PROVIDENCE — There is a story that Father John A. Kiley delights in telling when comparing past notions that many Catholics have had about their parish pastors through the years to the reality of the present day.
It involves a man who walks into a pet store to inquire about purchasing a hunting dog.
“This dog is a great hunter,” the owner says of one of his best offerings. “We call him Napoleon.”
Pointing to another superior hunting dog he says, “We call him Julius Caesar.”
But the man is more curious about the name of a third canine, located across the room from the others.
“Oh we call him ‘The Pastor,’” the salesman says.
“Why do you call him ‘The Pastor?’” the customer asks.
The salesman quickly responded, “Oh, he just sits around all day and barks and nobody pays any attention to him, so we call him ‘The Pastor.’”
In the days of old this stereotype of a long-serving pastor, barking out orders to a cadre of two or three assistants while perhaps also being supported in his parish school ministry by a full convent of religious sisters, may have resonated with a portion of a congregation not-so-empathetic with pleas for extra offerings to help provide financial support their clergy.
But for many years now, and for the foreseeable future, due to the decline in the number of young men pursuing priestly vocations, pastors today more often than not works alone. They are often the sole religious force responsible for the daily operations of one, two and even three parishes, keeping their churches open for worship to accommodate the varied needs of the faithful through the years.
If not for a laity who give generously of their time and talent, there would be no one else for pastors to turn to help share some of these responsibilities with.
Now, as these pastors and other priests are reaching retirement age and are cutting back on their active ministries, they are looking for a little extra support from those they have served tirelessly for decades.
This weekend, September 17-18, the Senior Priest Retirement Fund collection will be taken up in parishes throughout the diocese. All donations to the collection remain in the Diocese of Providence to serve diocesan priests in retirement.
While priests receive Social Security benefits in retirement, the allotments are small in keeping with the contributions made from the modest salaries they earned while serving in active ministry.
Senior priests are grateful to also receive a modest pension from the diocese for their decades of service. Most cobble together these resources to help sustain themselves in retirement.
But what is most concerning for the Diocese of Providence, as the number of senior priests continues to grow each year, is its continued ability to fund its increasing pension liabilities.
“The diocese has made promises to its senior priests and is investing wisely and cautiously to keep these pledges,” Father Kiley said.
And the diocese is hoping to continue to meet these obligations through the generosity of the faithful who contribute to the annual Senior Priest Retirement Fund.
Msgr. Raymond Bastia, Vicar for Planning and Financial Services for the Diocese of Providence, explained why the Senior Priest Retirement Fund collection is so critical to sustaining the fund into the future.
“By the year 2020, 48 active priests [across the diocese] will be eligible to retire,” Msgr. Bastia said.
He said that the diocesan pension fund they now draw support from is funded in part by an assessment that is paid on behalf of an active priest while he serves in a diocesan assignment as part of his benefits package.
With the increase in priests reaching retirement age, this fund is becoming severely strained Msgr. Bastia observed.
When he turned 70 in 2011, Father Kiley retired as pastor of St. Francis Parish in Warwick, although he continues to remain active in priestly ministry, like the vast majority of retired priests do.
He assists fellow priests by serving regularly at St. Ambrose Church, Albion; St. James, in Manville; Mt. St. Rita, Cumberland; and the Intake Center at the state prison.
“I offer a Mass almost every day,” he says of his continued ministry, which also involves his ongoing writing of “The Quiet Corner,” a popular reflection column that he has published in Rhode Island Catholic for more than 40 years.
Donations to the Senior Priest Retirement Fund can also be sent at any time in the form of a check to the Stewardship and Development Office, Diocese of Providence, 1 Cathedral Square, Providence, R.I. 02903, and made out to the Senior Priest Retirement Fund.