Suicide of Roman Catholic priest in Iowa draws attention to pressures of job

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2001

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- The workload of Roman Catholic priests has drawn greater attention in Iowa since the suicide of the Rev. Mark Swanson.

The shortage of priests in the state and nationwide is creating a burden for clergy. As of 1999, only 54 of the 85 parishes in the Diocese of Davenport had resident priests, according to church statistics.

Swanson, 55, served 1,500 people in three parishes.

''Three big parishes are too much for one person,'' said the Rev. Ben Okonkwo, of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Nichols and Lone Tree. ''After Saturday Mass and Sunday Mass and hearing confessions -- by Monday, you are done. You need a day off every week.''

Swanson's schedule included masses at each parish every Saturday and Sunday in addition to several Masses during the week. He also ministered to nursing homes in Wellman and Kalona and presided at funerals and weddings.

Swanson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound July 6. The diocese said the priest had suffered from depression.

''Priests, as a group, are people who are willing to work hard,'' said the Rev. Drake Shafer, vicar general of the Diocese of Davenport. ''We have our share of workaholics. We'd like it if they were more reasonable about living a healthy lifestyle.''

Shafer said the diocese offers stress management seminars for clergy and a confidential help line.

''Priests are no more immune to life's problems than any other group of people,'' Shafer said.

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