PROVIDENCE — Over the course of 50 years in the priesthood, Father Joseph D. Creedon has served in a range of ministries. First, he taught at La Salle Academy, then, he served as a campus minister at the University of Rhode Island before going on to study for a fellowship. Later, he would go on to spend the last 31 years of his active ministry serving as pastor of Christ the King Parish in Kingston.
Although each setting was different, he found there was one constant that guided him in serving the spiritual needs of those he encountered in his vocation: the people he ministered to shared a hunger for a deeper relationship with God.
He discovered that it is important for the faithful to develop a spirituality that would open them to that deeper relationship.
After retiring from active ministry in 2012, Father Creedon decided to write about what nurturing that deeper relationship — which he equates to the concept of stewardship — had done to fulfill both him, personally, as well as his longtime parishioners.
The compilation of his personal experience with the subject, “Stewardship: A Life-Giving Spirituality,” was released last fall by Stillwater Publications and is available on Amazon, Nook and Kindle. The book is also available in hard copy at Stillwater Books in Pawtucket, Wakefield Books in the Wakefield Mall and at Tally’s religious goods store in Cranston. Father Creedon also has copies for sale for anyone who wishes to reach out to him directly.
“For most people stewardship is a euphemism for money, and it isn’t,” Father Creedon says of a misperception that many have, both in and out of the pews.
“Stewardship is time, talent and treasure. Get their time, get their talent and the treasure will follow. That way, people get to have ownership in their parish.”
To that end, with his view that weekly parish collections are only one part of stewardship, Father Creedon believes that the concept of stewardship would be better explained if it were paired with evangelization or spirituality.
“Once we understand that charitable giving is part of our making a return with increase to the Lord, we will understand that there are many ways to make that return,” he says.
“We need to find time for prayer; likewise, we need to find time to reach out to our neighbor. When we find the time to visit a friend who is depressed, we make a return with increase to the Lord.”
At 86 pages the book is a relatively short, but informative read. Through its 12 chapters the author explores the origins of stewardship and how people can receive God’s gifts gratefully — as they are received through the sacraments — develop them responsibly and share them lovingly with others.
He even includes helpful study questions at the end of each chapter to promote a deeper understanding of his message.
“Basically, the book talks about how you’ve got to have a dream, and how God does his best work when we’re dreaming, whether it’s Joseph and the Dancing Sheaves or Peter up on Cornelius’s roof,” Father Creedon says.
“It’s when you’re asleep that God can enter in. Our logical objections don’t hold in our sleep and God can talk to our creativity. You’ve got to have a dream for your parish.”
Harnessing that creativity and using it to propel oneself in a ministry that can reap strong returns is the key, he says.
He credits “the good stewards of Christ the King Parish,” who actively encouraged him to dream in developing the parish to its full potential over the course of his 31 years there.
By 1986, five years after arriving at Christ the King, Father Creedon dreamed of getting parishioners more actively involved and taking ownership of their church, so it would feel more like a vibrant faith community instead of a gas station, where people “pulled in if they needed gas and drove by if they didn’t.”
“We journeyed together creating a dynamic stewardship parish,” he says. “The parish staff brought us into a vision of a parish where everyone was expected to be part of the action.”
Each September, for instance, Christ the King would hold a Stewardship Fair, where opportunities for engagement in various ministries were presented to the parishioners.
“People just want to be asked,” Father Creedon says, noting that outreach does make a difference.
Once stewardship became a driving force in the parish, growth was manifested in many ministries in the parish, with 35-40 people signing on to become CCD teachers or aides for starters. Others lined up to serve on the Social Justice Committee, of as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, or as lectors, greeters and ushers.
And, with the bounds of stewardship not ending at the church door, other parishioners offered their time and talents as Scout leaders, as well as Little League baseball and basketball coaches.
Parishioners come to realize that getting involved is part of their faith and isn’t as optional as it may seem.
Instead of asking for volunteers churches must give people opportunities to act on their baptism, opportunities to be disciples, opportunities to be stewards, he believes.
He feels that “volunteerism” should be done away with when it comes to stewardship as it carries the connotation that the activity is something one does only after they’ve done all the important things in their lives — in their leftover time.
“Getting involved is not optional,” Father Creedon says.
That’s essential to responding to the gift of faith that we got at baptism. I saw the way it just transformed our parish, it really did.”
In 1992, six years after Christ the King adopted stewardship to promote active parish ministries, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a pastoral letter on the subject entitled “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.”
The pastoral letter outlines four phases of stewardship: To accept God’s gifts gratefully, which Father Creedon terms “the attitude to gratitude – to say thank you to God for his many gifts”; to develop those gifts responsibly; to share them lovingly in justice with others; and finally, to make a return with increase to the Lord.
Father Creedon believes strongly that stewardship is spirituality. It is not a program, and parishioners should not feel intimidated by the word spirituality, which he defines as “the lens through which you encounter God and through which you respond to his presence.”
“The first step is to convince the people in the pews that they need a spirituality. They expect the priests to have one and the nuns and the brothers — that’s given, but they don’t think they need a spirituality.
Although parishioners may be involved in myriad, unrelated ministries, they all come together as one to nurture that spirituality in the celebration of the Mass, where they give thanks to God for the gifts they’ve been blessed with.
“The stewardship sacrament, par excellence, is the Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word for Thanksgiving,” Father Creedon says. “It’s making the liturgy the central thing that happens in the parish where people are nourished.”
He found that Mass attendance was strong and the quality of participation of his parishioners in the parish and its ministries was better.
“They weren’t getting their ticket punched, they were there to worship God, thank him for his gifts and to be part of a believing community. People just understand that this is what we need to be a vibrant parish.”
While “Stewardship: A Life-Giving Spirituality” is his first book, Father Creedon, in the 1990s, published seven daily Lenten meditation reflections and seven daily Advent daily reading reflections through Twenty-Third Publications, a religious publishing house.
At 76, years which he jokes have been “easy miles,” Father Creedon is a very active participant in the International Stewardship Conference. He has served on its Board of Directors for nearly two terms and speaks at most of the annual conferences.
Since becoming a senior priest he’s been invited to offer stewardship missions in parishes around the country, including California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and even Canada, where he spoke before a gather of priests from the Archdiocese of Toronto at the invitation of Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto.
“When he was the bishop of Edmunton, he was big into stewardship, now, as archbishop of Toronto he wants to emphasize it there.
Michael Murphy, executive director of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, wrote the Foreword to Father Creedon’s book.
He said that as a former teacher, the author helps the reader understand the ancient biblical concept of stewardship as if for the very first time.
“Father Creedon brings to life the spirituality of Christian stewardship and explores its deep yet practical dimensions, mining that place in the soul where faith meets understanding,” Murphy said.
As Father Creedon has advanced from active ministry to senior priest, where he continues serving God in additional ways through his outreach to a larger group of faithful, he maintains a positive outlook on the future of the Church.
“No matter where you are you can always get people more involved,” he says.
“As they get more involved they take ownership, then there’s a vibrancy in the parish. And then they tell their neighbors.”