The International Priests Retreat

Greetings, once again!

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I was in Ars, France, where I participated in the International Priests Retreat held to mark the Year for Priests.

At Logan Airport, as I was about the take the plane to France, I was invited by the kitchen workers there to bless their kitchen. Of course, I was very happy to do it.



The retreat in Ars was attended by about 1,500 priests, both young and old, from about 75 different countries.






The confessional of St. John Vianney


The room where he died

As you might suppose, the largest group of attendees was from France. The second largest group was from the United States and there were priests from Africa, Latin America, China, and Eastern Europe there, as well.

Those who travelled the farthest to attend were a group of priests and a bishop from Samoa. It took them three days to get there. Unfortunately, the bishop had to return home early because of the tsunami that struck the islands.

We had a very nice group of about 20 priests from Boston and the New England area. Father Bill Kelly, our director of the Office for Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation, organized the trip for us.


Father Bill Kelly

The venue for the retreat talks was a very large underground church built near St. John Vianney’s Parish Church and Basilica.



For our meals, the organizers put up a big tent in a field near the basilica

Many priests stayed in hotels in the area. I stayed at the Le Foyer Sacerdotale, a retreat house that is very close to the basilica.

The retreat was preached by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, so he gave most of the talks. Cardinal Schönborn spoke in French. I gave four talks during the retreat, though I delivered mine in English.


Cardinal Schönborn

One of the talks was given by Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities, on the theme of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples.

The retreat opened with a video of the Holy Father greeting the priests. You can read the text of his speech here.

One night there was a beautiful Eucharistic procession through the streets of Ars.








In one of the liturgies, we renewed our priestly vows from the Holy Thursday Mass. That was a very moving experience as well.


There was also a large penance service for the priests


When I celebrated Mass for the group on Wednesday, we used the Cure of Ars’ chalices and his vestments. We used his monstrance during the Eucharistic Adoration.


One of the Masses was celebrated by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris. Then, Cardinal Christian Tumi, the Archbishop of Douala, Cameroon, arrived and celebrated Mass towards the end of the retreat.


The Community of the Beatitudes was in charge of the music and they did a terrific job.


I had the opportunity to meet again Cathy Brenti who came to Boston together with her bishop in 2006 with the relic of the heart of the Cure D’Ars. She was one of the coordinators of this priests retreat.

It was a wonderful way to mark the Year for Priests. In fact, this event was planned even before the Year for Priests was announced, particularly with the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, but it was very fitting in this context.

It was a grace-filled experience for all those who were able to be a part of it.

I had never been to Ars before. It is a very beautiful town in the rural agricultural part of France. It is in the southeastern part of the country, an area with many important religious shrines. It is not far from Taizé, Cluny, Paray-le-Monial, which are all in that area. LaSalette is also not terribly far away.




While in Ars, my priest secretary Father Jonathan tried a new video camera and created the following short videos.

First a beautiful story on the arrival of Father Jean-Marie Vianney to Ars

Then, with the help of Father Marcel Taillon, a tour of the home of the Cure D’Ars and of the museum.

He also taped me as I was at the original church where St. Jean Marie Vianney served the people.

And we asked Cardinal Schönborn and Jean Vanier to greet our blog readers.

While in France, I was also able to visit some other parts of the country as well. I had the opportunity to visit the nearby town of Paray-le-Monial where Our Lord appeared to Marguerite Marie Alacoque in the 17th century. In the visions, Christ asked for greater devotion to the Eucharist and also for the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.






On our way back, we came through Paris. We arrived there on October 2. I had always heard that there were certain days when they venerated the relic of the Crown of Thorns at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Knowing this, I checked the browser on my phone to see when the veneration would be taking place.



Sure enough, there it was. I saw that veneration was to happen within two hours! We went right to Notre Dame. Though we just showed up, they were very kind to us.

Ars_BB_IMG00048-20091002-1022 The Knights of the Holy Sepulcher take care of the relics.



I was able to hold the crown of thorns for veneration by the people


The church was packed with people for the veneration. Many Russian Orthodox faithful came to be a part of it as well.

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This is a reliquary that hosts the crown of thorns. I believe it was made by Napoleon

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Another reliquary

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This is the tunic that belonged to St. Louis, the King of France

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These are medallions of all the popes, down to Benedict XVI. They are cameos, carved out on sea shells

– – –

Following the retreat, I flew directly from Paris to Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting of the National Catholic Education Association on Monday, October 5.

The NCEA is the professional association for the 200,000 people who work in Catholic education at all levels — primary schools, secondary schools, universities, seminaries.

Each year, they honor people from throughout the country for their contributions to Catholic education.

Two President’s awards and six Ann Seton awards were presented this year, one of them to Jack and Eileen Connors.


Each of the honorees was able to name one person who would receive a scholarship. The Connors named a young man, Addison Atanga, an eighth grader at Holy Trinity in Brockton, as the beneficiary of the scholarship.

It was very enlightening to see what is happening throughout the country and how people are stepping forward to support Catholic education and to work for the renewal of our Catholic schools. We are very proud that among the people who were singled out for their philanthropy and dedication to Catholic schools was Jack and Eileen Connors.

– – –

By Tuesday, I was back home in Boston. On Tuesday night, I went to Stonehill College for a celebration to honor Father Mark Cregan. He was given the Thomas and Mary Shields Awards for all of his support of Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton. The event was held at the college’s new science hall, which was named in honor of the Shields.


The children from Trinity Academy sang a number of songs and the band played a number of pieces. The children did a fantastic job.


Three or four students read essays that they had submitted for a contest. It was just amazing to listen to the caliber of these essays because it sounded more like high school material. Everyone was so impressed with what they are doing.

– – –

Finally, don’t forget about our Social Justice Convocation on Saturday, Oct. 17 at Boston College High School, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I invite you all to attend what will help you bring to the world Christ’s compassion and love for all. I am looking forward to seeing you there.

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán

26 thoughts on “The International Priests Retreat”

  1. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I love how you are able to posty the things you did over the week. It is very interesting to hear what you do for the week! My class had to write a one page essay on Saint John Vianney, and then in class we had to do a skit/radio inverview. It must’ve been nice to see where Saint John Vianney died. I can’t wait untill your next blog!

    -Morgan Giblin
    Grade 7
    Saint Paul School

  2. Dear Cardinal Sean, once again you have blown me away with your wonderful blog! All the past weeks have been wonderful but, i have to say this blog was especially amazing! As soon as you started to talk about St.John Mary Vianney I said to myself, “Hey! we are learning about him in school this year! He is the patron Saint of Preists!” I loved hearing about St. John Vianney! He was an amazing man! Even in his youth he was always devoted to God and teaching others the way of Jesus! When he was a child he even tought others their prayers and catechism. I strive to be like him throughout my own life. Also i loved the pictures of you and your fellow preists walking throught the streets of France. It was buetiful! Thank you once again for your great blogs!


    Emma Hofmann, Grade 7, Saint Paul School Hingham, MA

  3. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    I just wanted to say the pictures look great. The videos add a nice touch to the blog.

    Matt Blanchard
    Boston College High School
    Class of 2010

  4. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I think that it is awsome that we can read about how your week and all the amazing things that you get to do. I thought the under ground church bouilt near St.John Vianney’s parish church was outstanding and have took a very long time to build. Also I think that the statue of the little boy and the priest was terrific and its always great to see the new videos posted. Finally I always love to see new blogs and cant wait for the next one to come!

    Erin Duffey
    Saint Paul School
    Hingham, MA
    Grade 7

  5. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I enjoyed reading about your retreat to France. It is so beautiful there. The information about John Vianney is very helpful to me, since I am working on a report on him. I hope you enjoyed your trip!

    Mackenzie Voke,
    Saint Paul School, Hingham

  6. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    Your latest blog was very interesting and helpful to me and probably to many of my classmates. We are doing a research paper on St. John Vianney and different time periods of his life. Ars looks beautiful now but as I recall it was just a small, unpleasant town when St. John Vianney first started there. Thank You for a wonderful blog again.
    Mikayla McGrath

  7. Cardinal Sean,
    Thank you for your wonderful devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
    In addition, thank you for sharing the photo of your veneration of the crown of thorns. What a sacred opportunity!
    May God continue bless you with abundant graces.

  8. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    It was nice to see many interesting things of St, John Vianney such as where he died, because our class is doing research papers on him. Ars looks like a very beautiful town! The reliquary that hosts the Crown of Thorns, that was made by Napolen is beautiful!!! It was nice to see you at the blessing of the statue of St. Paul on monday also!
    Until next week,
    8th grade
    St. Paul School

  9. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    It must have been nice to be asked to bless a kitchen – it’s also a nice way to begin your retreat, which certainly sounds like it was both enlightening and fun. I watched some of the videos, and was shocked at how real the wax figures looked! It takes a real artist to make something that realistic. I also thought that the video of the statue was a wonderful story, and that the Church in France was beautiful.

    I heard that you came to our school to bless the statue on Monday. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but my teacher and some of my friends met you. It would be wonderful if you could come back sometime to celebrate Mass, but I understand that you have a very busy schedule – I can tell from the events in each week’s blog!

    Well, I’d say that the International Priests Retreat was a wonderful experience for all. Thank you for another great blog entry!

    Kate, Grade 8
    Saint Paul School
    Hingham, MA

  10. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    The videos on your blog were wonderful! It must of been exciting to go to France for the priests retreat. I am working on a report about St. John Vianney at the moment. He seems like he was a wonderful priest. I met you when the statue of St. Paul was blessed at St. Paul’s parish in Hingham on Monday. I hope that you will be able to come to St. Paul’s and celebrate Mass for all.

    Thank You,
    Grade 8
    St. Paul School, Hingham MA

  11. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I am an 8th grader at St. Paul School in Hingham. I loved reading about Saint John Vianney. We are actually doing timelines of Saint John Vianney’s life in Religion class. I also liked the pictures of the Eucharistic procession through Ars. I can’t wait until your next blog!

  12. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    This weeks blog was very interesting. I enjoy reading your blogs. The videos were great! Also the picture of the crown of thorns was really pretty. I am always learning something new each week.

    – Shannon
    Saint Pauls School

  13. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    I enjoyed hearing about the preists retreat. Ars, France looks like such a beautiful place. It is very special that so many preists gathered to celebrate God. Thank you for sharing you experiences with us in your blog.

    8th Grade Student at St. Paul School

  14. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    This weeks blog is so fascinating! My class is actually doing a two page report on John Vianney! It would have been great to visit his confessional. I thought the Eucharistic procession through the streets of Ars was really cool!

    Saint Pauls School
    Hingham, MA

  15. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    The Eucharistic procession in the streets of Ars looked beautiful! It would have been amazing to see that. It’s great that all of those preists come to Ars for the same purpose. It was cool to see all of the preists come together to recive the Sacrament of Penance. I can’t wait to hear from you next week.

    Your’s in Christ,
    Sally Stover
    Saint Paul School

  16. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    You must be tired after another busy week! I enjoyed reading about your travels. It was fun for me to read about the celebration of Saint John Vianney, because I immediatly reconized him as the patron saint of priests. Our pastors here at Saint Paul School have been educating us seventh graders and all students about him. I also liked looking at all the lovely pictues you took of France. I am excited for you next blog to see what you do next week!
    God Bless,
    Katie Irish
    Grade 7
    Saint Pual School

  17. Cardinal Sean,
    I can’t believe that you got to hold the crown of throwns. You’re lucky that you got to the church on time. The rest of the reliquarys all look very interseting. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that things like that can last all that time.
    God Bless,
    Kathleen Ryan

  18. Wow! Another great blog Cardinal Sean! It was nice to see your trip to France! Cardinal Schönborn’s speech was very nice to read as well. I think the most intresting of this blog were the pictures you took in Paray-le-Monial. They were beatiful. Last, I saw how you visited Trinity Academy. The students there must have put alot of hard work into that preformence! One again I would like to say this was a very intresting blog!

  19. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I really enjoyed you’re blog today I thought it was cool that you could go on a Priests Retreat in France. I also thought the video of St. John Vianney’s rooom where he lived and died was cool.

    Alex Giblin
    St Paul’s School.Hingham,MA

  20. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I really enjoyed reading your’re blog. I thought that was cool that you could go on a Priests Retreat in France. I thought the video of St. John Vianney’s room where he lived and died.

    Alex Giblin
    St Paul’s School,Hingham,MA

  21. Dear Cardinal Sean
    It was interesting to hear about France. I have been to France once when I was younger, but I never went to those places. Neither the less I liked it. You probably don’t remember me, but I was at the revealing of the statue of St. Paul, at St. Paul Church Hingham, Ma.

  22. Dear Cardinal Sean, I thought it was interesting that you went to B.C to hear their speaches I go to saint paul school someday I might go to B.C

    Sincerly, Brendan Sullivan

  23. Wouldn’t it be great if all, or most, priests in the Archdiocese processed in Eucharistic procession through the streets of Boston as well? What a great idea.

  24. Cardinal Sean,

    Thank you for the videos. I enjoy reading your blog each week. I am always learning something new each week.

    God bless.

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