Skip to comments.Priests find blessings in retirement years
Posted on 08/02/2007 1:44:45 PM PDT by Coleus
For more than four decades, The Rev. Robert Patterson ministered to Catholic parishes throughout North Jersey. Now, the resident of the Allendale Community for Mature Living finds that retirement has not put an end to his calling. "When people know you're a priest and that you're a good listener, they feel free to unburden themselves and seek direction," said Patterson, who was born in Jersey City in 1932. "It doesn't matter if they're Catholic or not. It's a wonderful experience because your ministry continues." There currently are 10 retired priests living at the 12-acre community, which encompasses a senior residence, assisted living and nursing/rehabilitation areas.
"When one of our priests retires, at age 70 -- or earlier if he has health problems -- it's up to him where to go," said Msgr. Edward Bradley, director of the Ministry for Retired Priests for the Archdiocese of Newark, which covers Bergen, Essex, Union and Hudson counties. Those who do not need assistance may choose from options including Rutherford's St. John Vianney Residence and the Msgr. James Kelley Residence in Caldwell, where their pension covers the rent. For those who need care, the physician-owned Allendale Community has offered a reduced rate to retired priests for more than 20 years, said Bradley. The entire cost is borne by the archdiocese through a pension investment fund.
"They can choose another facility, but the diocese pays what it would pay Allendale and they're responsible for the rest," he explained. "We have priests in about 10 different facilities including one in Florida." During Bradley's visits, he often encounters scenarios similar to one described last month by Julie Cochrane, activities director for the assisted living and nursing areas, where most residents are Catholic. "Father Patterson and I were walking down the hall and a resident said 'Father, Father, I need you.' He gave her a blessing and she said 'thank you' and we carried on. It's wonderful having the priests here. They really add a special touch to the community."
Although the retirees aren't required to lead services or do pastoral work -- there are paid Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains for that -- Cochrane said fellow residents often turn to them as friends. "There was a situation recently where a lady was on her deathbed and so I anointed her with the sacrament of the sick for almost a whole week," said the Rev. Edward Thompson, an Irvington native who went to seminary with Patterson and has lived at Allendale for about two years. "I did it primarily for the family."
Thompson, whose final parish was Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ridgewood, also gave out ashes to residents on Ash Wednesday this year. "People here always call us 'Father,' " he said with a chuckle. "I'm everybody's father." On June 1, Patterson officiated at a festive renewal of vows for two resident couples, said Emily Brown, Cochrane's assistant director. "We were going to ask one of our Catholic chaplains, but then we decided, well, Father Patterson is here, so why not use him? We talked to the residents about it and they were elated that he was going to do it."
Patterson performed his first wedding -- that of his sister, Wyckoff resident June Layton -- just two weeks after he was ordained in 1958. Layton, a frequent visitor, was present at the recent renewal ceremony as well. "Not only is he there for residents; he's here for the staff when we're having a bad day," said Cochrane. "He can read your face in a second and he'll stop you in the hallway and say 'Take a break and let's talk about it.' " The other retired priests at the community are the Revs. Charles Scanlon, John Waldron, Zigmund Pikula, Salvatore Malanga, Michael Komar, Josh Gurski, John Sweeney and Henry Naddeo.
"I think it adds a comfort to the other people, knowing there are people here who are religious, no matter what they are," said Dr. Hector R. Giancarlo, founder and president of the Allendale Community. "There's no altar, no name on the door," said Patterson. "It's the one-to-one, being part of the community."