Rev. Eugene F. Hemrick
IPR Research Associate
Reverend Eugene F. Hemrick is a research associate at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, of which he has been a member since its establishment when it was known as the Life Cycle Institute. He is a priest of the Diocese of Joliet stationed at St. Joseph on Capitol Hill and assists the parish on the Senate side of Capitol Hill; and is a national syndicated columnist for the Catholic News Service [CNS] (for over 30 years); and former Director of Research at the Washington Theological Union.
His areas of expertise include the future of the priesthood; today's seminaries and seminarians; the permanent diaconate; lay voluntarism; and life issues related to abortion, racism, euthanasia, and capital punishment.
Fr. Hemrick is the author of several books, including Homespun Wisdom: Path to the Good Life (2013), The Promise of Virtue (Notre Dame, IN, Ave Maria Press, 1999), and One Nation Under God: Religious Quotes, Symbols and Images in Our Nation's Capital (Huntington, IN, Our Sunday Visitor, 2001).
Fr. Hemrick is the recepient of the J.S. Paluch Award for priestly service. He serves on the board for Humanities at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, PA. He is regularly interviewed on the radio station, Relevant Radio.
He conducts priest retreats and convocations regularly, and is in contact with archdioceses and dioceses throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Office Phone: 202-543-4077
Website: The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood (jknirp.com)
"Dedicated to energizing the spiritual and intellectual life of the priesthood through an ongoing dialogue via the Internet." The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood
Monthly Reflections on
Keynote Address delivered by Rev. Hemrick at Serra International Foundations on Jan. 19 in Ventura, CA Serrans are Catholic lay men and women who vigorously respond to the call to promote and support vocations to the ministerial priesthood and consecrated life in the Catholic Church. website:
Imagining the priesthood
Serrans accept as their responsibility the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. They possess a deep appreciation of the ministerial priesthood as being essential to the Church. Serrans have been generous in offering their support to those who hear the call to serve Christ in the priesthood.
— Pope John Paul II
Why pick the topic of images?
What challenges do they present to Serra’s mission and the church at large?
The thought of choosing images arose in a talk for vocation directors hosted by J.S. Paluch in Chicago. In it, bishop Frank Caggiano stated we are in a new technological age in which images outweigh the written word. Elders, and especially the younger generation, live in a world of images that is fashioning today’s life. When we turn to research on imaging, we see how true this is.
In a blog by James Galm he raises the question, why do we love images so much? He then goes on to state why.” We are very visual creatures. A large percentage of the human brain dedicates itself to visual processing. Our love of images lies with our cognition and ability to pay attention. Images can grab our attention easily, we are immediately drawn to them. We process images at an alarming speed. When we see a picture, we analyze it within a very short snippet of time, knowing the meaning and scenario within it immediately. The human brain is able to recognize a familiar object within 100 milliseconds. People tend to recognize familiar faces within 380 milliseconds, which is pretty speedy.” [Studying chemical formula]
“Bright colors capture our attention because our brains are wired to react to them. Our vision senses are by far our most active of the senses. This may be thanks to our evolution. Quick processing of visual information would have saved our ancestors from the attack of a predator or during a hunt for food. A gatherer of berries would need to be able to identify certain shades of red berries.
In a recent synod in Rome that addressed digital outreach Natasa Govkar, Secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Communicationsgives us a christological example of imaging in stating, “Faith comes from listening to the Word but we must not forget that it is an incarnate word.” Natasa reminds us that the incarnation of Christ is an earthly image of God’s love of us.
I would not be a priest today if it weren’t for a movie that portrayed a missionary priest in cassock climbing onto a horse driven cart as he went on his mission of serving the needy. That image inspired me to be a missionary. When I told my pastor of my calling to join Maryknoll, he replied, “We have enough order priests, you go to Quigley and become a diocesan priest.” I did, but the desire to be a missionary still lingers. [comment on visiting Huehuetenango, Guatemala.]
Numerous images of priests at their best have been the backbone of my priesthood. Sometimes it is forgotten that priests also need to be ministered to especially by brother priests. One way best to accomplish this is seeing brother priests pictured in inspiring situations. Here are some stellar examples of which I speak.
During a bike trip to Seattle, WA, a college student, and I stopped at Wounded Knee. We stayed there with Jesuits serving the Indians. During our trek across country we stayed with a good number of priests.
When our trip ended, I asked my cycling partner who, of the priests we met, most attracted him. Without hesitation he said, “The Jesuit Fr. Dick Pates at Wounded Knee.” I, too, was very impressed. Why be impressed? He was an ad rem priest, i.e., he exuded a sense of unconditional dedication, nor was he wearing his good works on his sleeve. He also reflected docility, earnestly studying his situation in order to learn how to serve it better.
Fr. Romano Guardini captures the ad rem person of which we speak in stating, “[His] real and essential consideration must always be what the work itself demands, that it be done well and in its entirety. … He lives in his work and with it, without self-interest or side-glance. . .. One of the most profound paradoxes of life is the fact that a man becomes more fully himself the less he thinks of himself” Fr. Pates was a priest who mirrored a man fully himself.
The image of that ad rem priest also reflected a virtue priests and religious are expected to practice: humility. In Italian there is the proverb La providdenza di Dio non manca mai, the providence of God will never let you down. That Jesuit priest reflected ahumble man who saw his work not as his accomplishments but solely as God’s work. We must wonder how many people drew closer to God because of that humility.
Yet another inspiring image appeared in the newspapers recently.
In the New York Times [Nov. 11, 2018] an article read, “Delivering Mass, and Immigrants: A Priest’s busy Life.” Father Ruskin Piedra, 84 can often be found at the New York City Immigration Court in downtown Manhattan, where the Cuban-American priest defends people facing deportation or seeking asylum in the United States.” There he was, one of us priestsstill in the trenches serving the poor at 84 years old. The New York Times article was a far cry from much of the negativepublicity we are experiencing presently.
When you look into the eyes of Father Ruskin in that article,they reveal a man that Guardini sees needed for our post-modern times, a person who contains an interiority that goes beyond the skin-level of short-term thinking, and disregarding time needed for serious planning.
“Before all else”, Guardini states, ‘man’s depths must be reawakened. His life must again include times, his day moments of stillness in which he collects himself, spreads out before his heart the problems which have stirred him during the day. In a word, man must learn again to meditate and to pray. . .. “He must step aside from the general hustle and bustle; must become tranquil and really “there,” opening his mind and heart wide to some word of piety and wisdom or ethical honor.”
When we look into the eyes of Father Ruskin, it is no exaggeration to say he is all there with his people reflecting aman of prayer, meditation and interiority of which Guardini speaks.
In a scene from Godfather Part III can be found yet another welcomed image of priesthood. Against the backdrop of a monastery courtyard, mafia boss Michael Corleone meets with Cardinal Lamberto of the Vatican to discuss the Ambrosianobank. While conversing, Michael has a diabetic attack. Lamberto immediately calls an aide, asking him to fetch orange juice and sweets. In a fit of panic, Michael gulps them down. When he finally stabilizes, Lamberto looks into his soul and sees that something more than diabetes is ailing Michael. Then softlyand in an inviting tone he asks Michael, “Would like to confess?” This Michael does. Later Michael tells his sister Connie of the incident. Upon hearing this, she becomes outraged and cries out, how Michael could do this having old the family secrets? Michael replies, “it was the man a real priest.”
As we revisit images like the above, they are saying to Serra and the church we need an aggiornamento, an updating aimed at capitalizing on inspiring images needed to strengthen priests and religious life. The images are out there waiting to be put to work. Let’s look at some of them in our backyard presently existing that need revisiting and much more exposure.
In our Smithsonian museum there was an exquisite exhibit onthe history of nuns’ contributions in our society. They were portrayed in roles of lawyers working for the poor, nurses in the battlefield, and ministering on the streets, as well as teaching in poor, rundown neighborhoods. These were the Mother Teresa’s in the trenches before the era of Mother Teresa.
The book One Nation Under God documents the lives of five outstanding religious whose statutes adorn the U.S. Capitol:Junipero Serra, Eusebio Kino, Jacque Marquette, Damian and Sr. Joseph. Junipero Serra and the Franciscans’ work led to cities along the cost of California with saints’ names and heavenly thoughts like Los Angeles connoting the city of Angels.
The corridors of Providence hospitals in Portland, Oregon are filled with images of Mother Joseph who came from Canada and established the first schools and hospitals in the Northwest.
St. Damian is a saint because he went into exile to serve the lepers and died a leper. At the base of Damian’s statute,sculpture Marisol Escobar wrote, “Working from a photograph of the dying priest, I saw in Damien the mystery of physical transportation as if he had become what he wanted to be.”
In the study, Grace Under Pressure: What Gives Life to American Priests there can be found images of the inner life of priests. How, for example, they envision their ministry and how they keep themselves together under pressure. One story after another reveals the reality of priesthood and how priests endeavor to remain strong and balanced in their ministry.
These images are the inner sanctum, the dynamism of the priesthood that have inspired many to say, “That is what I aspire to. That’s the work I want to accomplish.”
When we reflect on the range of roles priesthood fulfills, they are awesome.
I was sent back to school right after ordination. Next came being a parish priest, then a fire chaplain, teaching in the police academy, a chaplain to the Holy Cross brothers and students at Illinois Benedictine College, social scientist working with outstanding scholars, a syndicated columnist, and conducting priests’ retreats around the country.
Today there are priests who have fulfilled many more roles than enumerated above. These multiple roles cause us to wonder how many people realize the exciting dimensions of ministry that exist and how world-reaching ministry is?
Let step back now and reflect on what was said and the challenges it presents Serra. One immediate challenge is to create an aggiornamento: an updating on the science of imaging of the priesthood and religious life. When we look at the examples just mentioned one common denominator stands out: they reflect men and women in the trenches; men and women in action where the action is. Many of the pictures we see of these people in the trenches are groups of people in a posed situation. This is good, but equally important are these people caught in action and the sweat and energy that goes into ministry.
When we reflect on the meaning of “trenches” it reveals a plethora of images that are the dynamism, the vigor and vitalityof priestly and religious life. Let’s start with the parish.
There is administering to the dying, shut ins, the depressed and those who feel they are the insignificant that Pope Francis considers the poorest of the poor. Social justice programsoriented to help those overlooked or taken advantage of. Efforts to make various cultures welcomed. Ecumenical efforts of working with ministers of other denominations serving the poor.Creating inspiring liturgies adapted to the cultural backgrounds of the people, seasoned priests/confessors well versed in human nature. When we zero in on parishes, we possess a myriad ofinspiring, rich images reflecting the dynamism of ministry. This is to say nothing of missionaries and those who serve ininstitutes like hospitals and centers where one needing desperate help can receive it. The list is endless of priest, sister and lay ministers who are the core of the church and who also possess powerful images.
Our challenge is to capture the inner dynamism within the action taking place in the trenches. To achieve this, we need a new breed of photographers, writers, artists, musicians, media experts, all of whom have trained eyes for the very heart of ministry. Advances in the science of imaging are calling for an aggiornamento in order to learn how to update images that speak to our post-modern era.
Allow me to take this idea of imaging a step deeper. When Omar Shariff was asked to play Dr. Zhivago he hesitated because he saw it as an overwhelming challenge. Director David Lean told him, “All you need do is look.” Throughout the movie Shariff’s eyes say more than any words. It is a wonderful reminder of the power our eyes contain in communicating.
On this note, painter Rembrandt is noted for capturing themystery coming through the eyes in his subjects. In looking for those images that most express the priesthood and religious life, we need modern-day Rembrandts capable of unveiling the mystery within the eyes of our priests and religious.
As I started on a personal note about the images that influenced my priesthood, I will end with a recent image that touched me deeply and strengthened my priesthood.
I was a fire chaplain and a fireman during my priesthood. I loved the role because of the camaraderie we enjoyed, the adrenalin of going to fires and helping those in need of our services.
When 9-11 hit there was a picture of four firemen carrying out the dead body of their fire chaplain. For me that picture went to the heart of our ministry, to die if necessary, to be totally committed. It reflected an image par excellence of Christ who died for us.