About my departure from St Augustine High School

Our new statue on campus, St Augustine The Teacher.When I was assigned to St Augustine in San Diego, a few months before my priestly ordination, my life was a whole lot different. Since that announcement over four years ago, much of my life has changed. This post will cover my reasons for leaving, but will not cover my reassignment.

I decided to write to give people a personal update. Mostly, I wrote this, because the average Catholic cannot conceive of why a “young” priest shouldn’t be in a high school.

Before talking about myself, it should be noted that 4 years as Retreat Director is a long time for an old man. My predecessor had the position for 5 years. Her predecessor had it for 4 years. Upon leaving the position both were younger than me when I started the position. Their predecessors had the position shorter than they did. It is rare for someone to be Retreat Director / Campus Minister for more than half a decade. Upon my 4th year, any reasonable person should have asked “Fr Mark, are you really going to stay another year?” Maybe I am also too old for a very high energy job.

Also, before talking about myself, I should comment on the position. I am not the Chaplain, I am the Retreat Director. There is a chaplain, who does a lot of priestly ministry. There is nothing specific in my position / job description that requires ordination. My Brother Friars and I imagined that I would have had more time for priestly ministry on the side, just as previous Priest Teachers had. I have found that it is challenging for an old thirty-something to execute a high energy twenty-something job, and have any extra time to do the kind of priestly sacramental ministry that truly refreshes me. Although I have had priestly ministry, there is nothing in my job description that involves sacramental dispensation (it wouldn’t make sense as to how many lay-people have been in this position before me, and how many lay people will be in the position after me).

Not only is my position a full 9-5 and overtime, but I am probably the only male faculty member who is not a coach. All of the faculty (principally lay), teach 5 classes, and spend a few hours after school each day to coach/lead a team. The fact that I am a male faculty member that doesn’t coach probably seems unfair to the other faculty members that actually have a wife and kids that they are sacrificing their time away from. All said and done, it might seem unfair that I don’t have to coach a sports team, even if the retreats count as overtime, and I have to turn down requests to say mass because I don’t have enough time to get my job done.

This is just about my job… What about my life? As I said, the landscape has changed dramatically since I was first assigned.

  1. My dad suddenly got very sick, to the point that he lost the capacity to be independent. My mom passed away ~15 yrs ago. We had to move him into a facility, sell his house of ~35+ yrs, and ask him to accept the fact that he will need a nurse to take him out of bed every morning to dress him, for perhaps the rest of his life.
  2. My brother got engaged, married, and has a baby girl. I am a godfather!
  3. After spending 12 years believing that I had a call to “hip hop ministry” I have recently determined that call has passed or completed. I have written about that over a year ago elsewhere. Suffice it to say, there have been a lot of closed doors, and I need to look for new doors.
  4. I have been appointed by the order to be part of an international youth ministry council. I have been appointed by the province for a provincial (west coast usa) council about vocations. I have been tasked by the house to be part of our own vocations/formation business. I am also expected to say Mass in our chapel with some frequency. Over the past 3 yrs, on numerous occasions, had to ask my superiors to be relieved of many of these responsibilities in order to accomplish my responsibilities as Retreat Director. I often say no to my superiors more than my school.

As a husband might find that his family suffers because of the high demands of his job, perhaps my family and community have been at a disadvantage because of my ministry assignment. I don’t have a wife that goes to bed  hurt at night thinking she is unloved or neglected. I do have a community that was excited to have my involvement, only to discover that my job/ministry became more demanding than they expected. The school expected to have an unmarried young man with no kids. Instead they got a thirty-something new priest, with a family and community in need.

So, when you look at a ministry, where the life expectancy is 4-5 yrs, that involves no sacramental dispensation, where a young priest who helplessly watched his family endure a crisis, there shouldn’t be any question about his stepping away.

Although, it would have much easier with a reassignment thrust upon me months ago. I had prayerfully discerned that education is not for me at this time in my life, and then decided to stay one more year for various reasons. That year has completed, and it is well time for me to move on.

When talking to my students, they find one explanation very sensible. Over the years, many grey-hairs were how exciting it is for the boys to have a “young” approachable, relatable priest. Instead of being a relatable priest, the students perceive me as a coach. I often feel that I can be a coach, a teacher, an entertainer, but I often do not feel like I am a priest. Since I gave up so much to be a priest, it has left me very unfulfilled to not preach enough, to not hear Confessions much, to not do Spiritual Direction, or offer much Pastoral Care. Here, I cannot be artistic, poetic, philosophical, and spiritually mystic. Maybe the kids need more coaches, but this has made me unhappy. What makes me even more unhappy, is when adults try to give me some encouraging word on how this is a good thing. I have felt trapped in a box. I have not felt like myself. I do not have the opportunity to be who God made me to be when I am trapped in the coach paradigm.

So, despite this not being the best fit, I do have a series of good memories that I will be posting about tomorrow. I feel like the ministry and job has paid off for me in many ways. Sometimes I feel as if I have benefited from it more than they benefited from having me. I have benefited by being here in San Diego, and developing relationships in the school and the diocese. I have been blessed being part of an awesome Catholic community that impacts Southern California. I have been fortunate to have the credit of running 28 retreats. I have learned much in terms of administrative tasks. I have gained confidence in certain areas. I might rethink being a teacher at some point later in life.