Summary of today’s show: The Regina Cleri residence in Boston is a home for 53 of our 268 senior priests to live in community when their parish ministry is done. Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell welcome Stephen Gust, executive director; Laurine Kohler, nurse; and Fr. Joseph Fagan, a resident priest, to the show to discuss the medical and spiritual care provided to the priests who might not have anywhere else to go after a life dedicated in service to the Church. Regina Cleri is supported by the Clergy Funds and the Easter collection at all parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston.
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Watch the show via live video streaming or a recording later: BostonCatholicLive.com
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell
Today’s guest(s): Stephen Gust, Fr. Joseph Fagan, Laurine Kohler
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Regina Cleri Residence for Senior Priests
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed Fr. Mark O’Connell to show and they discussed that Fr. Mark’s assistant, Jessica McMaster, had their first baby yesterday, Samuel Joseph. Also this week, Fr. Mark preached a parish mission for the three parishes in Braintree for the Year of Faith. Fr. Mark said canon lawyers aren’t often at the top of people’s lists to preach parish missions.
Today’s show is about Regina Cleri, the residence for elderly priests when their years of service in the priesthood are done.
2nd segment: Scot welcomed Joe D’Arrigo, Stephen Gust, Fr. Joseph Fagan, and Laurine Kohler to the show. Steve is executive director of Regina Cleri. It was founded in 1964 by Cardinal Cushing where senior priests could continue their vocation. It’s in the West End of Boston. They have 52 permanent residents and several respite rooms and they are always full. It is one of the places where senior priests can stay. They have about 47 employees and 2 Sister Disciples of the Divine Master who live on site and are there 24 hours per day. The average of the priests is 84 years old with four men in their 90s. Steve has been at Regina Cleri for 19 years.
Fr. Fagan has lived there for 5 years. He retired as spiritual director at Blessed John XXIII Seminary in 2008, but for years he oversaw seminarians doing pastoral service there. He talked about how he still sees people who come to him for spiritual direction, about 15 people. Fr. Fagan talked about how he ended up at Regina Cleri and their other places he’s served. He mentioned the parishes he continues to help at and the retreats and days of recollections he gives. He said he’s known as a commuter who moves back and forth to various places.
Stephen said a priest doesn’t retire and 17 men are still in active ministry. they have daily Mass and the rosary and retreats. A big part of Regina Cleri is the involvement in active ministry, whether at St. Joseph’s parish next door or at any of the parishes they have served at in the past. They have a day of recollection every month. Fr. Mark said he did a day of recollection at Regina Cleri when he was 26 and at one point all the men took a nap, leaving him to wait.
Laurine said her goal is to provide treatment and care that allows them to continue in ministry. She said new employees get to know the priests and hear their stories of serving the Church in parishes and throughout the world and come to love them and respect them. Scot said this reinforces that the care is done in love. He said they must learn a tremendous amount as they care for them. Laurine said the nurses and aides say they learn as much from them as the care they give. The aides are possessive of the priests as their own.
Scot noted many senior priests live on their own or in parishes. He asked Fr. Fagan why it was important for Fr. Fagan to live in Regina Cleri. Fr. Fagan said he’s not shy and loves the diversity of the men. He grew up around nuns and priests and they were very familiar to him. The priests when he was ordained were always taken care of by the people in the parishes. The brothers he lives with are very open and close to him and he is close to them. He loves to hear the stories of the priests from a different era of the archdiocese.
Scot said one of out five senior priests live at Regina Cleri, 55 out of 268. Stephen said they have 14 men who have applied to Regina Cleri to llive there. When talking about supporting priests, Regina Cleri is a small part of that, providing support for those most in need. Fr. Mark said there have been positive changes at Regina Cleri, including the purchase of a bus to carry the priests to different parts of the archdiocese. Stephen said these men age in place and one of the hardest things for any elderly person to give up is a car because once they give it up they can become a prisoner of the place they live. The bus gives the men the opportunity to go out and see the younger priests and to feel a part of the brotherhood. They go to Red Sox games, parish functions, and other activities. Sometimes it’s a restaurant, sports games, or even funerals.
Fr. Fagan talked about having to be in a wheelchair and being able to get about in a handicapped-accessible van. Stephen said Regina Cleri isn’t just for senior priests, but also for those who are disabled.
Scot said priests who have been in the hospital can go to Regina Cleri for recovery. Laurine said it’s called respite services and they have two rooms dedicated to them. It can be anywhere from two days to three months. Some of the priests live in rectories with stairs and after a knee or hip surgery they stay in Regina Cleri until they can navigate the stairs. Recently they had priests in after cataract surgery and surgery on a foot.
Stephen said on the second floor of Regina Cleri they have 13 beds for priests who need more nursing care. Their hope is that when priests come in to live there that won’t have to come directly to the second floor. The hope is that they can remain active when they first move there.
Fr. Mark asked about Cardinal Seán’s commitment to Regina Cleri and rumors that it should be shut down. Fr. Fagan said with the start of the annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner, Cardinal Seán has made it clear of the support for the continuation of Regina Cleri. The dinners are a great event for people to express their appreciation for priests directly. Stephen said they host Cardinal Seán twice a year and he has come to know the history of Regina Cleri and to see the unique opportunity it provides for the care of the diocese’s priests, which not all dioceses have.
Scot noted that Regina Cleri is about a football field away from Mass. General Hospital. Fr. Fagan said the priests loving in the heart of Boston. He said he goes to a gym nearby— the priests are free members— and a man who had heard of Regina Cleri told Fr. Fagan he’s a lapsed Catholic asked him if he could come talk to someone. Stephen said being in the heart of Boston allows the priests who have given up their licenses to be able to go stores and restaurants.
Scot said during the recent blizzard he heard how the staff of Regina Cleri essentially moved in for a couple of days to ensure the priests were taken care of. Laurine said on the first day of the storm people brought clothes and sleeping bags and told family they weren’t sure when they would be home. It was a commitment from all levels, nursing, janitorial, food service. She told how they received an emergency call in the middle of the night at the height of the storm. Their plowing contractor had been coming every hour to clear the driveway so that the ambulance could come right in and they were able to get him to Mass. General within 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the maintenance staff got the sisters and the chaplain over to the hospital to be with the priest.
Stephen said it was a testament to the staff’s ability to remain calm in the midst of emergency. He talked about the difficulties presented to the staff in getting into work and dealing with the problems encountered.
Stephen said many of us are married and so our children will be there for us when we’re old. But for these priests, the staff and the sisters are there for them in those scary moments. Fr. Fagan told a story of how he needed a procedure and how he was inundated with people coming around to see him.
Stephen talked about a typical day, where most people rise by 5am, following by breakfast and Mass. Many go out for ministry, then lunch and naps in the afternoon, followed by Rosary and dinner. They have movie nights on some nights, cocktail hour on Wednesday nights, at least one or two functions out each week.
He said most of the funding comes from the Clergy Funds and the Easter collection partially supports Regina Cleri. The Easter collection goes for the needs of all priests, whereas Regina Cleri is taking care of 17% of senior priests. Fr. Mark said every penny in every church in the Archdiocese on Easter goes to the sick and retired priests, as on Christmas. Scot noted that a large part of the Clergy Funds go to care for senior priests, especially those at Regina Cleri. It wouldn’t exist without the generous support of the people of the Archdiocese of Boston on Easter, Christmas, and the June collection.
Laurine said she’s been at Regina Cleri for three years and she can’t say enough about how important it is for there to be a Regina Cleri. Where would the priests go without it? They don’t have children or a wife. It allows them to pray together and continue to their ministry at some level with a safety net for their medical care.
Stephen talked about the good management practice in place. They have a relationship with Covenant House to ensure they are using best practices in the industry and they are working to maximize the funds they receive.
To make a donation to the Clergy Funds, visit the Clergy Funds website listed above.