EFFINGHAM — The Rev. Chris Brey, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua and Shumway St. Mary's Catholic Church, is leaving the priesthood and plans to get married next month, church officials confirmed on Tuesday.
Brey on Monday gave Bishop Thomas John Paprocki his resignation, according to an email to St. Anthony High School families from Vicar General Monsignor David J. Hoefler of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
Hoefler said he discussed the resignation with Brey in person, during which he was told: “He is leaving the active ministry of the priesthood and is engaged to be married on November 25, 2017,” the email said.
Brey could not be reached for comment.
Brey, 47, was expected to tell the St. Anthony school principals and staff by Wednesday. On Tuesday, St. Anthony Principal Greg Fearday confirmed the resignation, but referred questions to the diocese.
Marlene Mulford, director of the Office of Communications for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, said Brey can remain a member of the Catholic Church. But she wouldn't comment on his plans.
“It was Father Brey's personal decision to submit his resignation,” said Mulford.
The Rev. Thinh Tran, an associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi in Teutopolis, was surprised by the news Tuesday afternoon.
“It shocked me,” said Tran. “I’m sure he probably (prayed) for quite a while to make that decision,” said Tran. “For Catholic priests, it’s really hard to step down. It’s not very popular or common because we vow when we become priests, but it does happen. I’m just surprised.”
The Rev. Dean Probst of St. Thomas the Apostle in Newton was also taken aback by the news.
“I’m stunned by the announcement that I got in an email today that he was leaving,” said Probst. “I haven’t processed it a whole lot.”
Despite the shock, Probst still reflected on how important Brey has been to the area.
“He will certainly be missed,” said the Newton pastor. “He was able to bring people together and was a good preacher. He was very good with youth and adults and a good administrator. That’s why he was in the capacity as dean of the deanery.”
Brey was the dean of the Effingham Deanery, which encompasses several towns: Altamont, Casey, Charleston, Dieterich, Edgewood, Green Creek, Greenup, Lillyville, Marshall, Mattoon, Montrose, Neoga, Newton, Oblong, Robinson, Shumway, St. Elmo, St. Marie, Sigel, and Teutopolis.
Probst first worked closely with Brey in 2000, when the two were helping people prepare and apply for the seminary.
“He’s outgoing and a great leader,” said Probst.
The bishop will meet with the priest personnel board to make a decision to fill the vacancy.
“In the meantime, there will be priests available to fill in,” said Mulford.
According to the emailed announcement, Hoefler will be at St. Anthony Parish for Mass this weekend. He will also be at Shumway Parish after Saturday evening Mass and St. Anthony's Parish Center following 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday for questions.
Weekday Masses at 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. will still be available. The schedule for next week's Masses has not been finalized.
Mulford said Brey was ordained May 24, 1997, and has been given several assignments since then. He's been assigned as a pastor to the Effingham parish since 2014.
Other assignments have included: parochial vicar at St. Anthony, 1997-2000; chaplain at Newman Catholic Center at Eastern Illinois University, 2000-2003; associate director of vocations, 2000-2003, in conjunction with the position at EIU; pastor at Greenup, Marshall and Casey, 2003-2008; pastor in Beardstown, Arenzville, Ashland and Virginia, Illinois, 2008-2014; diocesan coordinator of Hispanic Catechesis, 2006-present; dean of Jacksonville Deanery, 2010-14; and parochial administrator at Jerseyville and Grafton, 2014.
Mulford added that Brey is fluent in Spanish and as director of Hispanic Ministry, he also worked for many years with Hispanic Catholics in the diocese.
As for what the deanery and the two parishes Brey leaves behind will do now, Probst hopes they pursue someone who can help heal.
“People are going to be stunned, just as priests are, and will need help to deal with the transition,” said Probst. “It’s just a difficult time for a parish when a pastor decides to leave the active ministry. It’s one thing to retire or to be transferred to a new assignment, but to just leave an active ministry is like a death. It’s almost like a divorce.”
Tuesday's announcement explained that a transition plan could come as early as next week.
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