Recently approved by Archbishop John J. Myers, a special monetary collection was taken at all Ash Wednesday masses (see The Catholic Advocate, Feb. 7) in an effort to aid the Archdiocesan Retirement Fund for Priests, providing for them the same love and generosity they provided the faithful in their care for so many years.
"Some people think the Collection for Retired Religious or the Archbishop's Annual Appeal takes care of all of the needs of retired priests," said Msgr. Edward Bradley, director of the Ministry to Retired Priests, "but the growing number of retired priests and the increasing costs of medical care and other benefits are major reasons to understand why this collection is important."
In the Archdiocese of Newark, a priest is entitled to retire at age 70 and many considerations are taken when deciding how to prepare for retirement, mainly in terms of planning where the priest will live.
Currently, there are 208 retired priests from the Archdiocese of Newark; of that total, 185 live in New Jersey. Although many retired priests live alone, there are some who still live in rectories, archdiocesan retirement residences, care facilities and educational institutions.
The true definition of what it means to be a retired priest extends beyond merely reaching a certain age. When a priest enters retirement, it is only in the administrative sense; he still retains the faculties of the archdiocese and may continue his priestly ministry. Recognizing the importance of the lifetime commitment of their vocations, upwards of 80 percent of retired priests return to their parishes to assist with pastoral duties when they are needed.
Father Charlie Scanlon, a retired priest of the archdiocese, currently resides at the Allendale Home for Community living in Bergen County, and attends daily Mass at Guardian Angel Church in Allendale. Ordained in 1954, he praises the pivotal role being a Catholic School student had on his future vocation. "I first started thinking about the priesthood when I was around sixth grade," he said proudly. "Seeing the priests and the nuns at school was very instrumental for me."
After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Scanlon served for 40 years at St. Francis Xavier parish in Newark, where he was encouraged by the faith of the parishioners. "The best part of Mass," he said, "is being with the people." Even in retirement, Father Scanlon concelebrates at Mass while at Guardian Angel Church and visits the homebound in the community, bringing them Holy Communion as well as a bit of company. Serving in that capacity is different from what he was used to in parish life, but still has the same importance, and is certainly appreciated.
That sense of parish community is also what many retired priests miss the most when they think about retiring, with some moving far away from their home parishes. "Retired priests miss the people they worked with. There is a lot of nostalgia there, but as you get older, one of the things you realize is learning how to let go," explained Father George Mader, director of the Monsignor Kelley Home for Retired Priests in Caldwell. "If we were able," he continued, "we would be out there again."
To that end, many retired priests have the opportunity to lean on each other for support in that transitional time. "There is a very good camaraderie that exists," he said. "There is a lot to share; different life experiences, teaching experiences. Most retired priests are happy to retire, and we're all grateful that the archdiocese takes such good care of us."
Like many other retired priests, Father Mader also continues to contribute pastorally to all those who need his assistance, particularly through counseling, mediation and service in his role at the Monsignor Kelley Home.
In some rare cases, like that of Bishop Charles McDonnell, for example, retirement is only met halfway. Retired as a Bishop in 2004, he continues to serve as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Hackensack. Like Father Scanlon, he too was ordained in 1954, following a vocation that was fostered in love both at home and in school.
"Ordination for me was a sacred moment," Bishop McDonnell recalled. After his ordination, he served at Saint Catherine of Sienna Parish in Cedar Grove, as well as years as an Army chaplain, where he spent time in Vietnam, Korea and Germany. "I loved it," he said of the chaplaincy as well as the priesthood. "I love being with people—where they are, what they do. I like the people I work with. They are involved and I admire them for their dedication. I would stay here forever, if I could. I love the school, as well," he said, referring to Holy Trinity's elementary school. "Education is the future of the Church, and I feel very blessed to be able to work with children. Confirmations are also always a boost. As soon as I see the youth, it's a great source of joy."
It is important for parishioners to also remember priests as a great source of joy in their own communities. Last October, many parishes held special events on Priesthood Sunday, in which their parish priests were honored (The Catholic Advocate, Oct. 29 and Sept. 20, 2006), and participating in a collection such as this one sends a strong message, that retired priests are still very close to the hearts and minds of parishioners.
The money collected for the retired priests on Ash Wednesday will serve as a small "thank you" to the many services provided by them to their parishes. "The money will help," Father Mader said, regarding the special collection. "Of course, there are practical financial things that can be kept up with because of it, but it helps to know that we have the prayers of the parish communities. That is what we appreciate the most."
(Christy Guerra is a public relations assistant in the Archdiocese of Newark's Office of Communications. Call (973) 497-4186 for more information on ways to support retired priests.)