Ring around the collar


Out here in the real world, priests and nuns still command respect.

Forbes Magazine didn't get the memo in time for its "best and worst jobs of 2011'' edition, but apparently the Catholic priesthood has tumbled to the level of roustabout, lumberjack, and meter reader in its appeal to young men.

I learned this yesterday from a media mailing list called "Help a Reporter Out,'' where reporters and publicists go to scratch each other's itches. There, among searches for overweight teen girls in DC and experts on the pros and cons of gift cards, was this: "Documentary-style show seeks young men who are thinking of, or have decided, to become a priest in the Catholic faith. Where it used to bring honor, now it carries negativity. Parents, are you thinking, 'Where did I go wrong? Why did he choose the priesthood?' Friends, are you thinking, 'He used to be so fun and cool. . . I can't hang out with him now?' Whatever your thoughts, we'd like to hear them.''

The query was entitled: "OMG! My son/friend/brother wants to become a priest!'' The woman who posted it said she works for a major television network. I don't know Marie Malyszek, but I bet two things: first, that she doesn't know any priests, and second, that she doesn't go to church.

Even here in Boston, the epicenter of the priest sex-abuse scandal, reasonable people don't blame the priesthood for the sins of a few. This makes as much sense as putting out a query that says "OMG! My son/friend/brother wants to get married! Where did I go wrong?'' because Newt Gingrich exists.

Out here in the real world, priests and nuns still command respect. If you doubt it, follow one around for a few hours, and watch how people respond to the collar and the veil. Hands are offered, doors are held, meal tabs are covered, just as for servicemen and women in uniform.

My own Metrowest parish is led by two handsome young men, one of whom is a part-time chaplain for firefighters, the other who is deaf and an avid cyclist. My kids think they're rock stars. Fun and cool? They've got it covered. But even their older, less fun-and-cool colleagues retain their honor.

Here's the truth: People like priests, even now. They may make jokes in rough company, they may never imagine such a life for themselves, but they retain the old sensibility that the priesthood is a profession that matters, that to spend one's life in service to mortals, and the Immortal, is more worthwhile than being, say, a software engineer. (The No. 1 job in 2011, Forbes magazine said.)

Even here in Boston, the epicenter of the priest sex-abuse scandal, reasonable people don't blame the priesthood for the sins of a few.

The reporter imagines a stain, a ring around the collar. But hers is the imagining of one schooled without faith. OMG? The phrase is not even allowed in most homes I know in which God, not major television networks, is the source and summit of a family's values.

As for me, if one of my two sons felt a call to the priesthood, my first reaction, I confess, would be to wail. But I would wail, not, "What have I done wrong?'' Rather, "But what about my grandchildren?''

Other than that, I'd be thinking: Wow, my fun and cool son, a priest! I must have done something right.

Author's note:

Too late for inclusion, I saw a Zenit story on a new book by Monsignor Stephen Rossetti that says Catholic priests are happier than the general population. Msgr. Rossetti, an associate dean at The Catholic University of America, surveyed 2,500 priests and found 92 percent of them happy in their work. This is especially remarkable since over 50% of Americans report being unhappy with their jobs.

The Monsignor's survey finds support in a recent National Opinion Research Center's scientific poll of 27,000 Americans, which found that in general clergy were the most satisfied and happiest of all Americans.

The bottom line: Most people like priests, most priests like their jobs; everyone's happy, it seems, but for this reporter. Msgr. Rossetti's book, Why Priests Are Happy, was published by Ave Maria Press. Here's the link to the Zenit story on it.




Jennifer Nicholson Graham. "Ring around the collar." Boston Globe (October 14, 2011).

Excerpted by permission of the author, Jennifer Nicholson Graham.


Jennifer Nicholson Graham is a writer and editor based in Boston, MA. Formerly a religion columnist for Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, she is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe Magazine. Ms. Graham's essays have been published in magazines such as Runner's World, Parents, Newsweek and Family Circle. Her website is Jennifergraham.com.

Copyright © 2011 Jennifer Nicholson Graham

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