New role, starting July 1, is about accompanying pastors in discerning the Holy Spirit in priestly ministry

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny sees his new role as the “great encourager,” something akin to St. Barnabas.

In the Gospel story, St. Barnabas accompanied the Apostles, supporting them on their mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Likewise, Msgr. Halfpenny will become the new spiritual supporter for priests and pastors of the Archdiocese of Detroit, as the newly appointed director of priestly mission in the Office of Clergy and Consecrated Life.

Msgr. Halfpenny, currently pastor of St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms, will be leaving the parish to take up his new role at the Chancery on July 1. 

“The role is intimately related to the experience of the synod and the preparation leading up to the synod,” Msgr. Halfpenny told Detroit Catholic. “In short, what I’ve been telling people is I’m going to be supportive of priests and their effort to move from maintenance to mission in their parishes.”

The essence of the newly created role is to be a listening post and adviser to priests and pastors as they discern what they can do to make their parishes centers for evangelization, in line with Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel.

“I am grateful to Msgr. Halfpenny for his willingness to take the lead in the ongoing formation of the presbyterate, especially by supporting them in becoming more effective in unleashing the Gospel,” Archbishop Vigneron said in a statement announcing the position.

Msgr. Halfpenny said one thing he aims to do is to encourage priests to use their fraternal time together — whether formal or informal — to share best practices in their parishes. 

“(Priests should be able to) say to one another, ‘So what are you doing, what works, what should be avoided, what should be duplicated?’" Msgr. Halfpenny said. "Because nobody has a copyright on how to go about evangelizing.”

In his new role in the Office of Clergy and Consecrated Life, Msgr. Halfpenny will be working closely with Fr. Robert Spezia, vicar for clergy and consecrated life, encouraging pastors to commit to a routine of prayer, as well as Eucharistic and Marian devotions while discerning any potential changes in the day-to-day operations of the parishes.

“This falls under Action Step 2.1 of Unleash the Gospel, where pastors are asked to recommit to daily practices of personal prayer and intercession and leading the parish staff in doing the same thing,” Fr. Spezia said. “Pastors are asked to make more regular time of Eucharistic exposition and Marian devotion and provide a generous amount of time to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to the parish.”

Msgr. Halfpenny’s role will be to serve as an adviser and listener for pastors and priests, who can bounce ideas off another priest and former pastor who can help discern what the Holy Spirit is asking from the church’s priests.

“As a pastor, Msgr. Halfpenny is familiar with a lot of the challenges and demands a pastor faces,” Fr. Spezia said. “Msgr. Halfpenny’s job isn’t directly concerned with parishes, but the leaders of the parish. The more effective the leader is to receiving God’s grace, the healthier the parish will be.”

Msgr. Halfpenny said he has always valued having a spiritual guide or mentor, noting that the Lord never asks people to work in silos or on an individual basis.

“The Lord wants us to work and collaborate with one another,” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “'When two or more are gathered, the Lord is present.’ I found in my life, it is extremely helpful — essential — to be involved in spiritual direction. I have had spiritual direction every year for my 43 years as a priest.

“I’m not going to be everybody’s spiritual director,” Msgr. Halfpenny added. “But I’ll certainly help guys who don’t have a spiritual director find someone who is going to help them with that.”

Msgr. Halfpenny said his own experiences in implementing Unleash the Gospel at St. Paul on the Lake will help him accompany and encourage other pastors to discern how the Holy Spirit is calling them to make their parishes more mission-led. 

When reflecting on the word “encourage,” Msgr. Halfpenny calls to mind times when he felt a boost of confidence when Cardinal Adam Maida appointed him pastor of St. Paul on the Lake in 2003.

“The word ‘courage” has at its heart, the word cor, the Latin word for ‘heart,’” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “When I came to St. Paul, I walked into the church with all kinds of questions: ‘Is this the place for me? How am I going to do here? Do I have the tools, the skills or the ability that I will need to be the pastor of this parish?’

“I then walked into the church, and about the tabernacle is a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pointing to His heart,” Msgr. Halfpenny continued. “That’s when I knew, as a pastor, my first responsibility was to make sure that my heart is open to an invitation by the heart of Jesus Christ, and through that invitation, anything is possible. That to me has always been my source of encouragement."

Before he was named pastor of St. Paul on the Lake in 2003, Msgr. Halfpenny was vice rector and dean of seminary formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Before that, Msgr. Halfpenny was pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Pontiac for three years, in addition to being editor-in-chief of The Michigan Catholic.

Reflecting on his time at St. Paul on the Lake, Msgr. Halfpenny said his experience shaped how he goes about ministering to others, leaving his heart open to receiving the people he meets as members of the body of Christ.

“Coming out of the seminary after I was first ordained, I thought my formation was done, but I was wrong. The Holy Spirit continues to form us through other members of the body of Christ,” Msgr. Halfpenny said. “There will always be people there to assist you, to help you discern what you need to do to answer the call from the Holy Spirit. There are so many people at St. Paul who think I have given them something. But in truth, they have given me so much more.”