to that challenge.
At age 47, Healey is a generation younger than Lolio and in the five weeks he’s been in East Greenwich, he’s already established a website for the church and loosened the restriction that boy and girl altar servers must be segregated.
But Healey makes clear his respect for Lolio, whom he said was a friend as well as a colleague.
“A leader always leaves a mark,” Healey said. “The bigger challenge was the traumatic nature of this transition.”
Providence-born Healey came to OLM from St. Ambrose Church in Albion (part of Lincoln), where he served as pastor for nine years. In addition to his pastoral duties, Healey is theological consultant and editorial writer for Rhode Island Catholic, the weekly diocesan newspaper. And since 2000 he has served as director of the Office of Governmental Liaison and chief lobbyist to the Rhode Island General Assembly for the Diocese of Providence. He also currently serves as the director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference. (To read Healey’s biography, click here.)
“Right now my challenge is to get settled and get to know people,” said Healey. To that end, the fact he's from a large family has been helping. Healey is the youngest of nine children and it turns out there are lots of OLM parishioners who know one or another of his siblings.
The role of the parish priest, said Healey, “is to first and foremost help Catholics practice their faith.”
He recognizes change can be hard, but necessary. “The worst thing for any pastor to hear is, ‘But we’ve always done it that way.’ I say, ‘Give me a good reason.’”
But he said the focus has to be “how can we strengthen people’s faith life in an incredibly anti-religious, anti-faith world.”
Our Lady of Mercy is a big parish but Healey said he knows there is space in the pews for more people – converts and the disaffected both. He wants people to encourage their friends and neighbors to come to church.
“Catholics have to learn to be more comfortable with evangelism,” he said.
To that end, Healey said he wants people to know OLM is “alive, vibrant, and welcoming.”
Healey will be installed as the 17th pastor of Our Lady of Mercy at a special Mass Sunday, Sept. 17 at OLM, presided by His Excellency The Most Reverend Robert C. Evans Auxiliary Bishop of Providence.
Also new to the parish is Fr. Przemyslaw “Shemek” Lepak. He comes to OLM from St. Brendan in Riverside and is originally from Poland. To read about Fr. Shemek, click here.