ST. ALBANS – After 46 years with the church and almost three decades with the Holy Angels Parish, Father Maurice Roy will be retiring this summer.
“For me, right now, it’s time,” Roy said. “I really can’t give my all anymore, and it requires more than I could do.”
For the last 27 years, Roy served as the priest for the Holy Angels Parish, taking responsibility for not only the large Holy Angels Church that towers over much of St. Albans City’s western half, but also the St. Mary’s Parish in St. Albans and, at times, the Catholic church in Georgia.
With that length of time, Roy’s followed families through lifetimes’ of experiences with the church, from baptisms to communions to weddings – and then baptisms again. “I’ve baptized the children of the people I’ve baptized,” Roy mused. “It’s interesting when you’ve been here a long time.”
It means he’s also been there for the families’ hardest times, servicing funerals for those same families whose children he’d baptized. “There are a lot of chances to met a lot of families in their happy times and in their most difficult times,” Roy said.
Roy has served as Holy Angels’ priest since 1992, but it wouldn’t be his first time in St. Albans.
Years ago, when he was fresh out of seminary, Roy’s first placement was Holy Angels, joining another two more experienced priests here in St. Albans for what he’d call “on the job training.”
At the time, things were a little different. The church oversaw a school. The parish was responsible for the church in Georgia, which now has its own priest. Roy had a mustache, something he absolutely didn’t have when he’d return to St. Albans in 1992.
“The people changed a bit, too,” Roy said. “It felt good to come back, mainly because I knew a lot of the stuff going on… I could see old friends and meet the new ones.
“I started in St. Albans, and like anything – like cars and jobs – your first one is always special.”
Where priests go is up to their bishop, in Roy’s case the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. Should the bishop decide a new priest is needed at another church, he’ll shuffle priests around accordingly. “We pledge to go where he wants,” Roy said.
Typically, according to Roy, a priest is at a parish for somewhere between eight and ten years before a bishop might move them somewhere else.
In Roy’s case, his first posting in St. Albans ended after three years.
He’d serve Catholic communities across Vermont before eventually coming back to St. Albans, in churches ranging from Burlington to Newport to Canaan and Barton.
In 1992, he came back to St. Albans, and when he’d soon after be asked by the bishop whether or not he’d want to leave again for another church, Roy mused about staying where he first started.
“I said I can, but I’m happy here,” Roy said, leaning back into a desk chair. “They never asked me to move.”
Coming back to St. Albans, according to Roy, was relatively easy.
“I still remembered many of the people in the community,” Roy said. “Coming back here… people were welcoming and it was much easier to get acquainted.”
And it was the people, Roy said, that were the most important part of his time in the church.
“It’s being with the people and celebrating the faith and the mass,” Roy said. “It’s working with people like that and getting to know people like that.”
Roy said he’d considered joining the church when he was in high school, but ultimately didn’t take the leap until the summer before he was supposed to study civil engineering at the University of Vermont.
That summer, Roy decided that “it was something I needed to find out” and instead left for a seminary in Barre.
The way Roy tells it, his commitment to the church came after a quiet walk one fall day in Barre, occupied with heated “debating and thinking” about whether or not a life in the church would be right for Roy.
“I was debating what we were learning about Jesus rising from the dead, wondering ‘Can this really be true, or did somebody make this up and we’re fooling ourselves?’” Roy said. “And then I thought if it is true, this is quite something.
“I thought those early apostles he appeared to were convinced that He did rise from the dead, and they were willing to put their lives on the line,” Roy continued. “I thought if that’s true and He was the son of God and the center of life, I said I don’t know how my life is going to play out, but He’s the center of my life.”
He spoke from behind a desk in the parish’s office on Lake Street, surrounded by the mounds of binders and paperwork the average person might not realize priests contend with.
There were visits to church properties to help the tenants. There was the maintenance of six buildings owned by the parish. There was the overall organization of the Holy Angels Parish to contend with.
Roy admitted the amount of administration a priest is responsible for is maybe something people really aren’t aware of, and was grateful that another priest and staff and community members were willing to help alleviate some of those challenges.
He said it wouldn’t be “goodbye” for churchgoers in St. Albans, however. In retirement, Roy will be occasionally substituting as priest here in St. Albans and with other parishes in Vermont. In fact, he’s already committed to filling in at one church as far in the future as October 2020.
Retirement just means Roy wouldn’t be as busy with administration and could enjoy some free time away from some of the church’s busywork.
Offhand, Roy guessed there might be biking and cross-country skiing sometime in his near future.
According to Roy, it’s rare for a priest to return somewhere after being moved to another church, not out of design but simply because of the number of parishes there are.
It’s why his return to St. Albans all those years ago might’ve been unexpectedly special.
“Usually, there’s so many other parishes that the odds of that happening are pretty slim,” Roy said. “I always felt that, somehow, the Holy Spirit put me in the place where my strengths and my talents could be used.
“I didn’t always realize it at the beginning – it took some time at the beginning to learn about a place and see how things worked – but it seemed that it was the right place and the right time.”
Outside the parish’s offices and across the street at the Holy Angels Church, churchgoer Richard Trombley, who helps maintain the parish’s buildings, was brushing a sealant along the church’s foundation.
“He’s a great shepherd,” Trombley said. “I’ve always been here, and he’s going to be missed.”
An open house in honor of Roy is planned for St. Mary’s Church this Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Another celebratory dinner is planned for the St. Albans American Legion after a Wednesday night Mass of Thanksgiving for Roy on June 5 at the Holy Angels Church.
Those interested in attending that dinner can purchase tickets by calling 868-4840.
Roy guessed his last mass would likely be the last Sunday in June.
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