Program #0025 for Tuesday, April 12, 2011: Care for Senior Priests and Transitional Deacons

April 12, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor

Today’s guest(s): Joseph D’Arrigo, executive director of Clergy Funds, and Transitional Deacons Mark Murphy and Kyle Stanton of St. John’s Seminary.

Today’s topics: The Clergy Benefit Trust Funds and care for senior priests; transitional deacons preparing for ordination in May

A summary of today’s show: Joe D’Arrigo, executive director of the Clergy Funds, recounted his journey from a successful business career to answering the call to help shore up the Clergy Benefit Trust Funds, bringing it from $10 million deficits a few years ago to break even today. Also, the need for continued generosity from parishioners to care for their priests as retirement costs increase. Later, Transitional Deacons Mark Murphy and Kyle Stanton related their own paths to their vocation as priests and how they hope to put their life experiences at the service of the Church.

1st segment: Fr. Chris reports that the men of Norfolk prison are listening to the program regularly and are grateful for The Good Catholic Life and WQOM. Next Monday, we will have an interview with Fr. Joseph Fessio, a friend of Pope Benedict XVI, about the Holy Father’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection”“. When he was Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, the Holy Father was Fr. Fessio’s dissertation director.

Fr. Chris said next week is an exciting week to be Catholic during Holy Week.

Later in the program, they will have an interview with transitional deacons who are due to be ordained in May, God willing. But first, Joe D’Arrigo on how we as a Church care for our senior priests in their later years.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Chris welcome Joe D’Arrigo to the program. Joe has had a successful business career but a few years ago chose to get involved in an effort to shore up our clergy benefits funds. He got a call from Chancellor Jim McDonough to ask him to help with the challenge that the Clergy funds were underfunded on an annual basis in the amount of $10 million. It was a challenge and Joe was preparing to wind down his career, not embark on a new direction. He was inclined to say No, but in a conversation with one of his business partners, the partner said it would be perfect for Joe. Then later, during dinner with a friend, she said the same thing because they saw something that Joe had not seen.

Joe had been involved very heavily in the works of the Church. He’s been involved with the Shrine of St. Anthony in downtown Boston. The new guardian of the shrine at the time, Fr. David, asked for his help. He’s worked with Catholic Charities Boston and in 2000-2003, he helped develop a strategic plan to re-organize Catholic charities. It is the largest non-profit organization in the state of Massachusetts. The plan laid out parameters for making decisions when issues came up and new challenges emerged. Their top priority is always the poor.

Joe has always been in the benefit business, specializing in medical insurance. Over the years, he started a consulting company and sold it to a major insurance company and worked with them for a while. He left and started more consulting work, again in the benefit business.

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. There is an obligation on behalf of the Cardinal Archbishop to care for all of the 750 priests, including 260 senior priests, to care for all of their medical needs and provide for their retirement. Joe points out that priests don’t actually “retire” in the same way that parents don’t retire from being parents. Many senior priests are active in parishes. 150 senior priests live on their own and 50 or 60 live at parishes. Joe’s experience is that if they can walk, they are celebrating Mass. They are not as active in administration, but are very active in pastoral aspects.

Fr. Chris said many pastors and parochial vicars speak of how important the senior priests’ ministry is.

Scot asked Joe what it’s like to work with the senior priests. Joe said they’re all characters, all unique individuals. He was at Regina Cleri today, which is the home for senior priests. (The average age for Regina Cleri priests is 81. The challenge is that priests are living longer, which is good news, but also raises challenges of paying for their care.) They have introduced changes and any change, especially in advanced age, is difficult to manage. And during this visit, he received praise for the changes that have been made at Regina Cleri. Appreciation from the senior priests is very rewarding. While you have to make difficult business decisions, the decisions are made for the benefit of senior and active priests.

On Joe’s staff are four people. Maria Sullivan is the operations manager; she makes everything go. She is the go-to resource for the priests. Scot said everyone she works with in the Pastoral Center loves working with her. Joe said she does an amazing job and is totally dedicated. Joan Smith manages all of the enrollment and questions from the priests about their insurance and medical needs. The healthcare system is confusing and she helps them through that. Maria Hanlon is a nurse and she’s the healthcare coordinator. She’s out visiting priests all the time helping them make healthcare and end-of-life issues. She meets with senior priests to evaluate their needs. Joe said priests are very independent and like our parents, some may have cognitive issues and they don’t realize it. Mary will go out and do an evaluation and maybe work with their doctors.

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 didn’t 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.

The clergy funds depend on the Easter collection and the generosity of parishioners. About 18 months ago, Joe wrote a column for The Pilot in which he proposed that people would want to buy dinner for their priest for Christmas with the collection. Joe had been reflecting on the role of priests in his life: the priests who baptized his children or gave them other sacraments or, most movingly, who anointed his wife in the hospital. Would he buy that priest dinner? Of course! Dinner for two in Boston would be about $100. You have to make it personal because what that priest does is personal. When it came time to call a priest to her hospital room, she asked for that specific priest who dropped everything and came to her bedside.

Even though the gift goes for all the priests, he visualizes that gift benefiting that one particular priest.

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.

4th segment: Scot and Fr. Chris welcome Transitional Deacon Mark Murphy to The Good Catholic Life. He is making the final preparations for ordination in May. Right now he is at St. Thomas Aquinas in Bridgewater for his deacon assignment. He’s enjoyed his time there preaching and baptizing.

Fr. Chris said he was intrigued by Mark saying that confirmation was special in preparing him for his vocation. Then-auxiliary Bishop William Murphy said to the young men being confirmed that they should consider the priesthood and that they would never be more fulfilled than if they were called to that life. It touched Mark’s heart and the thoughts stayed in his mind and heart. He told his parents he was thinking about the call within a few weeks of confirmation and in his junior year in high school he told his friends. It was a particular grace that his family and friends were supportive.

Fr. Chris asked if it was difficult to answer the call. In 2002, when the abuse scandal came out, was when he was intensely discerning entering the seminary, but it wasn’t a deterrent. He felt it didn’t have anything to do with him because he still felt he was being called by the Lord. Some told him to go to a regular college first, but his parents and priest were supportive of him entering seminary.

Scot asked him to share exactly how his parents helped and what advice he would give to other parents. They let him know it was okay to be thinking about going into seminary and that they would very happy if he chose that path. His pastor, Fr. Leonard O’Malley, was very supportive and seeing his ministry and his joy strengthened and encouraged him.

Fr. Chris noted that Mark was commissioned as a chaplain in the National Guard and a 2nd Lieutenant in 2008. Cardinal Sean had told him that it was a good idea. Mark’s father was in the Army National Guard for 30 years along with other other members of his family. Knowing that this was an option was something he’d thought about and was happy the Cardinal supported him in this ministry. For two different summers, he was at the chaplain school in South Carolina in 2008 and 2009. It was interesting to be there with non-Catholics, including Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams. He hadn’t been exposed to that many different faiths in his upbringing and that experience let him know he’d be comfortable ministering to non-Catholic soldiers.

He’s had experience doing military death notifications. He learned that it was a ministry of presence, being Christ to them, being present with them, praying with them. Scot asked what Mark can say to those who might have to give such bad news. Mark said it’s most important to have that ministry of presence. He told the mother he met with that all the chaplains would be praying for her and her family and that he would be available for her if she needed him.

For his priesthood, Mark is most excited to be able to celebrate Mass for the community.

Scot asked Mark what it was like to go through the ordination ceremony to the transitional diaconate. It was a beautiful gift to experience that he said. He’s been in seminary for 8 years so it was somewhat surreal to finally reach the ordination rite. He thought during the ceremony about his long journey to that moment and it was very moving. He focused on the ministry of the diaconate which is one of service.

5th segment: Scot and Fr. Chris welcome Transitional Deacon Kyle Stanton to The Good Catholic Life. Kyle grew up in New Hampshire and is studying for the Diocese of Manchester. He was an atheist in his high school years and in that he felt God calling him because atheism offers no answers. It had no satisfying answer to the big questions of life. He was raised Catholic, but had rejected it. The culture of death had been trying to convince him that there was no God.

Fr. Chris asked how he came to be a seminarian. Kyle said at 8 years old, he felt the call to the priesthood, and that call doesn’t leave you. Even in his atheism he remembered that call and remembered being happy. He began to desire that happiness and reconsidered the call. After high school he returned to Mass. There was a newly ordained priest at his parish who befriended him and began a dialogue of faith.

Kyle has been Master of Ceremonies at St. John Seminary helping to facilitate and plan all the Masses and celebrations throughout the year. He works with all the visiting bishops and priests preparing liturgies and prayer. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a blessing.

Fr. Chris noted that transitional deacons take four or five classes and are in parishes on the weekends preaching. Kyle said he prepares for his homilies starting on Monday for the next week. He prays about the Word of God and only then goes to commentaries and the writing of Popes. He recalled that as a boy one reason he went to atheism because he didn’t hear preaching on the hard questions and so he tries to address the hard questions.

He knows that truth is universal and we all desire truth. He tries to bring the great education of St. John’s to his preaching. People love to hear the Gospel in simple ways, even those who are very well-educated.

Kyle is close to the Blessed Mother and he knows that seminarians still have a need for the feminine aspect in their lives.

Kyle attended Franciscan University of Steubenville for his undergraduate years. As a young seminarian, he was exposed to young men and women, some discerning marriage, others discerning religious life, and he formed great relationships and friendships.

For fun, Kyle loves to enjoy hiking and fishing back home in New Hampshire. What he looks forward to the most in his priesthood is the Mass. As a boy he knew that the only way to have Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is to have priests and he looks forward to being that priest.

As Bishop McCormack approaches retirement, Kyle doesn’t know who his bishop will be, he is prepared to promise his obedience and to work with whomever will be his bishop.

After seminary, he will miss the close relationships with his brother seminarians and the ability to live under one roof with them all.

6th segment: Scot and Fr. Chris talk about the men preparing to be ordained and how the seminary prepares. Today, the men are at the Pastoral Center, learning how the central ministries work and how they will fit into that structure.

Scot asked when they know where they will be assigned. Fr. Chris said Cardinal Sean tells them individually at a dinner before the ordination. The seminary rector, Bishop Kennedy, provides some guidance to the clergy personnel board on the strengths of each individual.

The ordination will be on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at Holy Cross Cathedral.

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