Presbytery Day Focus: Health, Wellbeing in Times of Stress
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
September 20, 2018
ROCKFORD—Clergy from all around the Diocese of Rockford gathered for the annual Presbytery Day on Sept. 11 at St. Rita Parish, here.
The day included a report from the Clergy Relief Society, a brief talk by Bishop David Malloy, an introduction of new priests, evening prayer and dinner. 
The majority of the afternoon featured talks by guest speaker Father James Flavin of St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, Pa.
About the center
St. John Vianney Center explains its mission as providing: “a residential health and wellness program for stabilization and treatment for Clergy and Religious with behavioral health and emotional problems, co-occurring disorders and compulsive behaviors, weight management issues, and challenged spiritual wellness.”
It also provides outpatient and consultation services and educational programs.
Source: St. John Vianney Center website,
Father Flavin’s long-scheduled topic — “Priestly Wellness in Challenging Times” — was timely given the recent release of sex abuse findings in  Pennsylvania, of revelations about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and their effects on priests everywhere. 
“Nobody has come to the treatment center for heresy,” Father Flavin said of the St. John Vianney Center. “It’s always (because of) the human side of life.”
The priest mixed personal stories, research and quotes from experts and Church documents as he outlined the topics of spiritual formation, intellectual formation and pastoral formation before focusing on human formation. 
He lingered on the Church-recommended “affective maturity” for priests, defining it in his own words as self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness and social skills. 
After pointing to a number of health risks, including overeating and poor sleep regimens, Father Flavin noted the irony of knowing the right and healthy things to do, but not doing them.
He spoke also of emotional intelligence, anger triggers,  and how unresolved family issues can cause problems decades later. He also explained how parish staffs are a rather-strange mix of employees and support-system. 
Father Flavin pointed out numerous examples of how “a lot of stuff has changed dramatically in the past 50 years” in the Church. Those changes, he said — from the priest shortage to more and more priests becoming the ones to take care of aging parents — add to potential levels of stress.
“Clergy and staff (are now) treated by parishioners as employees, and complaints are the standard form of communications,” Father Flavin said. “It wears you down.” 
Across the country, distance and busyness are producing what he called a “loss of camaraderie” among priests.
Add in the scandals, which Father Flavin said is “starting all over again, (only) worse,” and priests today “need to perceive and manage stress better.”
He encouraged his audience to realize that “thinking controls your emotions,” not the other way around. Most priests embrace, he said, “the idea that we’re to be all things to all people” and have the sense that they “are to be totally selfless in everything.”
“That will kill you,” he said, encouraging them to find a balance of self-care and self-giving, and establish healthy boundaries, including when there are conflicts in the parish.
He defined “spiritual stress” as when a priest loses contact with his close friends, loses a sense of mission and of his call, experiences a decreased self-esteem and is tempted to excess in eating or other comfort behaviors. 
Compassion fatigue can afflict anyone who walks with others through their traumas and starts to “take on” those people’s pain.
Even so, Father Flavin said as he concluded his first of two talks, “What a great presbyterate if you all work together” to address the many stresses inherent to those who seek to serve and likely have an “overdeveloped sense of responsibility” and an “impulse to rescue anyone in need.”
Following a break, Father Flavin talked about the research on resilience. He again encouraged the priests to support one another, and noted that listening ears and helpful advice were available to them through a call to St. John Vianney Center.