April 30, 2010


Retired priests continue to minister in many ways

During this Year for Priests, we must not neglect our retired priests.

“Retired,” though, is somewhat of a misnomer. A priest never stops being a priest for, as it says in Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7:7, “You are a priest forever.”

The archdiocesan Directory and Yearbook 2010 lists more than 35 priests as retired. Some of them, though, continue to serve the archdiocese in positions appointed by the archbishop.

For example, Msgr. Harold Knueven, 78, formally retired in 2003, but continues to serve as the administrator of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg.

Father Joseph Kern, 79, retired in 2001, but continued to serve as either administrator or sacramental minister at parishes in Terre Haute, and is still dean of the Terre Haute Deanery.

Father William Munshower, 78, retired in 2006, but ministers as the chaplain at Cathedral High School and as a part-time sacramental minister at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, both in Indianapolis.

Father Clifford Vogelsang, 73, who retired in 2007, is the other part-time sacramental minister at St. Andrew Parish.

These are only a few examples of “retired” priests who continue to have official ministry positions in the archdiocese.

The examples given here, though, are of “retired” priests with official duties in the archdiocese, assigned by the archbishop. However, as long as their health permits, many other retired priests continue to minister as priests, often as substitutes at parishes for those occasions when the pastor must be away. Probably every pastor has the phone number of at least one retired priest on his cell phone for times of emergency.

Obviously, these retired priests have not retired from priestly ministry. What they have retired from, in most cases, is serving as the chief executive officer of parishes. They have given up administrative headaches and problems, and can now devote their time to priestly ministry—what they were ordained for in the first place.

Many retired priests actually find themselves as busy as they were prior to retirement, but they have a greater sense of satisfaction because they are busy being priests instead of serving as administrators.

In an article in the March 22 issue of America magazine, Father William Karg, a retired priest of the Diocese of Cleveland, described what he does, activities that he said are similar to those of about 90 percent of retired priests. He wrote that he celebrates Mass and hears confessions at some 23 locations, volunteers at a drop-in center for the homeless run by the Catholic Worker Movement, and offers spiritual direction and help with campus ministry at Akron University.

He also wrote that one of his high school classmates in Indianapolis, now retired, serves as the chaplain for religious sisters, encouraging them to seek spiritual direction, but he didn’t give his classmate’s name.

He and our 30-plus retired priests are not alone. There are now about 10,000 retired priests in the United States. According to statistics from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, “Dioceses now have one retired priest for every two active priests.” And that ratio will likely grow as more and more of our priests reach retirement age.

Currently, in the archdiocese, there is approximately one retired priest for every four priests who have not yet retired.

Most priests naturally prefer to do priestly ministry rather than administrative work. As one of the priests in the CARA study said, “If I win the lotto, I’d retire tomorrow—and do ministry until I dropped dead.”

Perhaps we should follow, to a certain degree, a suggestion made by Father Karg in his America article, and have lay administrators carry out all of a parish’s administrative duties except those that, according to the Church’s canon law, pastors alone are responsible for.

We are grateful to all our retired priests for the many years of service they have given to our parishes and our archdiocese. Those who prefer not to remain active in priestly ministry undoubtedly deserve to pursue their other interests.

Keep our retired priests in your prayers. And if you see them, as you’re likely to do sometime relatively soon in your parish, thank them for their continued service.

—John F. Fink

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