To celebrate our Week of Prayer for Vocations, I’d like to share a reflection written by Rev. Msgr. Paul Zimmer, CHH, a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Msgr. Zimmer is Pastor of St. Clement’s Parish in Etobicoke and has been a great witness of the vocation of priesthood to many of us (myself included) through his own dedicated life of service. Wishing Msgr. Zimmer an early Blessed Anniversary! A BEAUTIFUL witness!!
I still remember vividly the day of my Ordination to the Holy Priesthood. It was Saturday, April 30, 1977. The ceremony took place in Our Lady of Victory Church, where I spent two years as a Deacon Intern. The ordaining bishop was His Excellency Francis Valentine Allen, auxiliary to Archbishop Philip Pocock. I was 27 years old.
My First Mass, with family, friends and parishioners, took place the next day in Our Lady of Victory Church. The preacher was my best friend and brother priest, Father John Croal. We met by chance in 1970. I was a student at Ryerson and he was already in the seminary. Father John inspired my vocation, and then pushed, pulled and prayed me to my ordination day. After 50 years of friendship the bond between us remains the same: love for Christ, love for the Church he founded and love for the people we serve. Thank you Father John.
My priestly ordination took place during a time of great turmoil for the Church. In those years, just after the Second Vatican Council, everything was being questioned, including the role and identity of the priest. Many priests and religious sisters abandoned their vows and sacred commitments. Some even walked away from the Church and the practice of the Faith.
Hurt. Disillusionment. Anger. Fear and anxiety. These were just a few of the emotions I experienced as a young priest. It sometimes seemed that everything I believed, about the Priesthood and the Church, was under attack. Thankfully, the one thing necessary was always there. Jesus Christ. The same yesterday, today and forever. Jesus Christ. Alive in the Church, in the Tabernacle and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus Christ. The rock of our salvation. I held on to him for dear life, and thankfully, he held on to me.
My first parish appointment was a great blessing. Archbishop Philip Pocock sent me to All Saints Parish in Etobicoke. My pastor was a wise and humble man, Father (now Monsignor) Marianno “Moe” Polito. He taught me to ignore the polemics of the day and encouraged me to focus on the real-time needs of our parishioners. I spent a happy five years in that first, formative appointment.
After All Saints I made the round of the Archdiocese: Associate Pastor at St. Christopher’s in Mississauga, Vice-Rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral, and then Pastor at St. Anne’s in Brampton, Prince of Peace in Scarborough, Annunciation in North York and finally, best of all, a return home as Pastor of St. Clement Parish in Etobicoke. As many of you already know, my family were founding members of this parish. As a seminarian I actually served at the blessing of the church.
Am I the same man who was ordained 43 years ago in Our Lady of Victory Church? An honest look in the mirror tells me that I’ve changed considerably since those first years of my priesthood. Less hair. More lines and wrinkles. And of course, the energy level has diminished greatly. I was ordained at 27 and this year, on the 4th of August, I will turn 71.
The physical changes are obvious, but the real changes are more important. Over the years the Lord Jesus has gentled me, humbled me and taught my heart. Day in and day out, year in and year out, he has formed me as a shepherd after his own heart. And trust me, I’m still a work in progress. The Lord isn’t finished with me yet. In fact, I sometimes feel that I’m only now beginning to understand what the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is all about. Thank you Lord.
So here I am. Forty-three years a Priest and 13 years as Pastor of St. Clement Parish. What a wonderful gift. Please pray for me and join me in thanking God for his many blessing, especially for the gift of the Holy Priesthood. On my part, I will continue to pray for each and every one of you. On this 43rd Anniversary I pledge to continue my journey in the footsteps of Jesus the Great High Priest. The one who came to serve and not to be served The one who came to give his life as a ransom for many.
Msgr. Zimmer also shared this reflection with the people he shepherds on the St. Clement’s Parish website.