Father Joseph G. Busch
Father Joseph G. Busch

Father Joseph Busch is a busy man. Make that a very busy man!

After all, he is pastor to 12 parishes in the Diocese of Albany. Yes, that’s right, 12 parishes!

Currently, Father Busch is pastor of Holy Cross Church in Salem, St. Patrick’s Church in Cambridge, Immaculate Conception Church in Hoosick Falls, Blessed Sacrament Church in Bolton Landing, Our Lady of Hope Church in Whitehall, St. Ann’s Church in Fort Ann, St. Mary’s Church in Granville, Chapel of the Assumption in Huletts Landing, the Catholic Community of St. Cecilia in Warrensburg, Our Lady of Annunciation in Queensbury, Sacred Heart Church in Lake George, and St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls.

And he is also episcopal vicar of the Adirondack Vicariate. Father Busch is at the forefront of the Diocese of Albany’s model that links parishes together to better serve everyone involved. It is a plan that is collaborative by necessity, and takes a pastor with supreme organizational skills to make it happen. Enter Father Busch.

“What (the Diocese is) proposing is that you get a priest like myself to be the pastor, who can do administration, aided by parochial vicars, a retired priest, a deacon, to be able to take care of a lot of the pastoral stuff. So it’s based on geography,” said Father Busch, 66, who has been a priest for 41 years.

“If you want to look at me personally, I have the ability to be organized. I have the longevity of knowing who all the players are. I touch base with them on a regular basis, and I have the support of the Diocese when it comes to people like (Deacon) Frank Berning (diocesan director of pastoral planning), Father Jim Ebert (vicar for clergy) and Joyce Tarantino (diocesan director of human resources and safe environment). Those are the three major people that I rely heavily on in discussions.”

After a long week of Masses, meetings and phone calls with parish life coordinators, trustees, administrators, bookkeepers and fellow priests, a typical Saturday-Sunday for Father Busch might look like: A 10 a.m. funeral at Our Lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury, a wedding at Sacred Heart Church in Lake George at 2 p.m. and a 5:30 Mass in Lake George. Then on Sunday: an 8 a.m. Mass in Queensbury, a 10 a.m. Mass in Warrensburg capped off by an 11:30 a.m. Mass back in Queensbury.

“I will not do anything on a Sunday afternoon. I am wiped out,” Father Busch said. “I am not doing weddings or baptisms; I am just not going to do that. You have to have boundaries and limits.”

In his 12 parishes, there are clusters served by parish life directors and priests, some retired, and parochial vicars who will take over in the not-so-near term. Each cluster is distinct and different. Being pastor at 12 parishes is an extreme case; three-to-six parishes is a more typical and expected work load in this model.

“If I look at Salem, Cambridge and Hoosick Falls, Jeff Peck is the parish life coordinator. Father Peter Tkocz is the parochial vicar, the sacramental minister,” Father Busch said. “Peter was with me for a number of months before he moved on to that assignment. We have a great relationship. I’ve had a great relationship with Jeff Peck. I went down there two weeks ago for four hours, met with the trustees; had a meeting with the corporate board.

“I check in with Jeff, he really is the administrator, and Peter is the priest, and yes, I am the pastor but I don’t really have any major responsibilities. I think the plus at least for Salem and Cambridge, before I got Hoosick Falls, I showed up at the trustee meetings and I became their connection to Albany. They really felt disconnected from Albany until I arrived as episcopal vicar. That was a big plus that somebody would actually drive there and meet with them.”

Now let’s take a look at White­hall-Granville-Huletts Land­ing-Fort Ann, where Father Zach Chichester is parochial vicar.

“The game plan is within six months to a year or a year-and-a-half, (Father Chichester) will become the pastor. They are thrilled to have a priest. There is a little confusion, of course, while I am the pastor, they are looking at him almost as the pastor because he is going to be the presence there. The plus of that model is if they made him administrator, he would be on his own. But by making him a parochial vicar, he has to bounce things off me. He has the support. It is like on-the-job training.”

Father Busch, who has been pastor for the past 16 years at Our Lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury and for the last five years at Sacred Heart Church in Lake George, said simply covering the Mass times is the biggest challenge. But having priests in place makes all the difference for the faithful.

“(Granville has) been without a priest for a long time but Father Zach went there on Sunday and the place was filled,” Father Busch said. “They all came back. … They are very happy that they are going to have someone celebrate Mass on a weekly basis. It doesn’t have to be me. I will meet with the trustees and the secretary and the bookkeeper. But in essence, Father Zach, without having the title, will be pastoring the place. And I become more of a mentor so people will grow under his leadership and he will eventually become the pastor. The ability to have one person there is what they are looking for.”

Father Busch said the Adirondack Vicariate, prior to the pandemic was making headway on pastoral planning, with Deacon Mike McDonald playing a key role.

“What started to happen during the pandemic is that we had to start rethinking all the pastoral planning and that is ongoing,” Father Busch said. “The goal is to be able to see what we need and how we can best serve these communities, realistically looking at the finances and the future and the number of priests that we have. My major concern is the avoidance of burnout and peoples’ expectations which might not be realistic. And while they may be upset, we are doing the best we can.”

There is relief in sight, however, with the assumption that Father Chichester eventually will become pastor at the four parishes he is serving, and Father Scott VanDerveer will take over at St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls in September.

“I admit, 12 churches is really too many for the long term,” Father Busch said. “I do my best to monitor my stress and level of exhaustion … I can’t just rely on Snickers bars!”