Monday, November 22, 2010

WEORC Gala Dinner Re-Cap

On October 17th, 165 guests, including well over 70 former priests and religious, together with their families, friends, and even a half-dozen canonical priests, celebrated at a gala banquet on the Northside of Chicago. The occasion was the 40th Anniversary of the founding of WEORC. The tone of the evening was festive… like a reunion of old friends, classmates and comrades who had not gotten together for too long a period of time.

WEORC essentially started as an out-placement group for priests and religious men and women. It currently maintains a network of some 2,200 members covering every state in the US and several countries around the world.

WEORC traces its roots to the 1960’s and 70’s when great numbers of men and women were leaving full-time ministry in the Catholic Church for a myriad of reasons – celibacy, authority, lack of change, too much change, etc. Transitioning to a new independence and secular life, meant that they needed basic help in writing resumes, preparing for interviews, and networking with potential employers. About 1970, Monsignor Jack Egan, then president of the Association of Chicago Priests, asked Marty Hegarty (Class of ‘54) to talk to the ACP board about how they could assist priests in transition. An initial workshop was followed by a “Career Day for Priests”. Eighty people paid to attend the conference. There was $225 left after the bills were paid. It became the seed money for the formal organization called WEORC (old English for “work”).

Marty and Jim Wilbur (‘56) became the backbone of the network that has endured to this day. Jim’s particular gift was an aptitude for lists, and he compiled long lists of resigned priests, sisters, and brothers. For those who were interested in participating, directories were published to assist in networking and mutual support. The final printed directory contained the names, addresses, and occupations of over 1,850 individuals. A free periodic newsletter, “The Word From WEORC”, kept members informed and in touch.

As the Hebrews were poised to cross the Jordan River into the land of Israel after 40 years in the wilderness, Moses passed the burden of leadership to Joshua and a new generation. Like Moses, Marty and Jim passed on the burden of leadership in 2001. In this case, Joshua’s name was John Horan (’81), and he pulled together a steering committee of “young” members. Then in the past year the point-person designation for the steering group went to Bob Motycka (’79).

In the program following the fabulous dinner, all four had a chance to speak to the history of WEORC, as well as to its present and future.

Currently not as many priests and religious are leaving ministry, though there is still a steady stream. This isn’t surprising since there aren’t that many young men going into the priesthood anymore. Also, the total number of priests in Chicago (for example) is down a third since 1980, and many of those who remain are now retired (about 27% of Chicago priests). While remaining true to its charter to help those in transition, WEORC continues to offer a forum for discussion and information for the hundreds that had made the transition years ago. Besides the traditional newsletter, WEORC maintains an online blog ( as well as a Facebook page.

WEORC’s focus has grown to include support for brothers and sisters of integrity who remain in active ministry, and who face the burdens of the ongoing pedophilia scandal, the growing shortage of priests, the dismantling of the reforms initiated by Vatican II, and the culture wars within the institutional Church. We have sent some pastoral letters to all the clergy in the Chicago Archdiocese. While some resented our input, others have been truly appreciative. One wrote back – “Continue speaking the truth. We hear very little truth from the Diocese these days.”

WEORC continues our support for women religious who have been badly treated by the hierarchy, and to support them when they run into conflict with the powers that be. We support a more inclusive priesthood.

WEORC will continue to celebrate the many ways in which resigned priests and religious men and women have brought the spirit of the Gospels into their parishes, their workplaces, and into the quest for social justice both within the Church, and in the wider society.

Finally, WEORC continues to be deeply concerned about this Catholic Church, which we love despite its flaws and frustrations. Recently, a Vatican official was dismissive to the representative of an Irish group, saying “you are a nobody leading a bunch of nobodies.” We may also be “nobodies”, but we can connect with other groups of “nobodies” to create a climate in which the Holy Spirit might initiate a surprise for the Church. It happened when Nelson Mandela emerged from prison to end apartheid in South Africa. It happened in the old Soviet Union when Michail Gorbachev emerged to bring down the Iron Curtain. And it happened when John XXIII was elected Pope and threw open the windows of a moribund church. We hope that WEORC can be a small, but significant part of that effort to heal our dysfunctional church.

The evening concluded with awards of appreciation for Marty and Jim, and a rousing chorus of “Ad multos annos”.

You can check WEORC out on-line, or drop us an email at .

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