A few years ago a pay increase was proposed for the priests of the diocese. I was stationed in Warwick at the time so I attended a regional meeting on the issue at St. Paul Church in Cranston. A fellow priest, a classmate from college, was also at the meeting. As a pastor of a small parish with a school I was against any increase in any salaries or benefits since my parish expenses were already challenging.
I argued that the priests of the diocese were sufficiently compensated at the present rate and no increase was needed. My classmate, who knew my family situation, countered, “Yes, but my parents didn’t die and leave me a house in Woonsocket. When I retire I am going to have to provide for myself at a rectory, or a condominium or a senior retirement home. I need to start saving now.”
My classmate of course had a point. There are over 90 retired priests in the Diocese of Providence. They are all in different circumstances but they are all responsible for their own upkeep. During a priest’s active ministry the parish to which he is assigned provides a salary as well as room and board. But after retirement, priests must provide for their own room and board and other daily living expenses.
Some priests are fortunate enough to have a family home in which to retire. My house in Woonsocket has been my home since I was 4 years old. Still, even at home, retired priests have household expenses. Some other priests have moved into rectories where they help out part time, but as retired priests they are still expected to pay rent in those rectories.
The diocese also maintains a retirement home for priests on Mt. Pleasant Avenue in Providence and has renovated St. Joseph rectory at Fox Point in Providence as a residence for retired priests, but again monthly rent is expected from any priest in a diocesan residence.
Then again, like us all, as retired priests grow older the prospect of assisted living or a nursing home — maybe St. Antoine in North Smithfield, or Mt. St. Rita in Cumberland, or the Little Sisters in Pawtucket or St. Clare in Newport — becomes a possibility. Here again, the senior priest is responsible for his own maintenance.
Retired priests do receive Social Security and Medicare like other Americans. But since priests did not earn much while in the active ministry their monthly Social Security check is nothing exceptional. Some time ago, the diocese encouraged active priests to invest in IRA accounts as added security in retirement. But of course priests who were already near retirement age did not have much time to accumulate any substantial amounts in these accounts.
So again, these IRA accounts are a valued, but modest resource. A few years ago, the diocese wisely instituted a Diocesan Priests Retirement Fund through which retired priests would receive a monthly pension and supplemental health insurance to help provide for their senior years. And this is where you faithful parishioners can help.
The current number of 90 retired priests in the Diocese of Providence will grow every year as active priests turn 70 and become eligible for retirement. Since the diocese is liable for these 90 or more retirement checks every month, the Diocesan Priests Retirement Fund was established to guarantee continued monthly payments to our retired clergy. Since this Diocesan Priests Retirement Fund has only been in existence for a couple of decades, it must squarely face, as all pension funds must, the dangerous prospect of “unfunded liability.”
Quite happily, and thanks to your generosity and the fund’s prudent investing, the Diocesan Priests Retirement Fund has recovered from the low investment expectations of a few years back. Certainly, the Fund’s current resources continue to depend on wise and professional investments, but even more greatly and even more confidently on the generous yearly contributions of faithful parishioners like you.
Please be generous to the Diocesan Priests Retirement Fund collection to be held the weekend of September 18-19 at all Masses in your local parish church and throughout the diocese. The retired clergy of the diocese are grateful for your contributions and, even more, for your concern. Let’s be sure your current pastor and the young priests who will succeed him will be able to enjoy their senior years as much as currently retired priests are enjoying our senior years right now.