Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A priest no more

Author Finbarr Corr left Madison church for marriage

The Daily Record
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

At the age of 53, Finbarr Corr, pastor of St. Vincent Martyr Church in Madison, made a decision to leave the Catholic priesthood, a vocation he loved, to pursue marriage.

Corr, the author of several books, recently published a memoir, "Bridges from Legaginney," about his journey from the priesthood to husband and lay professional. He tells his story tenderly, in the typical humorous Celtic style, recounting his decision to leave the priesthood to pursue marriage to Laurie Hutton and open up a private counseling center.

For 13 years prior to making his decision to resign the priesthood, he had been questioning the Catholic Church's edict on mandatory priest celibacy, which precludes marriage and family.

"I went on sabbatical in California and Rome, just before celebrating my silver jubilee as a priest, to resolve the inner conflict I had been struggling with for 13 years," Corr said in a telephone interview. "I could find no basis in scripture or theology with what I had come to realize, through counseling engaged and married couples, was an unnatural lifestyle for me."

A native of Ireland

Corr, born in Legaginney Townland, Ballintemple Parish, County Cavan, Ireland, came to the United States in 1960 as a missionary priest. Through the years his ministry included working with inner-city youth and the adults of Northern New Jersey, and counseling engaged and married couples. The last nine years of his ministry he was pastor of St. Vincent Martyr, a parish of 1,500 people.

How did Corr give up a life that he was spiritually, educationally and emotionally suited for? He also gave up a parish where he was very much loved and admired.

While in Rome, he continued his quest to resolve the issue of mandatory celibacy. He was fortunate to find a sensitive spiritual director who was a member of the Jesuit order and a native of India. Among their discussions, yet again he asked the same question pertaining to mandatory celibacy that he had been asking for 13 years. The answer was always the same. It was a Church hierarchy rule that was a discipline and also a deterrent to the problem of dispersing Church property.

After returning from Rome, Corr knew that he did not want to continue to be celibate for the remainder of his life and that marriage was a more normal lifestyle for him.

Seeking counsel

Having made this decision, he continued to work with a counselor and his brother priests at Bethlehem Center in Chester to make the least traumatic departure in the eyes of the Church hierarchy, the school, the parishioners, his brother priests, family members and his many good friends.

Corr acknowledged that this was a very painful process. He had to personally advise everyone in the parish, as well as family members and good friends.

"While some of my brother priests were disappointed in me, as well as some of the lay people at St. Vincent's, I had some very strong support from others. Father Jim, my close colleague at St. Vincent's, had known for years of my conflict. He was my staunchest supporter."

Among his other supporters were Gloria and John Agel, a couple who were head of the Welcoming Committee for new members. While the feelings of the parish were divided when he announced his decision, Gloria Agel can't say enough about what a wonderful pastor he was.

"Finbarr was a wonderful pastor," she said. "He was outgoing, loving and worked a lot behind the scenes. He was much loved by his parishioners. We still keep in touch. My husband and I visit with Finbarr and Laurie."

Ann Marie Gisoldi, the current youth minister, at the time worked as a teacher at the school.

"Finbarr had a way of making everyone part of the team," she said. "You felt that God was leading him to do this work. He was very supportive of the staff. He continues to come back to the parish and visit with the people he had close relationships with."

From Corr's perspective, it was a wrenching experience.

"Changing a lifestyle is seldom easy, and I found it more difficult as I passed my 50th birthday. I wondered how my family would accept my no longer being Father Finbarr for the rest of my life, since I would be the first priest in a long line of Father Corrs to resign the ministry to marry."

The book details his courtship and marriage to Hutton on Oct. 23, 1988, creating yet another transition, from being the central figure in a parish where he could make decisions solo, to being a husband. He recalls an incident when he accepted an invitation, without consulting Hutton, to dinner with another couple on a certain Friday night. Her response: "I don't remember saying I was free on Friday night to go to dinner."

"I knew that if I married Laurie," he writes in his book, "or any woman for that matter, I would have to sacrifice this freewheeling, egotistical way of living my personal life and participate in a 50-50 decision-making relationship for the rest of my life."

Once the decision had been made and the Bishop advised of his decision, the parishioners notified and his departure determined, Corr began the search for a career.

"When Laurie said she made enough money for both of us to live on until I found something meaningful to do, I knew I couldn't live off my wife. I also knew that I wanted to continue to use the skills and talents that I had already developed in my counseling experience. Resigning from the priesthood also meant that I would be going out on my own. I was used to having a reservoir of lay people to work with."

He began meeting with people in industry and other priests who had left the ministry to gain insight. While it did not yield an immediate path to a new career, it was an education.

Hutton arranged for him to attend a five-day seminar, "Vision Quest," where he made a decision to open up a counseling service in Morristown. The decision was based on his love of working with people and his acquired counseling skills.

Corr was introduced and ultimately sponsored in the Rotary Club in Morristown by Jim Mongey, owner of the Dublin Pub in Morristown.

"I have known Finbarr for more than 35 years," Mongey said of his fellow Irishman. "I sponsored him into the Rotary Club, and we have worked together on many fundraisers. I like to say that he is full of blarney. In reality, he is a very kind, caring, considerate person. He has done a lot of work for the Rotary here in Morristown and is now involved in Rotary International."

Corr began a dialogue in Cape Cod with a group of Rotarians who are moderate Muslims, Christians and Jews. Along with Mohammad Zudhi Jasser, a Rotarian and a Muslim, he created a peace forum.

This is not his first experience bringing together people of different persuasions. While at St. Vincent's in Madison, he successfully moderated dialogue among Catholic, Protestant and Jewish people to gain an understanding of each other's faith-based principles.

Corr still feels like a priest, even though he is married. He feels being married is not a deterrent to being an effective minister of a faith that he has never lost. He is still very devoted to the principles of the Catholic Church and an active practicing Catholic.

Twenty years later, having retired from a successful counseling practice and teaching sociology and psychology at Essex County College in Newark, Corr and Hutton retired to Cape Cod and Florida. He continues to enjoy teaching at Cape Cod Community College, working with Rotary International, gardening and writing books.

He has written a number of books, including, "Bridges from Legaginney." This book and his others, "A Kid From Legaginney," "Living, Laughing, and Loving thru Marriage" and "The Many Loves of Joe Carroll: A Memoir as told to Finbarr Corr," can be purchased at Schnipper's Book Store, Main Street, Madison, through amazon.com, at Corr's Web site, http://www.finbarrcorr.com/, and Barnes and Noble Bookstores.

No comments: