By Peter Purpura
At Bishop Mugavero Residence for Retired Priests in Douglaston, there are currently 37 priests and bishops who have served their ministry for the Diocese of Brooklyn for a total of 1,907 years, ranging from 38 years ordained to 70 – an average of 53 years.
A priest is classified as a senior priest when he reaches 71; 75 is the mandatory retirement age. The 37 living in Douglaston make up only a small percentage of our senior priests. Many are still active, even as pastors at age 75, awaiting their replacement.
Others are living in rectories, private residences, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. This year, the number of priests over the age of 71 is 138, and together with the 37 in Douglaston, there are in total 175; 132 of them are over the age of 75. Four of our active bishops in the diocese are senior priests and a fifth will claim that status in 2017.
It is further startling to know that these 175 diocesan priests have a cumulative total of 8,572 years of priesthood; an average of 49. The earliest ordination date was in 1946.
For the priests who live at Bishop Mugavero Residence, they share the same building, which is 50 years old this year, with seminarians who are in formation at The Cathedral Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, before moving on to the major Seminary of St. Joseph at Dunwoodie.
The senior priests who live at the residence are in the very capable hands of Deacon Matthew Oellinger, who is full-time coordinator and advocate for their needs, interacting one-on-one on a daily basis to know their needs and concerns.
Deacon Matt not only cares for the needs of senior priests who live there, but he also visits those living in rectories or other facilities. Each priest needs legal documentation: living wills, health care proxies, advance directives and basic banking needs.
There is a part-time nurse coordinator, keeping abreast of the medical condition and checking medications for the priests in Douglaston. There are social workers, an on-site doctor’s office, a physical therapy center and a physical therapist. A barber and podiatrists come in routinely.
Some need an aide during the daytime hours, others need someone 24/7. Hospice care can be provided if needed. Indoor and outdoor activities are arranged; various parish and school singing groups stop by to offer entertainment; and of course, there are festive dinners to celebrate special feasts and holidays throughout the year.
Many get about the facility independently. Others are provided with a walker or motorized scooter. A daily newspaper is available in the breakfast room following the 8 a.m. Mass that is celebrated by a rotation of senior priests.
Each priest has his own room. While the priests are housed in the south wing of the building and the seminarians are in the north wing, each group enjoys interactions at meals in the dining room, in the chapel or when passing in the hallways. These are opportunities for those seminarians to benefit from the life-experiences of many with such diverse background ministries.
Many of the enhancements that have been added to Bishop Mugavero Residence over the years have been made possible by the Kathie and Christopher Lawler Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to supplement the diocese’s efforts. These efforts include making transportation available for those who need to go to out for appointments.
The Lawler Foundation is a 401c fund and 100 percent of donations go towards the senior priests there. The average annual cost to care for a senior priest is $34,000. The foundation is now in its ninth year and each fall a dinner-dance is held at the residence.
The details for this year’s dinner will be posted at The Catholic Foundation of Brooklyn and Queens: www.cfbq.org/kathie-and-christopher-lawler/dinner-dance. For those who cannot make the dinner, but may want to assist this mission of care, donations can be made through the website.
Most importantly, the diocesan capital campaign, Generations of Faith, under the auspices of The Catholic Foundation, will raise $30 million for the care of senior priests.
As Bishop DiMarzio wrote when the campaign kicked off in 2015: “As Catholics, we must consider our past promises and honor our most senior members who have tirelessly served our communities. Our senior priests have given their lives out of love for us, and they must receive the care and support required in their most senior years. Generations of Faith will fulfill our promise to our past leaders, and honor those generations of dedicated priests who have faithfully served in our communities by providing for the modest needs and health care of our senior priests.
“Our priests baptized us, instruct us in the Scriptures, counsel us in time of sorrow and worry, and celebrate with us in times of joy. We receive so much from the generosity of our priests and it is our time to assist them.”
One hundred-seventy-five senior priests to be cared for with more being added each year. A challenge!
Editor’s Space: Priests Must Be Healthy to Be Effective
Peter Purpura is a parishioner of Blessed Trinity, Breezy Point, and father of Father Peter Purpura, rector of St. James Cathedral Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn.