‘Family priests covenant’ encourages priests to live, work and pray together

Left to right, Fr. Thomas Belczak, Fr. Gary Michalik, Fr. Jim McNulty and Fr. Denis Theroux, family-pastors for Northwest Wayne Family 2, meet June 29 at the St. Edith Parish rectory in Livonia to discuss their “family priests covenant,” which will help them work together for the good of their new parish family, which includes St. Edith, St. Colette in Livonia, Our Lady of Victory in Northville and St. Kenneth in Plymouth. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Pastors, other clergy see chance to build on what’s working, strengthen fraternal bonds as new Families of Parishes begin to take shape

PORT HURON — For Fr. Bradley Forintos, the Archdiocese of Detroit’s transition to families of parishes will take some getting used to.

But it’s not all foreign to him.

The pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron since 2019, Fr. Forintos is accustomed to caring for multiple sites. His parish of approximately 1,000 families is split between St. Joseph Church in downtown Port Huron and St. Stephen Church on the city’s west side.

“It’s not a particularly new experience for me in terms of having more parishes,” Fr. Forintos, 65, told Detroit Catholic. “I think there’s an awareness of how priests are rather stretched these days.”

Beginning July 1, Fr. Forintos is technically responsible for even more sites, after Holy Trinity became part of Blue Water Family 3 — a family of parishes that also includes St. Christopher in Marysville, St. Edward on the Lake in Lakeport and St. Mary in Port Huron.

His new assignment as “family-pastor” for the group includes the pastoral care of all four parishes, a responsibility he shares with three other priests and two deacons. Though he’ll continue to minister at Holy Trinity most of the time, the new arrangement has some benefits.

Fr. Bradley Forintos, family-pastor for Blue Water Family 3, celebrates Mass on Palm Sunday at Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron. Though Fr. Forintos will primarily serve at Holy Trinity, where he’s been pastor since 2019, he also will share responsibility for the family’s other three parishes, St. Edward on the Lake in Lakeport, St. Christopher in Marysville and St. Mary in Port Huron, with three other priests and two deacons. (Paul Duda | Detroit Catholic)

For one thing, when Fr. Forintos goes on vacation or needs to step away on a Sunday morning, he knows he’ll have backup for Masses at Holy Trinity.

It will also be nice to brainstorm and work with his brother priests for area-wide events and services, he said.

“I think the value will be in terms of us being more mindful, doing more to support one another, backing up and covering for one another,” Fr. Forintos said. “It’s going to be a change in thinking that my responsibility isn’t just to this one location, but that my priesthood is to serve the entire Church.”

As 26 families of parishes begin their journeys together this month, priests assigned to each family are learning how to work together to navigate the changes. Part of that is the introduction of a “family priests covenant” for each family, a document that details how priests will live, serve and pray together for the good of the whole community.

The covenant is “meant to assist priests as we enter this uncharted territory,” said Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny, director of priestly mission for the Archdiocese of Detroit, who helped develop guidelines for parishes to use in crafting the agreements.

The arrangement will cover both interpersonal communion and ministerial relationships among priests in the family, but importantly, each priest in the family will have input as to what that covenant looks like, Msgr. Halfpenny said. When a new priest joins the family, the covenant will be revisited. 

Fr. Jim McNulty holds a copy of a guidebook to help priests in Northwest Wayne Family 2 develop their “family priests covenant,” an agreement as to how priests in each family of parishes will live, eat and pray together while serving the needs of each family parish. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

The document will spell out things such as living arrangements — priests may live together in one rectory, but aren’t required to — times for praying and eating together, as well as how priests will use their gifts and talents to benefit the entire family.

For instance, Msgr. Halfpenny said, one priest might have a particular gift for working with married couples, while another has a charism for school ministry or Christian service.

“Under the parochial section (of the document), it precisely says, let’s have a conversation about what we see as our gifts,” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “One might have a real passion for doing marriage preparation work or working with those who want to join the Church through RCIA. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re the only priest doing those things for the family, but it can be helpful to know if a priest has a particular interest.”

The idea is to help priests use their charisms in a more holistic way, encouraging collaboration, communication and freeing up schedules for a more focused pastoral ministry.

Fr. Gary Michalik said the priests of Northwest Wayne Family 2, a family of parishes consisting of Our Lady of Victory in Northville, St. Colette in Livonia, St. Edith in Livonia and St. Kenneth in Plymouth, are taking time to formulate their covenant as a group.

“We’re taking each section at a time, rather than sitting down to write the whole thing at once,” said Fr. Michalik, 68, who serves as moderator for the family of parishes and primarily serves at St. Colette.

Left to right, Fr. Gary Michalik, Fr. Thomas Belczak, Fr. Denis Theroux and Fr. Jim McNulty discuss their “family priests covenant” June 29 at the St. Edith Parish rectory in Livonia. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“I think if we’re working together, we need to have a relationship that’s built on trust and knowledge of each other,” Fr. Michalik said. “For example, we’ll have a potluck lunch once a month. Like a family living in a house, that’s how you get to know each other and develop trust, by sharing a meal together.”

Another benefit, Msgr. Halfpenny said, is allowing space for priests to bounce homily ideas off one another — something that’s difficult to do in isolation.

“If I’ve been at a parish for 15 years, I start to wonder whether the people have heard everything I have to say,” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “Of course, the Holy Spirit is always going to bring something fresh, but it can be enriching to hear from another priest how he’s shared the Gospel in another setting.”

That doesn’t mean every parish in the family will hear the same homily on Sundays, Msgr. Halfpenny said.

“Each priest brings his own individual perspective and talents and availability to the Holy Spirit to his particular community,” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “But it can be another source of support and enrichment for the priests to use one another as a resource.”

During the first few weeks of working together, Fr. Michalik said the Northwest Wayne 2 family is trying to communicate with parishioners how daily parish life might change — coordinated Mass schedules, confession times, funerals, etc. — but not everything is set in stone yet.

“We’re trying to get the word out, but people have a lot of questions, and unfortunately, we don’t have all the answers for them yet,” Fr. Michalik said. “People ask very practical questions: ‘Does this mean we’re going to have a different Mass schedule? Will we still have confessions every Saturday?’ Some of this we just don’t know yet.”

Fr. Bradley Forintos, 65, is used to serving multiple parish sites, since Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron, where he serves, consists of two churches. But “families of parishes” is helping him to think of his ministry as for the entire Church, he said, instead of just a single parish. (Paul Duda | Detroit Catholic)

It’s a slow process, and there are still many unknowns about how everything will work, even among priests, Fr. Forintos said.

But one thing that’s certain is that individual parishes won’t lose their identities, he said.

“Every parish in our family is different,” Fr. Forintos said. “Holy Trinity has two sites. St. Edward offers the traditional Latin Mass. Two of our parishes have grade schools, and St. Christopher has very strong small group Bible studies for men and women. It gives us an opportunity to help people become acquainted with everything we have to offer.

“I’m not sure how it’s all going to unfold, but I do know that I trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” Fr. Forintos added. “I think we’re going to come through this experience with a new understanding of ourselves as Catholics in community. And I think that’s going to be good for the life and growth of the Church.”