October 16, 2015

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Priest retirement fund has been ‘underfunded for some time’; donations to United Catholic Appeal can help

By Natalie Hoefer

Ask a person to describe retirement, and they might talk of lazy days, sleeping in, taking vacations or going fishing.

Not so for many of the 67 retired priests of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Consider Msgr. Joseph Reidman. He served as a parish priest until the age of 80, 10 years past the official retirement age for priests of the archdiocese.

The 86-year-old, who now lives in a small home in Connersville, continues to offer his sacramental services to parishes throughout the archdiocese, even two-and-a-half hours away in Terre Haute.

“I’m happy to help—with Mass, confession, retreats, days of reflection, funerals,” said the octogenarian. “If I get to the point I can’t get around, as long as someone can come pick me up and I can stand through the Mass, I’ll do it.”

Msgr. Reidman is not alone in his continued service past retirement age.

“The phrase ‘retired priest’ is a bit of an oxymoron,” said Ed Isakson, archdiocesan director of human resources. “If you look at the lives of our retired priests, they’re very engaged in ministry. They’re assisting with Masses, active in spiritual direction, in providing counseling and support to people. Without the ministry of our retired priests, the archdiocese really couldn’t function.”

Whether continuing to serve or not, he said, all priests start receiving monthly retirement checks of about $2,000 when they reach age 70.

“It’s the just thing to do after all those years of ministry,” said Isakson. “It acknowledges that their service to the Church doesn’t necessarily stop.”

The amount is not extravagant, admits Msgr. William Stumpf, archdiocesan vicar general.

“It’s not about trying to give priests a cushy lifestyle, but to relieve their anxiety and fear of their needs not being met,” he said.

But the number of priests receiving retirement checks is growing. In the next decade, 37 priests of the archdiocese will reach retirement age—23 of those within the next five years.

And priests, like the rest of society, are living longer, said Isakson.

“Our demographics are similar to society’s demographics with the baby boom generation,” he explained. “I think it’s important to recognize that people are living longer. That’s a blessing, but it increases the need. Many years ago, priests weren’t receiving retirement funds for as long as they are now.”

Such demographic realities are putting a strain on the priest retirement fund.

“It has remained underfunded for some years now,” said Msgr. Stumpf. “We’re able to take care of our priests right now, but we realize that if we don’t do something, we will be in a situation where we won’t be able to assist our retired priests.”

That is why contributions to the priest retirement fund through the United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope (UCA) campaign are so crucial, he said. The goal is to raise $1.8 million through the appeal for the priest retirement fund.

Brian Burkert, archdiocesan chief financial officer and executive director of finance and administrative services, noted that there are also Catholic Community Foundation endowments dedicated to funding priest retirement.

“Bottom line, we will take care of our priests,” said Burkert. “It’s who we are as Catholics. It’s what we do as an archdiocese and as parishioners. Priests don’t need to be concerned about losing their pension or health insurance.”

The topic is close to Burkert’s heart—his uncle, Father Gerald Burkert, is a retired priest of the archdiocese. He resides at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove, owned and operated by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery.

“The archdiocese worked with [the sisters] to set aside the third floor apartments for retired priests,” Burkert explained. “It’s a huge benefit for [the priests]. The nuns take great care of them, and there is the opportunity for daily Mass.”

Most retired priests who do not serve as pastors, however, seek to purchase or rent small homes, condominiums or apartments.

Msgr. Reidman—who chose to purchase a small home in Connersville in part because “it’s more economical than living in Indianapolis”—said he’s grateful for the retirement check he receives and those who contribute to the UCA to help make the check possible.

“Without it, I don’t think I could pay all my bills,” he said.

Yet Msgr. Reidman still manages to contribute to the UCA himself.

“I try to do what he can,” he said. “I know the priest fund is down, but I don’t give to that specifically because that seems a bit selfish.”

Isakson suggested that when members of the archdiocese consider contributing to the UCA, they think of the priests like Msgr. Reidman who receive retirement checks.

“When you think of the priest who married you, the priest who baptized your child, the priest who presided at your parent’s funeral, the priest who may have counseled you at various times in your life, it puts a personal face on this retirement fund,” he explained. “I would ask [people] to give with the priest in mind who has touched them.

“This is a way of giving back in some small way for what he has provided and his brother priests have provided. Without them, we wouldn’t have a Church.”

(For more information on the United Catholic Appeal, log on to www.archindy.org/uca or call the Office of Stewardship and Development at 317-236-1415 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1415.)

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