Caring for our senior priests this Christmas

In The Pilot last Friday, two columns appeared recognizing Boston priests.  One was by Joe D’Arrigo, executive director of the Clergy Funds, entitled, “Caring for our senior priests this Christmas” and the other was by Msgr. Deeley, Vicar General entitled, “The gift of our priests.” For today, we will excerpt from the first one.

A priest has always been there when I needed him. He was there when I received my first Communion, for the sacrament of confession, when I got married, for the baptisms and first Communions of my children, and when I called him to anoint my wife. He is always there.

Have I taken him for granted at times? Yes, because he was always there when I needed him. Today, I’d like to ask all of us to reflect on the blessing of all the priests in our lives. As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, I also ask everyone to consider those that have served us in earlier days who are now our senior priests.

When a man is ordained a priest, he freely chooses to give his life to the Church and devote it to the service of God and all those he serves. Many of our senior priests have spent 50 years ministering to God’s people. That means he has offered around 20,000 Masses, probably heard 50,000-100,000 confessions, likely baptized 10,000-20,000 children and distributed first Communion to about as many. It’s tough to know how many people he anointed with the Sacrament of the Sick or family members he comforted upon the death of a loved one. Consider how many people come to him for counseling when life gets tough. The numbers are likely staggering. Yet I have taken him for granted because he was always there with I needed him, with faithfulness and dedication.

As in past years, the collection at Christmas is for the care of our senior priests. They were always there for me. Now they need me and my question is will I be there for them? Will you be there for them?

The tradition of the Archdiocese of Boston on this holiest of holy days is that the collection is directed to the benefit of the Clergy Funds. The Clergy Funds provide for the health, retirement and housing needs of our senior priests. It provides the funds for our senior residence at Regina Cleri, for the medical needs of all our senior priests and for the stipend they receive as they slow up a little after decades of service to all of us.

How will we be there for them? We have almost 250 senior priests. Each year we need to raise almost $10 million to provide for them. At any given time, 52 priests reside at Regina Cleri and 12 to 15 priests are in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility.

Christmas is a special day and this is a special collection. Some statistics may help you decide how much you might want to contribute. $1250 provides for one week in a nursing home, $750 provides for a week in assisted living, $250 provides for a health care advocate for one day, and $100 provides one day’s support for a priest at Regina Cleri. All gifts are appreciated and make a huge difference. If you are traveling this Christmas, please deposit a marked envelope in your parish collection basket when you return home or visit CareForSeniorPriests.org for additional ways to give.

This Christmas, as we welcome the newborn Jesus into the world, please remember our senior priests. They were there for us when we needed them, they are still there for us. Can we be there for them?

BCI believes it is important to care for our senior priests and provide for their retirement. The column was interesting for what it says, and also for what it does not say.

$10M is being raised each year to pay current retirement and healthcare expenses for senior priests and just keep income equal to expenses.  But nothing is ever said about how the Boston Archdiocese will make up for the $100M+ shortage in the underlying fund itself. A reasonable person reading the financial statements sees there is a future accumulated plan benefit obligation of about $126M. (see page 6 in the 2010 Clergy Fund financial statements. Some say the obligation is even greater–in the neighborhood of several hundred million dollars; however, the Archdiocese does not show this on the statements today. The same report shows net assets of $34M “available for benefits”, but that $34M includes the $14M value of Regina Cleri. If we assume Regina Cleri is not sold and is maintained in perpetuity as a home for senior priests, then that leaves just $20M available, in principle, to pay an accumulated benefit obligation of $126M, or more than a $100M shortfall.

How will that be made up?  Not clear. Nothing has been said publicly. It is as though the past is not relevant, and we start from the present. The condition of the underlying fund itself has not been discussed recently. With 40% of parishes in the red, are some not able to make their contributions to the fund? Where is the report showing what is owed and what is actually collected? In recent years, we know that the annual operating deficit for the clergy fund has been reduced by cutting some benefits, moving priests’ healthcare to Medicare or Medicaid when applicable, and fund-raising. A new 401K plan has been rolled out to clergy. But, even if the current fundraising takes care of the short-term expenses–which are very important to cover–that is not sustainable as benefit expenses grow in the future.

BCI acknowledges that the Clergy Fund is more stable today than 3 years ago, and BCI reiterates,our support for the need to provide financially for the retirement and healthcare of our senior priests today and in the future.  But is anyone else wondering what exactly the plan is for covering the $100M+ needed to secure the future, and when that plan will be shared?

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12 Responses to Caring for our senior priests this Christmas

  1. marie elena saccoccio says:

    Franciscans take care of their own elderly priests. I like the “adopt a friar” concept. That way your donation goes exactly where you mean it to go.

    Franciscan order to open home for aging friars

    By Sofia Celeste

    Published: Wednesday, February 4, 2004

    Updated: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 17:07

    02/29/04It is a reminder of the North End’s past, the last vestige of a piazza once surrounded by Catholic schools.

    Looking up the four-story staircase at St. Christopher’s Friary on North Bennet Street, a visitor can see the indented steps where the feet of students once trampled.

    When it was built in 1905, the Friary was St. Anthony Grammar School. In the 1970’s it became a school for Franciscan monks. Now, when the friary reopens sometime before Easter, it will serve as a home for monks who can no longer fulfill their duties as friars.

    Brother Juniper O’Connor and Brother Mark Brown, two Franciscan friars currently living in St. Leonard’s rectory, will serve as the building’s administrators and are currently overseeing the design and construction efforts.

    “The construction of this building is unique,” remarked Brother Brown, motioning toward early 19th century vaulted brick ceilings.

    Just as the original design was unique, so will be elements of the reconstruction. Funded by the the Franciscan Order of the Province of the Immaculate Conception, the design will incorporate everything from a chapel to emergency call buttons for the 15 aging friars who will live there.

    Although some will need minimal assistance, there will be a staff of nurses to assist with daily tasks such as administering medication. Dr. Ottavio Nardone, a local doctor featured on Channel 5’s TV magazine, “Chronicle,” will be the building’s on-call doctor.

    Brother O’Connor, who has been spearheading these renovations, will also advocate his ‘Adopt a Friar’ program, in which people from the outside community can donate their time to visit the friars, take them on walks, play cards or volunteer to take them to doctor’s appointments.

    Aside from maintaining a home for the elderly, Brother O’Connor and Brother Brown will take on duties that run the gamut from purchasing food to cooking lunch on weekends.

    According to the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of their order, it is the duty of all Franciscan monks to care for their own. These teachings, written in the 13th century, established the Order of Franciscan Monks as more than just a brotherhood, based on poverty, humility and chastity, that is dedicated to spreading Christ’s gospel. It is a family.

    In the 13th century, St. Francis wrote:

    “For if a mother loves and cares for her child in the flesh, a friar should certainly love and care for his spiritual brother all the more tenderly. If a friar falls ill, the others are bound to look after him as they would like to be looked after themselves.”

    Brother Brown and Brother O’Connor take these teachings to heart. The former teachers believe it is God’s calling that brought them to this North End construction site — and now their mission is to dedicate their lives to this new home for aging friars.

    “I felt these people who have served all these years, were well-deserving,” said Brother O’Connor.

    Brother Brown, who used to work with autistic children, will be the building’s financial administrator. He is proud of the fact that out of 180 brothers in their order, only five friars are in a private nursing home due to distinctive needs.

    Because of the increase in elderly in the order, St. Anthony Friary in Catskill, N.Y., can no longer facilitate all the monks who can’t fulfill their present posts.

    “As religious are becoming older, they have specific health needs,” said
    O’Connor. “We decided it was time to open the second home for our province.”

    According to O’Connor, out of 180 friars in their province, the average age is about 60 years old. The oldest living friar is 90 years old and the youngest is 22 years old. The need for elderly care was predictable, he explained.

    “We saved for a long time. We knew this day would come.”

  2. Just saying says:

    Why don’t you send Joe D’ Arrigo an email. He will answer your question. He has a plan, and actually has outlined it for the administration and priests in the past. Because he doesn’t outline it in detail in his appeal article, isn’t surprising, and doesn’t mean it is non-existent. It is an appeal article, not a detailed financial report. Joe always has a plan, and all the details covered, and I bet he will respond to you

    • We will write to Joe and ask. But, unfortunately, whatever that plan may be has not actually been shared well with priests. What has been communicated sounds a lot like, “Raise enough each year so income equals current expenses.” That sounds OK for the short-term, but nothing is said about the long-term.

      In June of 2009, the archdiocese estimated a “Clergy Funds unfunded liability for future anticipated retirement expenses to be in excess of $114 million.” If not addressed, they said the Clergy Funds would have run out of money in 2011. “More specifically, the Clergy Funds Operating Budget is receiving approximately $5.5 million per year from the Christmas and Easter collections but the Church is spending in excess of $15 million per year for retired and disabled priests stipends, housing costs, and medical/dental benefits.” See:

      http://www.www.rcab.org/Utility/News-And-Press/Content.aspx?id=15050

      Joe has helped the fund get to a much better place today than in 2009, and the fund is stablized now. Here is a detailed description from Joe from a radio interview earlier this year:

      http://www.thegoodcatholiclife.com/2011/04/12/program-0025-for-tuesday-april-12-2011/

      “Fr. Chris asked Joe what is the state of the clergy funds is now. He said it is stabilized. He is projecting that this year there will be less than $500,000 operating deficit. If they can run a break-even budget for the next couple of years, it will be sustainable”… * “3rd segment:* Scot asked Joe why they had such a $10 million deficit. There was $15 million coming in and $25 million go out. About 10 years ago, medical and housing costs had not yet started to increase at a rapid pace and we thought we were flush with money. The archdiocese had not been using all the government programs available, like Medicaid and Medicare, to pay for the needs of the priests, even though they had been paying for them through their taxes. Many priests didnt even know they qualified for Medicare. Last year, they moved 60 priests to Medicare. That saved about $1.2 million alone. They brought costs down from $25 million to $17 million and increased revenue from $15 million up to about $17 million.

      The revenue comes from the generosity of the laity in Boston. There are three collections for the Clergy funds: Christmas, Easter, and a collection in June. They also have a Priest Appreciation Dinner (this year it is September 14.) Last year it raise $800,000 and this year they hope to raise $1 million. The first they held it in 2009, it was the largest such dinner in Boston with about 1,600 attending.”…

      “Scot said Catholics in the Archdiocese are so generous. In the three collections, they bring in about $7.5 million, but they really need to go up to $10 million because more priests are reaching retirement age and the costs are continuing to rise. The costs just for retired priests right now are $8.5 million.”

      The accounting statements suggest an unfunded liability for future expected benefits of at least $100M remains. When this happened for the lay employee pension fund, the RCAB failed to take steps to collect what was owed by participating employers and instead basically said, “Sorry, we are not going to fund the shortfall at all.”

      If a more comprehensive plan exists to address that $100M+ liability for the Clergy Fund, it has not been shared broadly. Any clergy or administrators who know what the plan is, please post a comment or drop us a line.

  3. Anna says:

    Call me a cynic. But me thinks I’d rather send what I have directly to a retired priest.

    • Mary Reilly says:

      OK, I’ll call you a cynic! Unfortunately, most of us don’t have contact information for individual retired priests, or don’t have a relationship with them such that I can just send them a check in the mail like I do for my nieces and nephews on their birthdays. If I want to support retired, senior priests, what am I supposed to do-barge into Regina Cleri and ask the residents what their names are and if they need money?

      Ideally, the archdiocese would be trustworthy so I wouldn’t mind making my donation to an archdiocesan fund that then provides funding for individual diocesan causes I’m supportive of. I know that’s not the case, but I still struggle with the best way to make my donations to the Catholic church while avoiding the Catholic appeal.

  4. Boston Catholic Insider says:

    Just a reminder–please keep your comments relevant to the topic of the BCI post and also avoid personal attacks in your comments. It makes things a lot easier for BCI, as we do not have time or capacity to review comments all day and through the late evening hours or early morning hours.

    BCI thinks those guidelines should be rather simple to follow, but once again, we had to moderate a few comments this morning.

  5. TheLastCatholicinBoston says:

    The formal diocese is a completely secularized quasi-catholic non-profit agency with a questionable ethic. Case in point: an elderly Priest who has given his life in service to the people of Christ must essentially beg in order to get his basic human needs met in his dying days VS. a ridiculously overpaid bureaucrat in charge of a quaint anachronism of a school system – at 325,000K. The diocese has become a parody of itself.

    A few young priests need to step up, take some of these elderly priests as mentors and house them in their empty rectory mansions. Empty out a few of the make-work ‘offices’ and move in a few hospital beds. Beg from the pulpit if you must; to make it work. Take a page from the Franciscans, take care of your own and more importantly – what goes around comes around. You may even learn the Latin Mass from the old coots.

    You’ll find out quick who in your parish really wants to ‘serve Christs Church’ – Holding hands at a conference is a far cry from changing a bed pan for those near death.

    What so ever you have done for the least of these… you get the idea.

    • marie elena saccoccio says:

      I looked for the “like” button but could not find it. I love this approach:

      “A few young priests need to step up, take some of these elderly priests as mentors and house them in their empty rectory mansions. Empty out a few of the make-work ‘offices’ and move in a few hospital beds. Beg from the pulpit if you must; to make it work. Take a page from the Franciscans, take care of your own and more importantly – what goes around comes around. You may even learn the Latin Mass from the old coots..”

    • Michael says:

      I hate to say it, … great idea … but with such a system there exists a potential for elder abuse and a whole new crowd of greedy, sleazy, moneygrubbing lawyers hangin’ around chasing the hearses as they leave the rectory.

      Can you believe that that is even a possibility? What a pathetic world.

      • geena says:

        Michael,

        What do you mean by the elder abuse concern.
        Who would abuse an elderly priest and who
        who fabricate an abuse claim for the lawyers?

  6. Kevin O'Leary says:

    I wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and thank everyone for a great year.

  7. Lazarus' Table says:

    Will our senior priests be treated with any more respect than they received in their “active” years? How many of them could tell stories of being used, abused and then thrown away by the archdiocese. In their twilght years they are even more at the mercy of an institution that had little regard for their human, Christian or priestly dignity during their years of active ministry. Our senior priests (like our priests in general) who are “connected” in some way, or who have alot of money, or who might “have something on someone” might fare a little better. But they do make great tools at fundraising dinners.

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