Suppose you’ve worked 60-hour weeks for years to build your aquarium business into a profitable enterprise. What would be the last thing you’d want to see while on vacation? Fish. That’s right: scaly critters of every color, shape and size, along with filters, algae scrapers, plastic plants, “ocean floor” pebbles and those cute little hard-hat divers.
However, whenever a priest takes a much-deserved break, he often embraces the very elements that are at the foundation of his day-to-day job. He prays and meditates on his life and his relationship with God. You may own a thriving aquarium business, but he has a lifelong spiritual calling.
Few in the Diocese realize that local clergy have a place to relax and connect with their faith on a personal level: the aptly named House of Prayer for Priests.
Those who visit the House of Prayer – priests can stay for a day or several – relax alone or share time with others. Composed of small Santa Fe–style casitas that can accommodate up to eight visitors, the House includes separate prayer and Eucharistic chapels, says Fr. Steve Sallot, the Diocese’s vicar general.
The House’s director does everything from paying bills to calling plumbers to being of service to visiting priests. One dedicated man has worked diligently in this capacity for more than three decades: Fr. Gordon Moreland.
“I’ve worked with Fr. Moreland over the years,” says Fr. Steve. “He has provided a great deal of spiritual direction, confession, counseling and one-on-one conversation for priests. For so many years, he’s been involved in our annual retreats, he’s led us in days of prayer in Advent and Lent, and he’s served on important boards and committees.
“Fr. Moreland has been part of the Diocese as it has developed through the years,” Fr. Steve continues, “and as such he brings a sense of history to the Diocese.”
“There is a type of fraternity here that we experience at the House of Prayer, especially over the dinner table,” says Fr. Moreland, a priest for 53 years. “We do have some sharing at Mass as well. I believe that fellowship is a very important part of the experience here. Still, we’re here to pretty much reflect alone on our lives and faith.”
Since change is ultimately the only real constant in life, the House of Prayer for Priests is now under the direction of Fr. Domenico Di Raimondo, who plans to move in July 20.
“After the Disciples went out to minister to the people, they returned excited about their mission – but very tired,” Fr. Domenico says. “So they decided to meet in a specific place to talk, rest and enjoy each other’s company. That’s what comes to mind when I think about the House of Prayer: to pray with the Lord and recharge our batteries.”
Fr. Domenico has hit the ground running. His initial goals, approved by Bishop Kevin Vann, include writing a history of the House of Prayer – a history in which Fr. Moreland plays a vital role – and connect with other priests to get their suggestions about the House’s future.
“I’m really excited about being here,” Fr. Domenico says. “I’m energized about the whole project.”
He repeatedly emphasizes one key element: teamwork. “I don’t want this to be a one-man effort,” he says. “My plan is to form an advisory group with priests, a team working together for the benefit of all priests in the Diocese.”
Fr. Domenico notes that his experience – he served as the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit’s provincial superior and as general superior, the latter role overseeing their efforts throughout the world – has taught him “to be a friend and a brother to all priests. We can work hand in hand, sharing our lives, our joys and our sorrows.”
One of his goals is to form a team of priests who will be available for the House of Prayer’s visitors. Another is to emphasize support groups, where, he says, “Priests can come together and very honestly talk about their personal lives, their problems, their jobs and their future.”
Fr. Domenico’s work will also involve connecting with the Diocese’s parishioners.
“How can we let them know that the House of Prayer for Priests exists?” he says. “That needs to be done. We also have to reach out to the media.”
To that end, the Diocese will create a website that will share with parishioners everything about the House of Prayer. Once that’s dialed in, Fr. Domenico wants to directly involve the parishioners.
“With the support of the other priests, I’d like to eventually establish a lay advisory group, men and women in the Diocese who will provide very important input for us.”
Fr. Sallot likely speaks for all local priests when he says, “The House of Prayer is designed to assist us to get back to the heart of why we do what we do. It’s about reaffirming our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and sometimes we need time away to do that.”