Progressive priest

The Rev. Father Charlie Major may be a man of God, but he's also a man of the people.

"Over the years I've preached a lot of social gospel rather than a lot of credo gospel," he said last week as he reflected on his 34 years as pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Church in Liverpool.

He has always been more interested in how Christianity plays out in everyday life than how it plays out in church.

"Being a good priest is not about saying Mass right," he said. "It's more important to do the social thing, to interact with people."

Now as he prepares to retire as St. Joseph's pastor at age 78, Father Charlie recalls how his interactions with his congregation, with fellow ministers and with the world at large have blessed him with a full and satisfying life.

"I could've been a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief," he said, "but by being a priest I've gotten as much out of my life as I could."

That's not to say it's all been a bowl of cherries.

Less than three years after he arrived in Liverpool from St. John the Evangelist in the city, St. Joseph's closed its elementary school, a move that drew harsh criticism from diocesan leaders.

"The bishop was very unimpressed," Father Charlie remembered. The economic crisis which led to the school's closing soon caught up with parochial schools across the Syracuse diocese, he noted. "But it happened here quicker, and I was cited for poor pastoral leadership."

In the mid-1980s under Father Charlie's guidance, however, the parish paid off the debt it had accrued for the church it built in 1973. "I burned the mortgage," he recalled with a smile.

Raising money is an ongoing chore for all church leaders and is becoming even more of a burden now that congregations are shrinking. One of Father Charlie's responses to that task was to practice what he preached. He resolved to make a personal contribution every Sunday.

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