BRANDON — The Rev. Arthur Proulx, pastor of Nativity Catholic Church, has been called by his bishop, the Most Rev. Robert N. Lynch, to become a spiritual director for young men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami.
“I’ll help each individual man discern God’s will for his life, with an emphasis on prayer and the sacraments,” said Proulx, who will give talks on the spiritual life and participate with the students in communal prayer, daily Mass and retreats.
In preparation, Proulx will attend a summer institute for priestly formation at Creighton University.
“The parish is very sad he’s leaving,” said Justin Lantz, Nativity’s youth director. “We’re going to miss him a lot, not just the youth program, but my family. He’s been a personal inspiration; he’s been there through difficult times.
“He’s very personable, joyful; he’s been there for a lot of our teens, never misses an opportunity to be present to our teens, especially in the sacrament of confession. He takes a lot of time with them, talking with them, building relationships with them. He takes time to visit parish ministries and to talk with little kids every day in the car line. We’re very sad but excited for him to go and do what God’s calling him to. He’s got a lot of gifts to share.”
Proulx, an alumnus of St. John Vianney, was director of vocations for seven years in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and assistant director before that.
He served on the seminary’s board of trustees and on the seminarian board (admissions) for the diocese. He has been a spiritual director for many seminarian interns.
“Right now, there is a record number of students at the two Florida seminaries, so there’s more of a need,” said Proulx.
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In 1992, Saint John Paul II, then pope, wrote “Da Vobis Pastores (Give Us Pastors),” calling for trained spiritual directors in seminaries.
Spiritual direction “is really important. Each student has to be accountable and meet regularly with their spiritual directors. Their spiritual life must be serious, because it affects how they minister to people. Their relationship with Christ has got to be the foundation of everything else they do,” said Proulx.
“There needs to be good discernment,” he said. “Is their motivation correct? Are they working toward giving themselves up to Christ through service to his church? The spiritual director helps them through the ups and downs of their spiritual life.”
There also is, in this pastoral plan, “good human formation, so that in the end, we’re ordaining good, unselfish, mature men to the priesthood,” said Proulx. “The days of assuming a man comes from a thoroughly Catholic background from a practicing Catholic family isn’t true for many of them. Many, if not most, of them have had some kind of conversion experience, either a personal one to Christ or to the church.”
Becoming a seminary spiritual director “has been suggested to me several times over the years, and it never appealed to me,” said Proulx. “However, the idea has gradually grown on me and become pretty clear this is God’s will for me, by personal prayer, receiving spiritual direction myself, encouragement from my brother priests, and surprisingly, by parishioners who said they could see how that is my charism.”
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It was June 2004 when Proulx arrived at Nativity.
In his 10 years at the parish, which now has about 6,000 registered families, he has focused on increasing the sense of Christian community, hospitality, harmony, stewardship, caring for the sick and participation in the life of the parish and the larger church.
He started a second weekly Spanish-language Mass (about 1,200 people regularly attend the two Masses) and ministries involving the local Spanish-speaking community.
He recently encouraged involvement with Family Promise, an ecumenical organization that helps area homeless families.
He continued the development of Nativity Catholic School and religious education for children and adults and supported the longstanding association with La Victoria, Dominican Republic.
“It’s a mutual mission,” he said. “We’re assisting them, giving a helping hand, but cooperating with them, not coming with a paternalistic attitude thinking we know what’s best for them.
“In turn, they help us in countering materialism and commercialism [when we see] the people can have joy and real faith in their lives, while living very simply.”
Proulx has enjoyed Nativity’s “good liturgies, excellent youth ministry and community activities,” he said. “I love our fish fries! It has nothing at all to do with a fundraiser. I just love when families come, all ages together, kids running around, their grandparents here, the youth group and Scouts helping the men’s group.”
Proulx told the incoming pastor, the Rev. John Tapp, currently pastor of Holy Family Parish in St. Petersburg, that Nativity “is a very welcoming community and a non-complaining community, and that folks will welcome him and want him to succeed.”
Tapp is expected to arrive in Brandon in July. Proulx, who is about five years older than Tapp, said they met in seminary more than 35 years ago.
“We’ve always enjoyed each other’s company and gotten along. He’s a very talented person, a great preacher, an all-around nice guy.
“He has a great interest in community involvement. He’ll really bring the parish along in regard to outreach.
“He has a lot of knowledge of music and liturgy — his father was a longtime music director at the Cathedral of St. Jude. People will really be happy with him.”
Freelance correspondent Barbara Routen can be reached at [email protected]