Question Box: Welcoming a new priest to your parish


By Father Thom Hennen
Question Box

How should a parish welcome its new priest?

Fr. Hennen

Given the recent shuffle of priests in our diocese and our focus on welcoming and belonging in this year following on our Synod process, this is an excellent and timely question!

First, while comparisons are inevitable, try to avoid saying, “Father (insert former priest’s name) used to….” It may be well meant but often what the priest hears is, “Why can’t we have Father (insert name) back?” At the same time, it is helpful to share past and current practices so that the new priest has some idea of how and why things are done in the parish. Instead, you might say something like, “In the past we have typically done this” or at least lead with, “I’m not saying you have to do it this way, but Father (insert name) found that….” This informs without creating expectation.


Second, and closely related to the first point, try not to say, “We have always done it this way.” That is probably not true. Always is a very long time and chances are that practices have changed many times over the years. Fairly or not, when something like this is said, what the priest hears is, “We may not even consider doing it another way.” It is a line in the sand. In the Catholic Church, we think if we do something once it is a “tradition” but sometimes there are new and, frankly, better ways of doing and looking at things. Your new priest will bring his gifts and insights. Hear him out. Most don’t intend to turn everything upside down. They do what they know or think best, unless shown otherwise.

Having said this, pastors don’t do a “mind meld” with the previous pastor or get a “divine download” on day one with everything they need to know. Sharing information is not only important but kind. Still, there is a way to do it. Try not to hit him with the firehose of information on day one or even week one.

Third, give him time. It takes a while to get to know a priest, his personality, interests, likes and dislikes, sense of humor and leadership style. It is easier to see past certain faults once you have a sense that this guy is actually a good guy and a human being after all!

Fourth, focus on the gifts, not the deficits. Growing up, I never remember my parents saying anything really negative about any of our priests. The closest thing to this may have been when my Minnesota-born-and-raised father commented on a homily by saying, “That was different.” Those are strong words for a Minnesotan. I do remember my parents talking about the various contributions each priest made over the history of the parish. No one priest has it all. This is also a good reason not to be always parish shopping. Parishes are living things that will and should grow from but ultimately outlive any of their priests.

Fifth, don’t expect him to have learned everybody’s name by next week. Introduce yourself multiple times and try to make meaningful connections.

Lastly, bringing your new priest food or inviting him to dinner is great but space it out. Otherwise, he may end up with more than he can (or should) eat and a social calendar that is so full he barely has time to unpack.

For his part, your new priest also needs to be patient and prudent, listening to his people, learning from them, asking good questions (not to criticize but to gain knowledge), forming relationships and gaining the people’s trust.

Priests who are treated like people (because they are) and not like the “new sheriff” or like vending machines will be happier and more effective priests. They will love and be loved by the people and will gladly serve them.

(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and vicar general for the Diocese of Davenport. Send questions to

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