The Catholic people of Rhode Island have annually displayed great generosity toward the retired priests of the diocese. Last year a total of $268,000 was donated by parishioners to the Senior Priests’ Retirement Collection held annually on the third weekend of September, this year, on September 17 & 18. The parish donating the largest sum toward this overall total last year was St. Philip’s Church in Greenville. I had the privilege of preaching on the Senior Priests’ Retirement Fund at this suburban parish last year. Certainly the $15,000 donated by St. Philip’s parishioners was more a testimony to their extravagance than to my eloquence (he wrote humbly). Again this year, I have been assigned to preach at St. Philip’s parish on this important topic and I am sure the Catholics of Greenville will gladden the heart of their new pastor, Fr. Michael McMahon, with their perennially big-hearted response.
Older Catholics well remember elderly pastors who had a couple of curates and a convent full of sisters to do the parish work while they could sit at their mahogany desks and write checks. Well, the sisters are gone and only five parishes in the whole diocese can boast a curate. Today, most aging clergy wisely recognize that retirement from the active ministry is a prudent move for themselves and their parishioners. However, once a diocesan priest retires he is entirely on his own. Room and board, so generously provided while assigned to a parish, are now the retired priest’s own responsibility. Although all priests pay into Social Security during their active years, clerical salaries have traditionally been low. (In 1966 my starting salary was $100 a month!) Hence the monthly Social Security check received by a retired Catholic priest is relatively modest. The Diocese of Providence wisely instituted a pension system in the 1960s that augments a senior priest’s available funds each month. The annual Senior Priests’ Retirement Collection greatly supports this vital pension system.
The Diocese of Providence does graciously make available room and board for senior priests at various locations. The St. John Vianney home on Mt. Pleasant Avenue in Providence can accommodate a dozen and a half retired priests. St. Joseph rectory at Fox Point and the Cathedral rectory downtown also have rooms available for the senior clergy. However, a retired priest residing in such a facility is expected to pay a reasonable rent toward room and board. Then again, some priests have family homes to which they may return or they have purchased a home over the years and may choose to reside there. Of course, the maintenance of these homes is the priest’s sole responsibility. And of course, like us all, as retired priests grow older the prospect of assisted living or a nursing home, maybe St. Antoine’s or Mt. St. Rita in northern Rhode Island, maybe St. Clare’s in Newport, or the Jeanne Jugan in Pawtucket, becomes a possibility. Here again, the senior priest is responsible for his own long term care. Again, the importance of the annual senior priest collection which funds the diocesan pension plan is quite clear.
I retired from St. Francis of Assisi parish on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick in 2011 and happily returned to the home in Woonsocket in which I grew up. Since that time, I have helped regularly at St. Ambrose parish in Albion and at St. James parish in Manville where Fr. Thomas Ferland manages both parishes. I also offer Mass on Mondays at Oakland Grove nursing home in Woonsocket. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I say Mass at St. Antoine Residence in North Smithfield and on Wednesdays at Mt. St. Rita in Cumberland. I also offer Mass on Wednesday afternoons at the State Prison. Once a month, I offer an evening Mass for the local CYO. And I take my turn as a chaplain at Landmark Hospital in Woonsocket as well. And, let’s be honest, a customary stipend is offered at all of these locations. And, of course, after Mass, the day is my own! Certainly most retired priests throughout the diocese could relate to a similar schedule.
If it were not for the diocese’s many retired priests, important ministries such as these could not be covered. In former years, assigned chaplains took care of so many extra-parochial duties. High schools, hospitals, and residential facilities were often privileged to have a priest assigned full time to tend to their sacramental needs. Now ministries beyond the parish church often have to turn to the retired clergy for services. Your donation to the Senior Priests’ Retirement Fund at Mass next weekend is indeed a sign of gratitude that such important apostolic work continues.