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Archives Priests on a mission in Massena


By Kristina Dean
Staff writer

Massena PriestsMASSENA - Two priests, one freshly ordained six months ago, the other a former Marine officer and helicopter pilot, now a priest for two decades, have the same mission: to reach people through a turbulent sea of changing culture, to engage them in a deep love of Christ and to inspire a desire to live fully as disciples of the Lord. In short, exactly what Jesus asked of Peter and Andrew when he called them to be ‘fishers of men.’

Ordained May 27, Father Michael Jablonski’s first assignment is as parochial vicar for the Greater Massena Catholic Community, an area that encompasses three churches, a school, and serves the people of Massena and Louisville.

The new priest noted his first assignment allows him to focus on the sacramental end.

“It’s been full of beautiful experiences,” Father Jablonski said. “People are so full of joy when receiving the sacraments.”

While he hopes to bring the church’s missionary spirit to as many as he can, aiding them in their faith journey, his main challenge is to fully engage the faithful in the pews.

“We need all hands on deck,” he said. “Pray and talk to friends and neighbors around you. Encourage them to come to church. Do what you can do. That’s the challenge. Go out of your comfort zone a little bit.”

Conversion and renewal
Conversion and renewal of the life of the parish is a focus shared by pastor Father Mark R. Reilly as well.

“I want people on fire for the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I would love to see people remain long after Mass because they want to be around together, and not just a ‘let’s go get this over with’ attitude.

“I want that place where people are having a dynamic, loving, joyful relationship with the living God,” Father Reilly said, “where people say, ‘I want that.’ That’s what everything in the life of the church should be aimed it. To invite and draw people into that.”

The pastor’s vision is based on Pope Francis’s idea of being a mission church, not just a church in “maintenance mode.”

Calling St. Lawrence County a mission field, Father Reilly said Christ intended His church to do mission work.

“We can’t just keep on doing what we’ve been doing in the life of the church,” he said. “We all need conversion, and that starts with me as pastor and leader.

“It’s going to be uncomfortable sometimes, but we are called to renewal in the Holy Spirit and in the life of a missionary church,” Father Reilly said. “That’s what Christ established when He told the apostles to go make disciples,” he said.

Although not an attitude shared by all who attend Mass, there are those who have a minimalistic attitude, Father Reilly said. He explained it as people who believe, “just punch my ticket, throw my envelope in the basket, and don’t ask much more of me.”

Conversion is something needed by everyone, including himself he said, admitting he falls short and works on daily conversion as well.

Besides forming disciples in the pews, the pastor’s goal is to evangelize Catholics who only attend funerals, weddings and special occasions, as well as reaching the unchurched, or as Father  Reilly calls them, the “nones.”

The pastor identifies them as people who, when asked to specify religion, check the “none” box. This is a symptom of a changing secular culture, he said, and cited the need to understand and translate it.

“The cultural ground keeps shifting under our feet, and we need to understand that cultural shift if we are to be Apostles of Christ,” he said.

With fewer priests
This is complicated by fewer vocations and an older population of priests, something Father Reilly is in a unique position to appreciate.

Twenty-one years ago as a seminarian, he lived at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Massena for six months. At that time, there were seven Catholic pastors in the Massena area. Today, there are two. Where there was once eight priests, now there are four in active ministry.

In 2016, the four Massena area churches were united under Father Reilly. In October, St. Joseph’s church became an oratory, and is no longer used for regularly scheduled Masses.

“I’m facing one little slice of what the bishop is facing across the diocese,” Father Reilly said, and stressed this is just one aspect of the changing culture.

Other aspects include the rise of the “nones,” people dealing with economic distress, and people struggling with substance abuse.

“These are all symptoms of despair and a profound lack of belonging,” he said.

To combat this, he works on his vision of what it means to be a pastor, to be the shepherd and leader of an active and engaged parish, to create priorities and to rethink what the essential tasks are of the pastor.

He admits he is a bit jealous of Father Jablonski.

“That first year or so is pretty awesome, to be able to concentrate strictly on the sacramental and parochial ministry and not to be consumed with administrative duties,” Father Reilly said. “Some days I have to fight to get away from the desk and do what a priest should be doing.”

Originally from the Albany diocese, Father Jablonski said in his first assignment, he’s found  people in the North Country to very welcoming. They give the benefit of the doubt to others, and they take care of and love what they have, he said.

“I hope that, God willing, I’ll be able to touch as many people as I can and bring the church’s missionary spirit to the people of the North Country wherever I go,” Father Jablonski said.

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