New Gatekeeper to the Priesthood

By Eric Convey
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
June 1, 2003

In an archdiocese still reeling from misconduct by priests, the Rev. John A. Farren is about to take on a job that will put him under unusual scrutiny.

The Dominican priest and Medford native has been tapped to become rector of St. John's Seminary in Brighton in July. His chief responsibility: overseeing the training of new priests.

"I think it's a very important office and ministry in the church to prepare priests. Boston has been rocked in the past 18 months," said Farren, who has held influential posts in Washington, New York and at the Vatican.

In an interview yesterday, Farren said he accepted an "out-of-the-blue" offer from Bishop Richard G. Lennon because he sees great need here - "a lot of suffering, a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, a lot of resentment." He hopes he can help.

"I grew up here. I found my vocation here," he said. "I owe a great deal to Boston."

Lennon ran the seminary for several years before taking over as temporary administrator of the archdiocese when Bernard Cardinal Law resigned in December. He said the scandal will affect Farren's job but won't dominate it.

"The biggest challenge that any rector faces is providing a formation program that prepares men to be ordained according to the mind of the church," Lennon told the Herald.

As it is at most seminaries, enrollment at St. John's is well below capacity.

Farren expects to share responsibility for encouraging the right young men to become priests, he said, but "I think every member of the church has to be a recruiter."

Lennon said Farren also will encourage other dioceses around the country to send prospective priests here (most do not have their own seminaries).

A key part of St. John's training will be teaching priests to set aside the cultural components of Catholicism and focus on the core message of the Gospel, Farren said.

His career has taken him to more than 50 countries and to the center of the Roman Catholic world, and Farren said the importance of a simple message was impressed on him while he was a missionary in Peru.

A group of poor women had asked the young priest to celebrate Mass in their neighborhood. Despite a fresh doctorate in theology, he had no idea what to preach about.

"It's one of those moments that has stayed with me the rest of my life," he said.

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