The quiet blessing of ministry to retired priests Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Jul. 30, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

This year, five of us priests were honored for serving 50 years in the priesthood. Barring a cancellation because of the coronavirus, we will be honored again at the Priests Assembly.

Since I am eight to nine years younger and retired earlier than my classmates, I experienced the blessing of the Priests Retirement Ministry.

I think that the Priests Retirement Ministry was one of the best; yet, least known, blessings in our diocese's history.

How it got started

As I recall, a mother who was a nurse, spent a year prayerfully asking God to help her discern what she should do with the rest of her life.

She became friends with two other mothers, who like her, had children in her parish's religious education program.

As a result, they formed the heart of a ministry to retired priests.

I felt that I was already an unofficial member who quietly contributed a few leftover fragments, and received bushel baskets of blessings from this spirit-filled group!

Since the bishop is ultimately responsible for retired priests, eventually the group was incorporated into our diocese.

Most priests who benefited from its blessings have died and gone to Heaven.

After I moved from Madison, gradually the group's core members also moved.

Two of them relocated to other parts of the country and a third accepted a full-time job.

Their ministry

The group ministered to at least 15 priests during my early retirement in Madison.

Among other blessings, the group provided a weekly free meal or two for us retired priests.

They attended daily Mass and participated in Eucharistic Adoration. They drove retired car-less priests to Masses, special events, and more. They visited us and took us on exercise walks, grocery shopping, visits to doctors, dentists, and counselors.

The nurse took blood pressure and other health readings. One member and her dog heroically helped me clean my car. They both survived!

They helped me move twice, jump start my car, treated me to occasional dinners, and supported me during trying times of my early teeter-totter days of retirement.

They were open to most suggestions that I made. They supported me and other retired priests with the respect Pope Francis urges towards seniors in our sometimes throwaway society.

Best of all, they brought the Christ-like personal touch to their ministry by repeatedly going the extra mile as Pope Francis does.

They often paid for expenses out of their pocket. They prayed for me. They were Christ to me.

Spiritual motherhood

In 2007, the Congregation for the Clergy published a document entitled Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity.

In this document we read, "Pope St. Pius X rightfully confirms his experience that, 'Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it goes through the heart of a mother!'"

In this statement he did not mean to limit motherhood to those who are physical mothers, but, along with Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, he extended that meaning to all women who commit their lives to holiness and to prayer for priests.

Children, mothers, single women, widows, Religious Sisters, can all be spiritual mothers. Priests and others need and appreciate their support and prayers!

In my priesthood, I have cherished the support of Mary-like women. Their support and my mother's faith and prayers helped me to persevere in my priesthood!

Not just women

Ministering to retired priests is obviously not limited to women and mothers.

It can and should involve men. One man who played professional sports was part of this group.

Groups such as the Knights of Columbus, men's groups, ladies' groups, and others can also pray for and support priests.

I hoped that the spirit and practice of this wonderful ministry would spread to other parts of the diocese in modified ways. Since each retired priest has different needs and capabilities, they would be free to accept or reject what the ministry would offer them.

Discernment would be the key! When I moved to Platteville, laity and clergy continued to provide some of the support that the priests retirement group provided.

The late Msgr. George Hastrich, who was a regular, probably benefited most from the Retired Priests Ministry.

He intended to write an article about this graced group. I also wanted to submit an article. The late Bishop Cletus O'Donnell, who on the day Auxiliary Bishop George Wirz was installed playfully said, "My motto will be 'Let George (Wirz) do it.'"

Since Msgr. George Hastrich was a gifted wordsmith, I thought I would let Monsignor Hastrich do it. He died before he could write about it.

Because quiet blessings too often go unnoticed, inspired by him, I hoped to continue what he hoped to do by writing this article. I hope and pray that loyal readers, such as you, are as moved by this graced ministry as I was and still am. Monsignor Hastrich would appreciate that.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.