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May 28, 2020

The Called: Father William Forrey

Father William ForreyFather William Forrey
Hometown: Camp Hill, Pa.
Education: Camp Hill High School, Camp Hill; Undergraduate studies at St. Joseph University, Philadelphia – International Studies; Seminary: Saint Charles Borromeo, Philadelphia
Current Assignment:Diocesan Secretary for Clergy and Consecrated Life and pastor of Holy Infant Parish in Manchester

Tell us about your childhood, where you grew up, and about your family life.

I grew up in Camp Hill and my family and I were members of Good Shepherd Parish in Camp Hill. I have three older sisters so I am the youngest of four. I graduated from Camp Hill High School. I only went to Mercycrest for kindergarten, but my family growing up was devoutly Roman Catholic. We were faithful to our religious education programs at Good Shepherd.

My dad was brought into the Church by Msgr. William Keeler, who would later become Bishop Keeler and then Cardinal Keeler, but dad went to Mass every Sunday with the family even though he was not Catholic. I remember asking my mom when I was in elementary school, “Why doesn’t dad receive Holy Communion with us?” And she said, “He will someday.”

I remember when my grandmother, my dad’s mother, was very ill in Harrisburg Hospital, and she was not Catholic. She needed surgery. The doctor said that having surgery at age 80, that she would probably not make it through. And so my mother asked her before the surgery if she wanted to become Catholic. She said yes, so my mother called St. Lawrence Church and Msgr. Keeler answered. He went over to the hospital and brought my grandmother into the Church, and she lived another 10 years of life after that. She was my first funeral as a priest.

That is how my family became good friends with then-Msgr. Keeler. It was that connection and relationship that one day when Msgr. Keeler was at our house for dinner, on the way out, Msgr. said that he wanted to talk to my dad and we all wanted to know what they talked about. “Why aren’t you Catholic?” Msgr. said. And my dad answered, “Quite frankly, Msgr., nobody ever asked me to become one.” My mother never wanted to force her faith on him. He and Msgr. Keeler began meeting, and when I was a senior in high school my father entered the Church. That journey very much moved me spiritually.

My mother was very much involved in the community. She had us helping at the soup kitchen at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Harrisburg. My mother welcomed one Cambodian refugee after another. My parents are godparents for probably 20 Cambodian children who have been baptized at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Harrisburg. Their lives, especially spiritually, had a tremendous impact on me and my desire to be a part of the Church, to serve the Church, and in time that would evolve into a call to the priesthood. I graduated from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia with a degree in International Relations. When I graduated from St. Joe’s, I worked as a lobbyist for the PA Chamber of Commerce.

What time frame or years was that experience?

I graduated from college in 1984 and worked for just one year as a lobbyist into 1985. In that year, I just knew that I could have done a number of things in life, but the only thing that would give me the greatest fulfillment and satisfaction and reward was responding to this call to the priesthood. I have to say from the time that I made that decision to apply to the Diocese as a seminarian, I have had no regrets whatsoever. I was ordained May 26, 1990, by Bishop Dattilo. I was the first priest ordained by him and I can remember thinking, “I hope that he knows how to do this!”

After ordination, what was your first assignment?

My first assignment was at Corpus Christi Parish in Chambersburg. Father Andre Meluskey was the first pastor that I worked under in Chambersburg. I was there for three years, and then I went to St. Patrick’s in Carlisle as a parochial vicar and as campus minister to Dickinson College. After three years in Carlisle, I went to Millersville University as a campus minster for two years, and then Bishop Dattilo brought me into the Diocesan Center office to serve as secretary for Catholic Life and Evangelization. That is a happy memory.

You began working as Secretary here in the Diocesan Center in what year?

It would have been in 1998, when I started working here in the office.

Tell us about working in Catholic Life and Evangelization.

It was a role that I just enjoyed immensely, because everything in that secretariat was just connected to parish life and living. That involved youth ministry, liturgy, respect life, family life and ministry development, and it included the special ministries and all the campus ministries, hospitals, prisons, and all the ethnic ministries as well, along with all the special events. If it was moving, it was under that secretariat. It was totally exciting, and it was a collaborative process with an emphasis on the training of laity to help pastors carry out the mission of the Church.

After working as a Secretary, you moved on to being a pastor. Tell us about that experience.

In 2006, I was appointed pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle. Those are years that I absolutely treasure. I was there for 12 years, and I loved it there. I was there as a seminarian, then as a parochial vicar, so I knew the community. We had nine nursing homes, the county prison and a college campus and hospital. It was six exits of coverage off Interstate 81 that we served.

Now you have returned to the Diocesan Center as the Secretary for Clergy and Consecrated Life. Tell us about those responsibilities.

We have 15 counties, 10 deaneries, 89 parishes and 7 missions, and 250,000 Catholics in our Diocese. We have 96 active priests, 39 religious order priests, 35 retired priests, 56 permanent deacons and 35 deacon candidates soon to be ordained to the permanent diaconate, 25 seminarians and 150 active religious sisters. I chair all meetings that have to do with the appointment of priests to parishes or special ministries. I am responsible for all the male and female religious communities that serve in our Diocese. I convene the Diocesan Sisters’ Council and I am in charge of the continuing formation of priests. I oversee the permanent diaconate program and I oversee the Vocations Office also.

And on top of that, you are pastor at Holy Infant Parish in Manchester, York County. Share what you enjoy about the parish.

At Holy Infant Church, the community is vibrant and alive. It was the parish that Bishop Ed Malesic (Diocese of Greensburg) was pastor at before his move. He left intact a very faith-filled and active community of people that I find completely enjoyable to work with every day. It is a joy.

Since you have parish responsibilities and Diocesan Center duties that keep you busy, how do you take care of yourself to be able to serve both? What do you do with any free time you have?

In my free time, my parents live in Camp Hill so I try and spend as much time as I can with them. That is important to me. I have priest friends from Philadelphia that I am in close contact with. These are friends from my seminary days that I still have today. I am celebrating my 30th anniversary this year.

I like to spend time in the mountains, and I like to go to the shore. I try and take an annual vacation with my priest friends from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I spend time and I am close with my sisters, though unfortunately one just passed away in 2018. She lived overseas, but I remain close to my two remaining sisters here.

When did you start hearing the call to the priesthood, and what was the discernment process for you?

The first time I began thinking about becoming a priest, I was at a Lutheran Bible study in Camp Hill. The pastor there, Pastor Winter, made Scripture come alive. My mother would go with other women in the community. Once in a while, she would drag me along; I would be the only boy there in a sea of women. Pastor Winter knew my family was Catholic, but one time I was there, Pastor Winter pointed at me and said to the other women, “See that young boy there. That is a budding young Catholic priest.” And from the mouth of a Lutheran minister, the seeds of my vocation were planted.

As the years passed, there were certain people that encouraged me to commit my life in a radical way to a commitment to serving the Church as a priest. I can think of Catherine Chambers who was my CCD teacher at Good Shepherd who taught me the Rosary, who taught me so much about the four Gospels; she was a great woman of faith. I think of Father Joe Rossi at St. Joe’s University. He was a Jesuit priest and was the faculty resident in the house that I lived in on campus at St. Joe’s. He instilled in me a love for the faith and for Jesus Christ that continues to this day. It was in college that I grew to appreciate the Jesuits and I began to think that if I did become a priest, that I was definitely called to be a diocesan priest, not a community life of a religious order.

Why a diocesan priest, and not an order priest?

As a diocesan priest you are like a general practitioner; you are part of people’s lives at every significant moment and at every point in between. From baptism to weddings to funerals, I like the variety of ministerial experiences that you can have and bring faith to people and sustain that faith in people. You do not do that anymore beautifully than in a parish, and that is ultimately where my heart is – in a parish. I find that to be my greatest joy, serving the people.

Is there any part of being a priest that you cherish or hold dear to you heart?

I feel most alive as a priest celebrating all the sacraments, but two in particular. Of course, the Holy Eucharist – there is just something about the breaking of the bread that symbolizes the brokenness of the human condition, and in that broken moment Jesus Christ enters in. From that brokenness, from his brokenness, he is willing and able to feed us the Bread of Life, and I find that to be very powerful. In his humility as the Son of God, he is able to nurture and sustain us spiritually. The other sacrament is the Sacrament of Penance – it is one of the greatest treasures we have as Roman Catholics to be able to experience the love and mercy of Jesus Christ firsthand in that sacrament. To leave that sacrament cleansed and healed of the sin that afflicts us is a beautiful gift.

To a young adult who is thinking about a priestly vocation, what advice or direction might you offer them?

I think it is important to recognize the gift of life that God has given you, to recognize that life is short, and to recognize the beauty of life God has given you and enriched you with gifts. How are you going to use your gifts to please God and to serve him? All of us are called to do that, no matter what we do in life. But there is going to be one avenue or path that you can take that is going to bring you the most peace and satisfaction. Whatever path that is, is the path God is calling you to. To discern that takes prayer, reflection and meditation, and the counsel of those who know you and truly love you.

Is it important, then, to discuss your discernment process with others?

Yes, because sometimes others see qualities in you that you may not see in yourself. Just like the Lutheran pastor who said that I was one day going to be a Catholic priest. He saw something in me.

How do you prepare for homilies, and what is your approach to preaching?

For my homilies, I really try to relate the Sunday readings or daily readings with a real life experience which often seems to reflect my own family experience or a lived experience of mine. I really try to put my homily in a context that everybody in the pew, no matter the age, will be able to understand and relate to.

How has the pandemic affected your ministry?

All of a sudden, in mid-March, there is nobody in the pews. I get a sense from the parishioners and people who e-mail me that there is a tremendous void in their lives from not receiving the Body of Christ. At the same time they are missing the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, I am missing the Body in Christ in them. I think when we are finally able to return to our churches to be able to receive the sacraments, there will be a much deeper appreciation for the avenues of graces that come from the celebration of the sacraments.

The pandemic, you know, we never change unless we are forced to change, and right now the pandemic is forcing us to change. It is not easy, but I think the Holy Spirit is prompting us to evangelize in totally new and different ways. In my parish, that is livestreaming the liturgies. It means compiling a more comprehensive e-mail list so I can be in communication with my parishioners electronically. It also means becoming more technologically savvy to bring our faith into more lives, which we maybe have not done before.

I think this time of pandemic has been a call for us to appreciate the gifts God has given us and to walk more humbly with the Lord, to be more intentional at what we do and to evaluate what is important in life and what is not. Chief among those priorities are relationships, and I hope this time has served as a retreat. During this retreat, we have grown closer to Jesus, and it will truly be a greater celebration when we can finally come together again as the Body of Christ and celebrate not only God’s presence in the sacraments but also as a gathered community of faith.

Is there anything I have not asked you that you would like share?

I have always been interested in history and politics. I was an exchange student between my junior and senior year in high school in Turkey, and still stay in touch with my Turkish brother. He has returned to Turkey now where he is married. He is still a part of our family, and that is really important to me.

What continues to fascinate me most is parish life and how to encourage and deepen the faith of each parish faith community. That is where my heart is.

(Interview conducted by Chris Heisey)

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