Father Joseph Illo, a former priest of the Stockton diocese and until this May, the chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College, has been given the parish of St. Mary Star of the Sea in San Francisco by Archbishop Cordileone to set up an oratory, based on the model founded by St Philip Neri. The following comes from a story by Jim Graves in the May 29 Catholic World Report.
….CWR: What are some of the common problems parish priests have?
Fr. Illo: Overwork is a big one. Many people need services, but there are not enough priests. You might be working a 14-hour day to the point of near exhaustion. It’s hard to find time to pray. The priest is then tempted to become an activist and give up on having a prayer life. Many priests do this.
When I was a pastor, I set up a chapel in the parish rectory. I invited all the priests in the parish to pray a holy hour together. Most did, and it was a great blessing. Often we’d pray the rosary together. One of the priests who participated was a retired pastor. He admitted that during his 25 years as a pastor, he’d never been able to pray properly. That’s a recipe for disaster.
CWR: What is your plan for the new San Francisco Oratory of St.Philip Neri?
Fr. Illo:It is our hope to establish it as a community for secular priests, living in community, with a common prayer life and a common rule of life. It will support the work of priests called to work in parishes.
We hope it will be one solution to the problem of priests living in isolation, which has become a deepening difficulty in the Church. Even in a rectory with multiple priests, they can be like ships passing in the night, with little contact with one another and no common prayer life. This is an issue that bishops and diocesan personnel boards speak about all the time. I served as a vocations director for four years, and this was a big concern among men considering the priesthood. They were afraid if they gave up wife and family, they’d be lonely and isolated.
A priest in this situation has little or no accountability. Take the case of Father John Corapi. Although he was in a religious community, he lived on his own, and he got into trouble. A good prayer life is essential to the well-being of a priest; if he prays regularly, he is protected from many evils.
A priest needs support, and he needs to be kept accountable. There are many ways to do this, the oratory being one of them. There are many oratories throughout the world today, and many oratorians. [Bl.] John Henry Newman was famous for bringing the oratory to England in 1848. Today, there is still a large oratory in England, and another in Toronto. In the United States, you can find them in places like St. Louis and Cincinnati; I’ve been in touch with one in Lewiston, Maine, the Fraternity of St. Philip Neri. They have a wonderful life together and do much good work in their diocese.
CWR: How large will the San Francisco Oratory be?
Fr. Illo: God only knows. We hope it will have five or six priests, as well as a couple of brothers. Right now we have two priests, and three seminary candidates who expressed an interest in participating….
To read the entire interview, click here.