Roman collar an occasion for both blessings and challenges, priests say

5b-fr-macioce-cmykWearing clerics in public may draw attention, but that’s what it’s designed to do

Metro Detroit — The white clerical collar worn by priests, known as the “Roman collar,” is an outward symbol of the priesthood. When worn in public outside of the walls of a Catholic church, the collar often gets noticed.

Fr. Dominic Macioce, ordained in May and now the associate pastor at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Allen Park, says he receives mostly positive reactions to his collar. Five weeks after becoming a priest, he traveled to Italy with three other newly ordained priest friends. While visiting a church in Rome, a man approached Fr. Macioce and asked him for the sacrament of reconciliation.

“There were so many priests there in the church that day,” said Fr. Macioce. “I’m not sure why he asked me specifically. He walked straight to me and started a conversation.”

Fr. Macioce was particularly moved by the experience because he always felt called to be a priest, in a specific way, to hear confessions.

“When I was in college, it was through confession that I experienced a rekindling of a fire to fully embrace my faith. Confession really personalized God for me,” Fr. Macioce said. “I’m so grateful for what it did for me, and I’ve always wanted to be that bridge between God and His people.”

In the church in Italy, Fr. Macioce heard the man’s confession, which he spoke partly in Italian. Thanks to his Italian family and some classes, Fr. Macioce was able to understand and communicate with the man.

“I felt like that experience was a gift from God saying thank you for answering the call to the priesthood,” Fr. Macioce said.

While some experiences are of a serious, spiritual nature, the Roman collar can also be an occasion for a little light-heartedness, said Fr. George Hazler, I.V. Dei, weekend assistant at St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in Bloomfield Hills.

On a recent flight home, Fr. Hazler was sitting next to a woman on the plane who struck up a conversation as she held her baby on her lap. When the young woman needed to use the restroom, she asked him to hold the baby while she was out of her seat.

“She said she figured she could trust a priest, so I sat there with her baby on my lap,” said Fr. Hazler, who also ministers as a chaplain for Guest House in Lake Orion. “I’m sure it was an unusual sight to see.”

Fr. Hazler recalled another time when he was traveling in California with three laypeople dressed in business suits. It was shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and random searches were being performed at airports. His three travel companions went through security first without incident, but when it was Fr. Hazler’s turn to walk through, he was searched. His travel companions looked on, entertained.

The 1994 Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests promulgated by St. John Paul II states that a priest “should be recognizable in the sight of the community, even through the clothing he wears, as an unmistakable sign of his dedication and of his identity as a recipient of a public ministry.”

For a great many priests, this means wearing the Roman collar in public, even though it is not a strict requirement. Fr. Paul Snyder, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak, wears his collar almost everywhere he goes, but especially when he travels.

“When I was in seminary, Bishop (John) Quinn said you should always wear your collar in an airport,” Fr. Snyder said. “You never know what emergency could arise, and if you’re wearing your collar, people can reach out to you for help.”

Four months after he was ordained in 2012, Fr. Snyder was flying to Boston on his way to Rome for a friend’s diaconate ordination. Shortly after taking his seat, the man next to him started to express his anger and frustration with the Catholic Church in Boston and its handling of sexual abuse by priests.

“I wasn’t sure what to do at first, and to be honest, I was wishing he’d change the subject,” Fr. Snyder said. “I started to think of all these things to say, but then I had a real sense that he just needed someone to listen to him, to vent his frustrations and be heard.”

The man talked for the rest of the flight — more than an hour. Fr. Snyder didn’t try to make excuses for the Church, but instead gently reminded his fellow traveler that Jesus is the one who never fails, even when people do.

“He definitely calmed down throughout the conversation and he expressed gratitude at the end of the flight,” Fr. Snyder said. “I was grateful it ended, but when I looked back on it, I saw moments of grace there. I don’t think that man would’ve sat down with his priest for an hour to talk about this, and now he knew that someone from the Church heard him.”

Fr. Snyder says he enjoys wearing his collar despite the occasional tense moments.

“The collar means we’re here to serve, and I feel like I did that day,” Fr. Snyder said. “I see wearing the collar as an honor and a responsibility. I love what I do and I hope I represent the priesthood well.”