Early on in his life, growing up in Philadelphia, Msgr. Mark Richard Lane had a specific professional goal.
“I wanted to help people,” he told The Catholic Virginian shortly after his retirement, effective July 1, was announced by Bishop Barry C. Knestout.
At various times, Msgr. Lane, 71, thought he would be able to help people as a doctor or as a teacher. But there was another vocation that offered opportunities for realizing that goal.
“I got into ministry because I wanted to help people through the Gospel, and the Gospel and the people help form you,” he said. “I grew in ministry by realizing one helps people through the Gospel.”
As a priest of the Diocese of Richmond for more than 44 years, he has been helping the faithful through his service in a variety of ways. Immediately after his ordination in 1974, he was, in his words, “formed on two fronts — the administrative and the pastoral.”
Bishop Walter F. Sullivan chose Msgr. Lane to be his secretary.
“That took on a unique ministry whereby I got to know two things: What it’s like to be bishop because I travelled with him so much, and what a bishop has to bear in the diocese — the high points and the low points,” he said. “But I also got to know to know the diocese, and when I started as his secretary, it was the whole state. I got to know and be with the people of the diocese.”
At the same time, Msgr. Lane was associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
“My first assignment was terrific,” he said. “It was very formative and I was very fortunate because they always say your first assignment is something that really does influence you.”
Father George Zahn, who was rector of the cathedral at that time, said Msgr. Lane was part of a new model of parish ministry — a pastoral team that included two religious sisters.
“He was very easy to work with,” the retired priest said of his associate. “He was a good listener — a crucial skill as a parish team member.”
After a year of studies in Church administration at The Catholic University of America, Msgr. Lane returned to the diocese where he was the vice officialis (assistant chief judge) in the tribunal at Tidewater. He was involved in tribunal work for eight years.
“One of the things we started doing was educational classes on annulments, explaining not just the law but the pastoral healing component for those who had suffered, for whatever reason, in their marriage ending,” he said, noting that Msgr. R. Francis Muench, current judicial vicar of the diocese, continues those presentations.
Msgr. Lane’s tribunal work was a manifestation of his commitment to help people as he saw “the brokenness not just for the couple, but for their families.”
“There is a real healing that needs to take place in the context of the unsuccessful marriage; I never used the word ‘failed,’” he said.
“That was too indicting.”
A doctor — and much more
In 1984, Msgr. Lane asked Bishop Sullivan for permission to attend Andover Newton in Boston in order to pursue a doctorate in ministry with emphasis on pastoral psychotherapy.
With the bishop’s permission, Msgr. Lane went into private practice in 1988 while staying connected to the diocese, helping out at St. Mary, Richmond, for almost 11 years.
“I would do workshops in the diocese on family systems anytime I was asked. That was my focus of studies,” he said, noting his dissertation was in an area of growing concern at that time — adult children of alcoholics.
In 2004, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo appointed Msgr. Lane vicar for clergy, but allowed him to continue his private practice. The priest did so, but only for another year.
He termed his 11 years as vicar for clergy “a challenging experience.”
“You want to be pastoral, but you have to challenge as well,” he said. “I know there were times that were less than pastoral, and I ask forgiveness for those moments.”
One of Msgr. Lane’s joys in being vicar for clergy was the opportunity to get to know his brother priests.
“This did not have to be an office that was distant from the clergy,” he said. “Priest’s felt free to come to the office and just talk about anything.”
In his last four years as vicar for clergy, Msgr. Lane was also vicar general of the diocese and moderator of the curia.
“That was a bit overwhelming wearing two hats, but we had both diocesan and parish staffs to aid in the challenge of the Gospel,” he said. “It never got crazy.
“Brenda Boehnlein, special assistant to Msgr. Lane and international priests’ coordinator since 2008, said they worked well together.
“He was a really, really good boss,” she said. “But he had high expectations. You better bring your best game.”
Boehnlein noted Msgr. Lane was a good listener who had “a pastoral way about him.”
“The priests think the world of him,” she said. “He did tough things in a respectful way.”
Two priest classmates, Fathers R. Patrick Holroyd and “Tuck” Grinnell who were ordained for the Diocese of Richmond but who became priests of the Diocese of Arlington when that diocese was established in 1974, concurred.
“He is a brilliant counselor and a great listener,” said Father Grinnell. “He has a great love for the diocese and a great compassion for people.”
Father Holroyd added, “He is personable and pastoral. Very committed.”
Learning from the bishops
Ever the student, Msgr. Lane said he learned from each of the bishops he served.
“Bishop Sullivan acted not just as a bishop, he acted as a priest in his pastoral concern,” Msgr. Lane said. “He was very big on social justice and he brought that face of the Gospel to the diocese. For many, that is how he is going to be remembered.”
He added that Bishop Sullivan “took a risk to put me in those positions (secretary and associate at the cathedral).”
“He did have a lot of faith in me,” Msgr. Lane said.
He termed Bishop DiLorenzo “a very good friend” whose “all-encompassing vision changed the diocese,” and who was supportive of him.
Following the death of Bishop DiLorenzo, the diocese’s College of Consultors elected Msgr. Lane diocesan administrator on Aug. 22, 2017, a position he held until Bishop Knestout was appointed on Dec. 5.
In the sixth months he has served the diocese, Bishop Knestout has frequently acknowledged the work of Msgr. Lane as administrator, particularly “his devoted service that made the transition seamless.”
In expressing his gratitude, the bishop described him as “a man of compassion, wisdom and pastoral insight who has cared competently and generously for the priests and people of our diocese.”
Msgr. Lane admires how Bishop Knestout approaches his ministry.
“He has taught us how to keep spirituality at the forefront of priestly ministry,” he said. “He is also very calm, very systematic in how he approaches things, and he has shown his openness to engage with people of the diocese.”
Where Spirit leads
Msgr. Lane has a mantra: “Where I am, that’s where the Lord wants me to be in my humanity.”
In retirement, he will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of Sacred Heart, serve on the Diocesan Child Protection Review Board, and assist the bishop when and where needed. He might also teach art history and re-open his counseling practice.
“Life’s full of wonder. Wonderful things have happened. I’ve grown and continue to grow — even after 44 years,” he said. “I’m always surprised where the Spirit takes you.”
Wherever that is, it will likely involve him helping people through the Gospel.
He ‘knew exactly’ when God called
In pursuit of his goal to help people — and to help them as a priest — Msgr. Mark Richard Lane studied at St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore. It was a time of formation and discernment.
“There was discernment for the eight years as to whether I wanted to be a priest or not. Discernment means one has doubts, one has choices,” he said. “You can give yourself over to the doubts, and work through it.”
He “knew exactly” when he was certain about becoming a priest. It was the summer of 1972.
“I needed to study Greek (at Union Theological Seminary) for the degree (in theology). So, I came down to Richmond as a student and lived at Our Lady of Lourdes,” Msgr. Lane said. “That was the turning point — once I got into the parish. I found parish life so active and engaging. I found the people so great.”
The parish was so engaging that he didn’t want to go to school.
“I got so involved in the parish early on that when it came time for me to go to Union, I said to the pastor (the late Father Jack Hughes), ‘I’d rather stay here and work in the parish,’ and he said, ‘Oh, no. You’re going to school. You can do the parish when you go home; you’re definitely going to school,’” Msgr. Lane said with a laugh.
A year later, he returned to the parish as a deacon. In 1974, he celebrated his first Mass there.
“It was the parish that formed me,” Msgr. Lane said. “They are wonderful people.”