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The Shortage Shuffle

It's kind of like musical chairs for priests.

In the largest move ever in the Stockton Diocese, 20 priests will switch roles or receive new assignments in 16 parishes on July 1. One additional priest, Benjamin Puente, will be ordained June 30 and will be the final addition to the list.

"It's kind of a domino effect," said Monsignor Harmon Skillin, who retired as a priest in 2004 but now works part time as vicar of priests. "What happened to kick it off was one pastor resigned because he was called back East by his order. And we got two new priests ordained.

"You have to appoint these newly ordained priests with a pastor who is the right one to mentor a new priest. And, of course, (because of priest shortages) if you appoint a new priest to a parish, you're going to have to take away a priest."

The shuffling is the result of a six-month study by the diocese's personnel board, made up of a group of priests.

"It was daunting," Skillin said. "I'm sure we didn't do it perfect in this round."

Bishop Stephen Blaire, away at a national retreat for bishops, e-mailed a response to the changes, which he approved: "I believe that by and large, the changes are helpful to the parishes responding to their pastoral needs in accord with the priest personnel available," he said.

Last fall, the bishop said that in light of priest shortages, he wanted to take a look at not only the number of priests at various parishes but also at their skills and gifts to make sure they were in the proper roles.

Skillin said the latter was part of the process. "The real problem is shortage," he said. "To make it worse, we don't have the appropriate personnel. Some priests are more skilled at pastorate activities than others."

The shuffle includes some newpositions. Father Larry Guerrero from St. Joachim's in Newman, for example, will spend two-thirds of his time as the hospital chaplain in Stanislaus County, as well as helping on weekends at St. Joseph's in Modesto.

"That's a boon," said Father Joseph Illo, pastor at St. Joseph's. "(Hospital visits) are getting to be a great load. We have 20 to 25 calls a week for our parish. Two to three are night calls. He will relieve us of a lot of that.

"He'll also be able to do weekend Masses, weddings and confessions."

But the parish is losing two full-time priests and gaining only one full-time priest plus the part-time work of Guerrero.

"It does mean we'll lose one of our associates," Illo said. "We hope to go back to three full-time priests plus the hospital chaplain before the end of the year. But there are no guarantees."

What will St. Joseph's do in the meantime to minister to its 15,500 registered congregants?

"We're thinking strategically," Illo said. "We're trying to get a second deacon to help, especially with administration. We have nine weekend services (to coordinate). I'm doing that now. A deacon would really help in that area.

"We also want to obtain a seminarian intern to tide us over until we can build back up to three full-time priests. It would help. Even with three full-time priests, we've been strapped."

When he heard about the changes, Illo said he "went straight into the chapel. The first thing you do is pray about it. The second thing is to meet with your staff and figure out how to reallocate resources. I don't think we'll have to cancel anything.

"I'm not upset with the bishop or the personnel board," he explained. "They're doing the best they can with what they have. I complain to God sometimes, but he's man enough to take it."

The changes have others complaining as well.

"I have talked to a couple of people who are particularly sorry to see a particular priest leave a particular parish," Skillin said. "There's a lot of emotion connected with this thing. There are emotions to the priests themselves. They could be delighted that they're being moved or grieving that they're being moved. You have the same reaction of the people — those who have become close to the priests and those who are delighted to see them go."

The most frequent emotion, said Skillin, is sadness, and he understands that. "I remember when I was moved from a little parish here in Stockton to a parish in Lodi. It broke my heart," he said.

There are other broken hearts. There has been at least one petition to the bishop from congregants who want their priest to stay. But the changes will take place, Skillin said.

Overall, he said, the change "is going to give us a field of priests who will be covering the vineyard in sufficient numbers. We're carrying out their skills and capabilities to various parishes.

"It's a new life, and so fragile. We have to take care of it, make sure it gets off to a good start."


New Appointments

(new priests in the diocese)

Father David Dutra — parochial vicar at Sacred Heart, Turlock

Father Brandon Ware — parochial vicar at St. Anne's, Lodi

Father Sylvester Sarihaddula — parochial vicar at St. Bernard's, Tracy

Priest Changes

Special assignments:Father Juan Serna — from a sabbatical to in residence at Annunciation Cathedral and co-director for School of Ministry in Stockton, assisting at St. Bernard's, Tracy, on weekends

Father Larry Guerrero — from St. Joachim's, Newman, to hospital chaplain in Stanislaus County, assisting at St. Joseph's, Modesto, on weekends

Father Salvador Ledesma — from Sacred Heart, Turlock, to chaplain and administrator of All Saints Newman Community, Turlock

Parochial vicar:Father Camilo Garcia — from St. Frances of Rome, Riverbank, to St. Joseph's, Modesto

Father Jorge Arboleda — from St. Anthony's, Manteca, to St. Stanislaus, Modesto

Father John Lindsay — from St. Luke's, Stockton, to St. Stanislaus, Modesto

Father Alvaro Lopez — from St. Gertrude's, Stockton, to St. Anthony's, Manteca

Father Fernando Barrera — from St. Bernard's, Tracy, to Church of the Presentation, Stockton

Father Joseph Maghinay — from St. Stanislaus, Modesto, to St. Luke's, Stockton

Father Rolando Petronio — from St. George's, Stockton, to St. Gertrude's, Stockton

Father Edwin Musico — from St. Bernard's, Tracy, to St. George's, Stockton

Father Alberto Cuevas-Diaz — from St. Joseph's to Our Lady of Fatima, Modesto

Father Anthony Chacko — from Church of the Presentation, Stockton, to St. Bernard's, Tracy

Pastor appointments:

Father J. Patrick Walker — from St. Michael's, Stockton, to St. Anthony's, Manteca

Father Dick Morse — from St. Anthony's, Manteca, sent by his order to another state

Father Hector Villegas — from St. Stanislaus, Modesto, to St. Joachim's, Newman

Administrator Appointments:Monsignor Agustin Gialogo — from St. Patrick's, Angels Camp, to St. Michael's, Stockton

Father Francis Arakal — from St. Joseph's, Modesto, to St. Patrick's, Angels Camp

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or