While many people hope and save for a retirement of carefree living, the reality is that the majority choose to continue working in some form for years.
It’s no different for the Archdiocese of Hartford’s senior priests, many of whom, once freed from their administrative duties, are more than happy to return to the role they took on decades before: priestly ministry.
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“There was a time when few people enjoyed much retirement because life expectancy was relatively short compared to today,” Archbishop Leonard P. Blair said. “Now that people live longer, many enjoy long years of retirement, and so do priests, with this exception — a priest only retires from an assigned administrative responsibility; he never retires from the priesthood.
“His spiritual ministry as a priest continues in his senior years to the extent that his health and circumstances permit,” the archbishop explained. “We depend very heavily on our senior priests to assist in parishes when a parish priest is away on retreat or vacation or is ill. Even with the reduction in the number of parishes, there are still full Mass schedules to be celebrated and our senior priests are very much needed.”
Still, once they are no longer responsible for parishes, senior priests say they embrace the opportunity to minister to a parish without boundaries, according to Archbishop Blair.
“Relieved of the burden of administering a parish, retirees often say that they feel like the priest they were ordained to be — pastors of souls.”
Some senior priests live in parish rectories and share many of the responsibilities of parish life. Some live at the Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin Residence at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield and travel to wherever they are needed.
Depending on their abilities, senior priests also celebrate Mass and anoint the sick at adult day centers, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. They celebrate Mass and hear confessions at Catholic schools, an abbey and monasteries. They serve as hospital chaplains, lead retreats and minister to Spanish-speaking Catholics. Some are also active with the Knights of Columbus and Knights of Malta, serving as chaplains for pilgrimages to Lourdes, among numerous other contributions.
“I don’t know what the archdiocese would do without them, so important is the role they fulfill,” Archbishop Blair stressed.
“And remember, bishops (and now even popes) retire, too.”
Father Robert B. Vargo, vicar for clergy and a former pastor, also values the senior priests.
Father Vargo says he has known and witnessed “the wonderful presence, example and ministry that our senior priests offer to their brother priests and to the faithful whom they serve. The wisdom, and often humor, which they bring to their ministry is rewarding and refreshing,” he said. “The example which they offer us all — of a lifetime dedicated to God and Church — is beyond value.
“May God continue to bless our senior priests,” Father Vargo said, “with holiness, health and every happiness.”