Saint Mary's Pastor: Redefining The "Life of Reilly"

Father Francis Reilly had his work cut out for him when he became Saint Mary’s Parish Priest last October. With the death of the beloved Monsignor Devine, the brief Pastorate of Father Francis Lavelle, and the ensuing departure of Father Darius Wodarski, there was a huge gap in leadership in the town’s most populous church. Father Reilly was assigned to fill the bill, and it appears that he has found an excellent fit with the church organization and with the parishioners as well.

His youthful features belie his 49-years, and at over six feet, Father Reilly looks like he would be quite at home on a basketball court. An excellent physical makeup is probably a prerequisite to the schedule he keeps. A "Life of Reilly" it is not! Unlike some churches which have as little as one mass a week, Father Reilly routinely celebrates between ten and fifteen masses each week at the busy parish. During this holiday season, there were two masses each weekday morning, in addition to the regular weekend schedule. Then there are the additional weddings, funeral and baptisms. Father Chris Connelly comes in on weekends to help shoulder the load. Other than that, it's a solo act. Following each mass, the congenial Father Reilly greets each parishioner as they exit. Indeed, there was quite a throng of white-haired ladies around him, each one waiting to have his ear, a warm handshake and smile. I don't think the young pastor is lacking for motherly love and attention. Although he half-heartedly denies it, Father Reilly is, in a way, every mother's son. And how can you blame these ladies of the Guild and the parish? Like his predecessor, Monsignor Devine, Father Reilly is extremely well-educated, but doesn't let that get in the way of plain-spoken eyeball-to-eyeball communication.


A Springfield native, Father Reilly grew up in the predominately Irish Hungry Hill neighborhood. His early boyhood, he tells me, was completely devoid of any aspirations to the priesthood. As in my very own early days, the wooded dells and vales of Van Horn Park - with its fishing ponds, bike trails, athletic fields, and tennis courts - was his turf as well. He assures me that as a growing lad he didn't miss a beat and "did everything every other kid did….everything." Our paths may very well have crossed back then, but kids from the Atwater Park, Brightwood or Calhoun Park neighborhoods usually kept to their own, and had no more than a nodding acquaintance with youngsters from other "hoods", like Hungry Hill, Forest Park or the X.

After graduating from Norwich Academy, a military academy in Northfield, VT, Father Reilly attended the seminary of the University of Louvain in Belgium, and was ordained on November 8, 1980. For the next two decades, he presided over predominantly Hispanic parishes here in Western Massachusetts. Having paid his dues, so to speak, he was honored in 1998 with an audience with the Pope. From the look on his face, it was an experience never to be forgotten.

Since his inception at Saint Mary's six months ago, Father Reilly has experienced what he referred to as some "amazing connections". Paths that had diverted long ago again came unexpectedly together; and old acquaintanceships reappeared out of nowhere. As he explored his new parish, Father Reilly discovered that in it were some of his former teachers at Classical High School. Old neighbors and acquaintances from the Hungry Hill days had made good and migrated to Longmeadow as well. It was a pleasant surprise to see these folks again, and it served to make the good Father feel like he was, indeed, coming home. With his own parents in East Longmeadow, Father Reilly should feel right at home in his parish. With continued good health, he expects to be here for the long haul.

With the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the buildings, the Faith Formation Program, the administration of Saint Mary's busy school, and the rigorous demands of his day-to-day ministry, it will be quite a haul at that. Father Reilly is very impressed with the young people of his parish, citing their being "well brought up by good parents". Over 1200 of these young parishioners are involved in the Faith Formation Program, while the school has an enrollment of just over 200. These are very reassuring numbers that point to a bright future for the parish.

Father's office and study in the rectory are well-stocked with photographs and mementos of his earlier priesthood. Pictures of family, friends, colleagues and memorable events grace the tops of bureaus and line the mantle. He proudly showed me one picture of a beaming young priest with His Holiness the Pope. But despite the presence of Father Reilly's mementos, the room has an indelible aura of history about it. The various icons, pieces of furniture and old pictures and paintings seemed to speak to past occupants gone but not forgotten.

Monsignor Devine was reputed to have lived an ascetic life, residing in bare-bones quarters in the attic of the Rectory. I asked Father Reilly if he had inherited Monsignor's quarters. He laughed and said "No, but I did inherit his legacy of good works." Where I had figured the Monsignor would be a tough act to follow, Father Reilly sees it differently. Each morning, after a mass or two, he sets out to visit sick and ailing parishioners at the areas hospitals and nursing homes. Accompanied by loyal and hard-working Guild members such as Margaret Jenkins, he also makes home visitations and administers the Sacrament of Communion to shut-ins and invalids. When he finally gets back to the rectory, there are undoubtedly a variety of scheduled and unscheduled issues to address. When I suggested that he is comparable to a CEO, he responded with genuine naivety "sure…whatever that is".

Ain't it the truth? The one's that really have "it" usually don't even know it!

In his sermon this particular morning, Father Reilly spoke of the Easter holiday as one of both death and resurrection. Sometimes one thing has to go before the next can come in. The old surrenders and gives way to the new. He prayed for the end of war and terrorism and the safety of our troops. With the end of one regime, the possibility of a new and better one appears on the horizon. He prayed for the health of his parishioners, and he prayed for those departed. He prayed that during this Easter Season, the Spirit of the man called Jesus be resurrected again in all of us.

I would add a personal prayer that a bit of this vigorous new 'Life of Reilly' will rub off on all of us.



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