By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

Three priests of the Philadelphia Archdiocese recently walked where the patron saint of all the world’s priests once walked when they participated in the International Priests’ Retreat in the Village of the Holy Curé of Ars, France.

The Sept. 27-Oct. 3 retreat was held in conjunction with the universal Church’s celebration of the Year of the Priest.

Attending were Auxiliary Bishop Daniel E. Thomas, who assists Cardinal Justin Rigali in overseeing the Secretariat for Clergy and is the episcopal chair of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s celebration of the Year of the Priest; Father Keith J. Chylinksi, parochial vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philadelphia; and Father William J. Monahan, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Southampton, Bucks County.

The retreat was sponsored by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.

The Year of the Priest commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Aug. 4 death of St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, also known as St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, whom Pope Benedict XVI has designated the patron saint of all the world’s priests.

St. John Vianney is widely known to Catholics as the Curé (parish priest) of Ars, who won over the hearts of his villagers in France by visiting with them, teaching them about God and reconciling people to the Lord in the confessional.

“Once again, it made me appreciate so deeply the universal nature of the Church and the gift of the priesthood which is so extraordinary as evidenced by all of these priests from all over the world, representing multiple priestly ministries,” Bishop Thomas said.

Fathers Chylinski and Monahan agreed.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, Bishop Thomas presided at morning prayer. Relics of St. Therese were processed in front of him. “That was powerful,” he said.

Among other highlights was the 1,200 priests and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley who participated in an evening Eucharistic procession through the streets of Ars on Oct. 1.

The universal nature of the priesthood was also highlighted throughout the retreat in prayers recited in many languages, including French, Italian and English. Mass was celebrated in Latin.

A line from a hymn which translates, “He is there,” repeated throughout the week resonated with Bishop Thomas. “John Vianney was very fond – even when he was preaching – of pointing to the tabernacle and saying, ‘He is there’ in French. Sometimes, he was just reduced to tears because he was so overwhelmed with the Presence of the Lord.”

Bishop Thomas attended the retreat because he deemed it important given his role during the Year of the Priest.

The bishop and the priests viewed the reliquary where St. John Vianney’s heart is located.

Inscribed on the reliquary are three French words that translate to charity, penance and purity. As Bishop Thomas contemplated those words, he said he received a renewed understanding of how essential all three virtues are for a priestly heart.

Father Chylinski said the retreat reiterated what the Year of the Priest is about. “It’s not just a pep rally for priests,” he said. Rather, the year is an invitation to examine, discover and rediscover “what an awesome gift and a privilege” the Lord has conferred through the sacrament of holy orders.

Father Chylinski said he returned from France with an even greater resolve to live out his priestly duties to the best of his abilities.

Father Monahan was moved by the retreat theme, which underscored “the joy of being a priest and finding joy in what it is you do each and every day in your ministry,” he said.

That includes “being able to bring the sacraments to the dying, to hear confessions of people who have been away from the Church for many years.”

Bishop Thomas said his prayer intentions throughout the retreat included all who have assisted priests and led them to their vocation, among others.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or