Documents signed Nov. 10 by Frs. Joshua Clifton, Timothy Furlow and Peter Julia show their commitment to a new society for diocesan priests and prospective seminarians who want to deepen their connection to Jesus and priestly ministry via living in community. (Courtesy Ramon Camacho)
Documents signed Nov. 10 by Frs. Joshua Clifton, Timothy Furlow and Peter Julia show their commitment to a new society for diocesan priests and prospective seminarians who want to deepen their connection to Jesus and priestly ministry via living in community. (Courtesy Ramon Camacho)
Archbishop Alexander Sample presided at a Mass Nov. 10 at St. Patrick Church in Northwest Portland to bless and initiate a group for diocesan priests and prospective seminarians who want to live a communal life.

The first three members of the Society of St. Leo the Great are Father Timothy Furlow, pastor of St. Patrick; Father Joshua Clifton, a priest from the Diocese of Monterey, California, who is administrator of St. Birgitta Parish in Northwest Portland; and Father Peter Julia, who is parochial vicar at St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton.

Fathers Furlow and Clifton became friends while studying at Mount Angel Seminary.

“Years after being ordained we were talking on the phone and realized that we had very similar ideas concerning how to help diocesan priests faithfully live their vocations,” Father Furlow said.

Father Furlow had proposed a model of priestly communal living to the Archdiocese of Portland and Father Clifton had researched and developed a procedure for establishing such a community. After seeking the permission of their bishops, the two priests started the pilot project at St. Patrick Parish two years ago. They have received episcopal approval and became a Private Clerical Association of the Christian Faithful of Diocesan Right on Nov. 10. Father Julia, ordained in 2019, joined the project and hopes to live with the other two men in the future.

The Society of St. Leo the Great focuses on priestly life, priestly ministry and parish administration.

“These realities are concretized by living in small communities of fraternity and accountability, ministering to our people with hearts focused on evangelization and through an equitable and just administration of the temporal goods of our parishes,” Father Furlow said. “Our hope is that by joyfully and faithfully living what God has called us to do we will inspire seminarians and priests to engage the priesthood of Jesus Christ as he himself would.”

Father Clifton wrote about the society in an October letter to members of St. Birgitta.

“We seek in our parishes to evangelize, to catechize and to form strong communities,” he wrote. “We also celebrate the Holy Mass according to both forms: the ordinary (Novus Ordo) and extraordinary (Traditional Latin Mass). In this way, we seek to create parishes that welcome all men and women of good will to have deeper faith and a deeper relationship with Christ.”

During his homily Nov. 10, Archbishop Sample said the new society offers hope and encouragement during a time of bad news. He cited the Vatican’s recent report on how a serial sexual abuser became a cardinal of the church.

“Here is the antidote for all of this darkness in the world today,” the archbishop said, pointing to the three young clergymen. “Priests who are serious about dedicating themselves to the service of Jesus Christ and his church with no other motivation than the greater honor and glory of God and the salvation of souls.”

The archbishop called the young men “priests who get it” and who want to deepen their selfless commitments. He suggested the St. Leo Society may someday be talked about as a significant reform movement of the church.

The society is open to men interested in becoming seminarians for the Archdiocese of Portland or priests who desire to live according to the society model. After approval by the archbishop, vicar for clergy and vocation director, as well as the general council of the Society, an interested man is provisionally admitted.

“It is our hope that one day the society could expand to dioceses outside of western Oregon,” Father Furlow said.