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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: March 29, 2021
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor made the following announcement during the Chrism Mass at Christ the King Church in Little Rock on Monday, March 29, 2021.
In previous years the vicar general, John Connell and before him, Scott Friend has taken this opportunity when our priests are gathered for this Chrism Mass, to say nice things about me and express appreciation for my ministry among you. And for that I am profoundly grateful.
But this year I would like to do something a little bit different. I have asked Father Connell to let me use this moment for me — and you — to express our appreciation instead for the ministry of one of our most remarkable priests who will be having a change of assignment this June.
All of our other clergy assignments will be announced publicly on the Friday after Easter, April 9, and take effect on June 15. But today I would like to go ahead and announce this particular change of assignment now so that we can take this opportunity when most of our priests are gathered to express to him the gratitude of our presbyterate — and indeed, the gratitude of our whole diocese.
As of June 15, Msgr. Friend will become the new pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish in Jonesboro and Father Jeff Hebert, currently our assistant vocations director and prefect of our House of Formation, will take over as our new vocations director. Father Jeff is well qualified, but he sure does have some big shoes to fill!
As some of you already know, in our annual survey, Msgr. Scott Friend has requested to return to parish ministry, his first love and the best job in the Church. Indeed, this is not the first time he has brought this up. After 16 years, he deserves a break. So please join me in taking a few minutes to reflect on the blessing of Scott’s ministry among us.
When Archbishop Sartain appointed Msgr. Friend to be our vocations director in 2005, we had 15 seminarians and he had M.S. (Multiple Sclerosis) Like with every other ministry he has undertaken over the course of 34 years of priesthood, Msgr. Friend tackled this new ministry with all his heart and soul.
I arrived in Little Rock in 2008, and in November of that year he made an appointment with me to explain his medical condition and advise me that the doctor was now saying that given the expected trajectory of his disease and the stress of ministry, he probably needed to retire. Completely unaware of this, when I saw his appointment on my calendar, I thought “great” because I was already planning to set up an appointment to ask him to be my vicar general in addition to vocations director.
So, I guess I sort of blind-sided him … and of course he said “yes.” Instead of leaving my office as a retiree for health reasons, he now had two demanding jobs — both of which could be very stressful. Remember, in those years we were still spending a lot of time dealing with the clergy sexual abuse scandal, disclosure lists, trying to help victims, and having to remove a couple of priests from ministry.
And true to form, Scott now tackled both jobs — vicar general and vocations director — with extraordinary vision and zeal, viewing his illness as just another opportunity to die to himself, to live from the inside … and in the process, inspiring me — and many of you — to try to give ourselves more fully to the Lord ourselves.
And so step by step, he pushed through the pain, vertigo, neuropathy and fatigue of his M.S. to build a culture of vocations in our diocese. He built on the work of those who came before him and teamed up with the Knights of Columbus and the Serra Club and the youth program of our diocese and Catholic High and many other groups as well.
He founded the House of Formation and lived there with our seminarians and discerners. He offered spiritual direction to many people, including young men discerning a vocation. He visited seminaries and worked with their formators regarding the specific formation needs of each of our very diverse seminarians. He founded our Taste of Faith dinners, which promote vocations and help pay the bills, most recently last year’s virtual Taste of Faith, which was our most successful Taste of Faith of all — Msgr. Friend’s creativity is boundless. And so, through him, the Lord has made our vocations ministry one of the very most fruitful in our nation.
As of our upcoming ordinations in May, 44 of the 67 Diocese of Little Rock priests currently in active ministry will have had Msgr. Friend as their vocations director — that’s two-thirds of our priests! And following our ordinations we will still have 23 seminarians in formation and we currently have three more applicants for next year.
During these last 16 years, the average age of our priests has dropped from 65 to 48 and really can’t get much lower. We now have a much younger presbyterate, which brings increased energy and creativity, as we have seen throughout this time of pandemic. When Msgr. Friend began his vocations work in 2005, we had exactly one Hispanic Diocese of Little Rock priest — Salvador Márquez-Muñoz; now we have 13.
In 2005 we had about 10 priests who could minister in Spanish to some degree, most not fluently. Today we have 55 Diocese of Little Rock priests who can minister in Spanish, more than half of them fluently. This includes seminarians ordained in the last 16 years and already ordained priests sent to Mexico for language study. The result is that 82 percent of our priests can minister in Spanish to some degree and Msgr. Friend, you are the one who has made that happen.
In any event, as of June 15, Msgr. Friend will become the new pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish in Jonesboro and Father Jeff Hebert, currently our assistant vocations director and prefect of our House of Formation, will take over as our new vocations director. Father Jeff is well qualified, but he sure does have some big shoes to fill!
Monsignor, the life of the Church in Arkansas will continue to be blessed by the ongoing fruitfulness of your ministry in the next generation of priests which you have worked so hard to form. Thank you so much! And I know the people in Jonesboro will be thrilled to know that you are headed their way.