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Anthony Shonis

For me creativity and frustration are two sides of the same coin. And one of the most frustrating times for me as a priest was when I was appointed a pastor at the age of 55. I had spent my entire priest life as a teacher--high school, seminary and university. I had not worked one day in a parish and now I was a pastor of a church with a large Hispanic population. What do pastors do? Well I began an activity that proved so fruitful that I have continued it for nine years. I began visiting parishioners at their workplace.

Now on the Labor Day weekend I offer the parishioners of whatever church I am stationed at (I have long since ceased to be a pastor and am now a parochial vicar) to sign up for a workplace visit. And in the last nine years I have visited about 250 parishioners.

It works like this: On Labor Day I preach at all the Masses on the spirituality of work, or the dignity of labor or on the church and unions. Then I invite the congregation to sign up for a workplace visit. I tell them it will only last 10 minutes, and that I am not seeking a tour of their plant or office. I simply want to talk with them briefly at their workbench about their job.

Often I will begin with the two questions that Studs Terkel asked people in his book Working. “What you do?” and “How do you feel about what you do?” After we talk about their work, I give them a copy of a workers' prayer by Cardinal John Henry Newman. I then write up the visit for next Sunday's bulletin. At the end of the semester, (I still think as a college teacher) I mail each of the workers I visited an invitation to meet with me for a one-hour group discussion on the relationship between faith and work. At the end of that session I give them a copy of Gregory F. Augustine Pierce's book, The Mass is Never Ended, which seeks to connect the Sunday liturgy with the work week that follows; and a complimentary subscription to "Initiatives," a newsletter published by the National Center of the Laity that addresses workplace spirituality.