Cray elected to lead Society of St. Edmund

July 16, 2018
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
Father Cray

The Very Rev. David Cray, S.S.E. ’68

The Very Rev. David Cray, S.S.E., a Boston native and 1968 Saint Michael’s College graduate who has ministered in Canada, Europe and the American South until coming to Vermont in 2003 to be pastor at Catholic parishes in Hinesburg and Charlotte, VT, was elected July 12 to be the new Superior General of The Society of Saint Edmund, founding religious order of Saint Michael’s.

He succeeds the Rev. Stephen Hornat, S.S.E. as superior general. Fr. Hornat, who served a four-year term, likely will continue to serve as pastor of St. Stephen Church in Winooski as he has done during his term as superior general. The Edmundites held their General Chapter meeting, which happens every four years, from Monday through Thursday, July 9-12 on the Saint Michael’s campus, voting on new leadership and tending to other business.

Edmundites also continue to teach at Saint Michael’s, administer St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte, staff a substance-abuse rehabilitation program on Enders Island in Mystic, CT, and a mission in Selma, AL, that they founded in the mid-1930s among that city’s poor African-American community, later working actively at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s both in Selma and at former Edmundite missions in New Orleans and elsewhere in the South. Edmundites also continue to staff several parishes in Vermont, including Essex Junction, Essex, southeastern Vermont’s West River Valley, and recently in several north-central Vermont parishes, in addition to Winooski, Hinesburg and Charlotte. The order has 24 current members, including three religious brothers who live with the community – down from a high of nearly 150 in the 1960s. A longtime Edmundite pastor at a parish in Venezuela recently relocated to Florida to work with Venezuelans there, and the last Edmundite living in France died July 16. Two young Edmundites were ordained in the past few years after a long vocations drought.

Fr. Cray said he met Monday with Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne about Cray’s new role with the Society, though no determination has yet been made about who will be assigned to lead St. Jude Church in Hinesburg; Fr. Cray has lived in the rectory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Charlotte since starting his pastor role in 2003, and perhaps can continue in residence and cover weekend Masses, he said, adding that it remains to be determined, in consultation with the bishop and his religious brothers, how he will coordinate diocesan administration and Edmundite community commitments.

The Society of St. Edmund this year has been celebrating the 175th anniversary of its founding in France in 1843. The new Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt, who assumed her official duties July 1, said, “Getting to know Fr. Cray and his Edmundite brothers has been a pleasure. I wish Fr. Cray well in his new role as Superior General and very much look forward to working with him in the days and years ahead. I also would be remiss if I didn’t thank Fr. Stephen Hornat for his kindness and counsel as I continue to learn about Saint Michael’s College.”

Fr. Cray summarized his priorities as superior general. “It’s important to me that we reverse the trend of diminishment in our numbers and in our apostolic activities, and determine new directions to become a true spiritual ‘Field Hospital,’ to use Pope Francis’s expression, for the 21st century,” he said, while also expressing an interest in the Edmundites paying more attention to the communication and marketing of a carefully considered public identity or “brand.”

Other Edmundites elected or re-elected to the General Council, a governing body of the Society working alongside the new superior general for four-year terms, were: First Councilor: Fr. Brian Cummings, Second Councilor: Fr. David Theroux; Third Councilor, Fr. Marcel Rainville (new council member), and Fourth Councilor Fr. Stanley Deresienski.

Experience with many cultures

Fr. Cray was born into an Irish Catholic family in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston in 1945, the youngest of three. His father was a high school Latin teacher, and his mother worked in the Boston Public Library. Cray graduated from Boston Latin School in 1963 and enrolled at Saint Michael’s. His family had ties to Bellows Falls, and he liked the idea of studying in Vermont at a Catholic college where he attended daily Mass, he said in a Vermont Catholic magazine interview earlier this year, adding that he intended to become an English teacher, but during his studies at Saint Michael’s, Edmundite Fr. Francis Gokey encouraged his religious vocation.,

He entered the Edmundite novitiate and graduated from Saint. Michael’s in 1968, then studied theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, earning a master of divinity degree in 1971. Burlington Bishop John A. Marshall ordained him to the priesthood in 1972, and his first assignment was as parochial vicar of St. Edmund of Canterbury Parish in Whitton in southwest London, a parish then staffed by the Society of St. Edmund.

Fr. Cray next served in Burlington, as director of scholastics for the Society, and later as secretary general, and he lived in Mystic, Conn., where he was the order’s director of novices. He served parishes — some years two at once — in Quebec, and was episcopal vicar for the English-speaking region in the Diocese of Saint-Jean–Longueuil, where, for two years he was a pastor in Greenfield Park. From Canada he was transferred to Selma in Alabama to serve as programs director of the Society’s Southern Missions, and from there moved to New Orleans to be president of Bishop Perry Middle School, another important former Edmundite ministry until Hurricane Katrina’s after-effects led to its closure.

“The benefit of living in more than one culture is you realize there are very few absolutes apart from God,” Fr. Cray told Vermont Catholic . “I have benefited tremendously from living in cultures that are not the culture I was brought up in.” He said he believes that division and violence come out of fear from not knowing people who seem different, but once you really know them, “you come to love them, and you don’t fear them.”

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