A man walked into a pet store and inquired about purchasing a hunting dog. “This dog is great hunter,” the owner remarked. “We call him Napoleon. And this is another great hunting dog, we call him Julius Caesar.” “What about the dog over there,” the customer inquired gesturing toward a canine across the room, “what’s his name?” “Oh, we call him ‘the pastor,’ the salesman replied. “The pastor?” the customer inquired, “why do you call him ‘the pastor?’” 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.’”
Some of us can probably remember older pastors who could sit around all day and simply give orders. These elderly gentlemen could sit at their desks all day since they had two or three curates with them at the parish to do the leg work as well as a convent full of religious sisters to take care of the school and the religious instructions and probably tend to the church sacristy as well. Clearly, all that has changed.
There are one hundred and fifty parishes in this diocese and only two or three of them have more than one priest on their staff. The vast majority of priests in the Diocese of Providence are alone in their rectories and, of course, very few parishes can boast of any religious sisters among their help. The pastor nowadays is very much responsible for everything. The assistance of the laity is greatly appreciated but parish life pretty generally corresponds to the vigor of its parish priest.
Certainly, sometimes a parish priest must retire due to ill-health or incapacity. But even the healthy parish priest who attains seventy years might well consider retirement. Let’s face it: Creativity is rarely the mark of the senior clergyman. Few older pastors welcome the barrage of new programs, new campaigns, new movements that regularly descend upon parish life. Business as usual can drag on for years and parishioners can sadly be deprived of some new insights, new methods, new energy that could enliven and sustain a parish. Retirement is not simply good for the priest, but sometimes is good for the people as well. There can be a fine line between stability and stagnation.
The Diocese of Providence, thanks to your generosity, takes very good care of its retired priests – of which there are almost one hundred. Priests, like most Americans, benefit from Social Security and Medicare, having paid over the course of their employed life. Of course, never having made really big money, their monthly Social Security checks are rather unexceptional. Consequently, retired priests happily do receive a modest pension and health insurance from our diocese as well. But once retired, senior priests are expected to use these sources of revenue to provide for themselves. Room and board are no longer provided as they were during a priest’s years of employment.
There is a retirement home for priests on Mount Pleasant Avenue, in Providence, as well as a few renovated rectories like St. Joseph’s, Fox Point and Precious Blood in Woonsocket where priests may rent a small suite. Some priests have families with whom they might choose to reside and others might have a home of their own in which they can live out their golden years. As an only child, I was fortunate enough to inherit the home I grew up in Woonsocket from my parents and, very happily, live there in my old familiar neighborhood. But, of course, like all of you, I pay taxes, purchase insurance, procure utilities, clothe, feed and entertain myself. Regardless of the assorted circumstances, retired priests do have to provide for themselves.
The Diocese of Providence, unlike our state, cities and towns, has been very concerned about funding its liabilities. Your generous donation this coming weekend along with the diocese’s prudent fiscal programs is vital for sustaining the diocesan priests’ retirement fund into the future. Let’s make sure your present pastors will appreciate their senior years as much as my generation appreciates ours.