By Father Anthony J. Sansone
Not too long ago, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio told me a story of the time he was a young priest and how he cared for his grandfather as his grandfather became older and in need of medical attention.
In driving him to the doctor for treatment one day, Bishop DiMarzio asked his grandfather a poignant question: “Who will take care of me, when I am old?” His grandfather, without hesitation, responded: “Another priest!”
During my long friendship with Msgr. George Schuster, my first pastor, who was called back to the Father’s embrace on Dec. 3, 2016 at the age of 85, he, too, asked me the question: “Who will take care of me when I am old?” I answered, “I will.” I realized later how naive I was in giving such a speedy response. I was young and idealistic and cherished the mentoring process of a seasoned priest to a young and impressionistic newly ordained.
But over the course of years, I have learned the care and concern that priests need from each other has to be more than a brief encounter at a diocesan meeting when camaraderie and fraternity are heightened. Or at special events requiring the presence of the presbyter, where the only conversation is: “Hello, goodbye, we need to catch up for dinner sometime.”
The care and concern of one priest for another needs to be manifested by helping each other in the moments of weakness, suffering and loneliness that so often accompany the unpredictable daily life of priests in any generation.
It needs to be demonstrated by united prayer at the Eucharist, recitation of the Divine Office, the rosary, spontaneous blessings and conversations about the casualties of life’s journey.
In addition: concerted assistance in times of illness, presence in moments of the loss of family members, and listening when a priest is misunderstood and misquoted, and remains vulnerable to the criticism of the public.
All this hinges on rootedness, stability and presence, which are essential to building a relationship with another.
I think God must have truly listened to my response to Msgr. Schuster so long ago. This assignment to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in 2012, where Msgr. Schuster resided for more than 20 years, was not by accident, nor was it the will of powers that be, but rather it was the Lord’s plan to fulfill the concern of an older priest and the response of an unhesitant young priest.
I have never regretted that response.
Father Anthony J. Sansone is the pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood.