The following appeared in the April 12 edition of the L.A. archdiocesan newspaper, The Tidings.

….Among all developed nations, the United States has the highest rate of obesity, which has been linked to an increase in type II diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Since 1962, the rate has jumped from 13 to nearly 36 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among adults 20 and over today, that adds up to some 78 million obese Americans.

One of them is Father Patrick Kirsch of the San Bernardino Diocese. Four years ago, the 5’7” priest weighed over 300 pounds. Even after dropping 50 pounds, he continues to struggle with his weight.

“For me it was like I would take care of people, going from one thing to another, and I wouldn’t stop for lunch or dinner,” he said. “By the time I got home, I was starving. So then I would eat and eat — whatever was there.

“Even now I’m in a parish, St. Margaret Mary in Chino, with 3,000 families. And I’m by myself. I have no help because we’re so short of priests. So I still just go from one thing to the next. The good thing is I love what I do, so I don’t see it as a burden. But I’m really the one who suffers, and I know that it’s not healthy if I can’t say to myself, ‘You need to help yourself before you can help other people.’”

But the 58-year-old cleric, who was ordained 32 years ago, said that simple self-help reality was really difficult for him to acknowledge, and believes it’s the same for many other overworked priests today. Priests, after all, are accustomed to listening to other people’s problems and telling them what to do.

“We’re not used to be told, ‘This is what you need to do’,” he said.

Dennis Henning — who founded the Ephesus Renewal Center in 1997 in Sacramento to specifically help priests and religious brothers suffering from eating disorders — has worked with Father Kirsch for four years. To gain the trust of the priest, the 51-year-old Sacramento native shared his own struggle as a compulsive binge overeater with a 15,000-to-20,000-calories-a-day food habit since his early teens.

Then together they looked at the priest’s eating habits, exercise and daily stresses he faces as a priest, coming up with a plan that broke down when and what he ate….

Msgr. Lorenzo Miranda, the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s vicar for clergy, introduced Henning to local priests last fall. Earlier this year he reported receiving “very positive” feedback from several who had sought help for their eating disorders. The vicar encouraged other priests suffering from compulsive overeating, under-eating, obesity and other food and behavioral related issues to also reach out to the executive director of the Ephesus Renewal Center, which is now located in Southern California.

“Living out our vocation as a priest is a wonderful blessing that will hopefully be filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and many years of health and happiness,” he wrote in a letter to all his brother priests. “However, the archdiocese also understands that some of us, at some point in our ministry, may very well have to deal with issues related to stress, depression, anger, self-doubt and isolation. Serious issues, such as these, can affect us emotionally and/or physically….
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