Ministering to those who have ministered to us
A campaign launched on behalf of our retired priests
By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
Last year, the Holy Father wrote a letter to the elderly in which he encouraged all people to honor our elder brothers and sisters in Christ. Involved in expressing our appreciation is the threefold duty that entails welcoming them, helping them and making good use of their talents and abilities.
In some countries such is a natural response, but not so in the more economically advanced countries, and this is a trend that must be reversed.
Pope John Paul II urged us to “ensure that elderly people can grow old with dignity, without having to fear that they will end up no longer counting for anything. There must be a growing conviction that a fully human civilization shows respect and love for the elderly, so that despite their diminishing strength they feel a vital part of society.”
Many of our priests face that challenge as they enter into retirement; they experience loneliness and isolation, limited resources, disabilities, and a loss of independence. While some among us are blessed with families who care for us at this time of our life, others, having given their lives in service of the Lord, have no one.
“You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. And now that I am old and gray, O God, forsake me not, till I proclaim your strength to every generation that is to come” (Psalm 71:17-18).
Our retired priests are the men who answered their Lord’s call, the ones who chose service to God’s people as a way of life. We do not forget our retired priests, but because they are not as visible as they once were, we sometimes fail to take notice of their special needs. These men who have devoted their lives ensuring that the people entrusted to their care experienced the loving presence of Jesus Christ, like all of our elderly people, deserve to retire in dignity and grace.
For this reason I am launching a campaign to raise funds for the building of the St. Joseph’s Residence, an assisted-living facility for retired clergy to be added to the Carter-May Home in Charleston.
This project involves the upgrading of the present Carter-May facility and adding a new building with rooms for clergy and lay people. The estimated cost is in the neighborhood of $2 million.
I have designated the weekend of Dec. 1 and 2 as a special Commitment Sunday for this campaign and encourage the support of everyone in our diocese for this effort on behalf of our retired clergy.
We are also working toward developing a facility for retired priests in the Piedmont area of the diocese and continue to pursue our efforts to locate an extended-living and nursing care facility on diocesan property in the Columbia area.
In “The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests,” a statement by the U.S. Catholic bishops, we are reminded that the priesthood is a lifelong ministry, and our retired, infirmed and aged priests still contribute an important role in our spiritual lives.
“… Their witness and explicit affirmation of the value of priestly ministry and commitment after many years is an extraordinarily strong and energizing force in the Church, a force that encourages vocations and perseverance among those already ordained. The intercessory prayer of senior clergy is a priestly service of incalculable value in the Church. Their collective wisdom generously shared is their great gift and legacy to a younger generation.”
So many priests active in ministry today attribute to a great extent their vocation to the example, or even invitation, of a retired priest friend or relative. I am speaking for myself in thanking the Lord for the example of my retired priest uncle, Sanguinist Father Clement Alt, and retired-priest friend, Father Cleo Schmenk.
Our St. Joseph’s Residence will provide aging priests with the opportunity to carry on their own unique priestly ministry. The Carter-May Home is assisted living in a homelike atmosphere. It has a caring staff and dedicated volunteers who provide support and assistance designed to enable seniors to enjoy optimum health and retain a maximum of independence with an emphasis on wellness and spiritual growth. Our priests will be cared for in dignity and have the opportunity of the fellowship and camaraderie of their brothers in Christ.
The present Carter-May Home is located on 4.4 acres of diocesan-owned property. It was converted from a convent in the 1960s. It has 15 private resident rooms, seven of which provide state-supplemented housing for women. The new structure, connected to the Carter-May Home by enclosed walkways, will include six specially designed assisted-living suites for priests and six separate private rooms for laity, with the potential to add new independent or assisted-living facilities in the future.
In a few weeks your parish will send you my letter requesting your support for this worthwhile effort. Please give generously to this project and help provide our priests with the honor and grace that they provided us by their lifetime of ministry in Christ.