June 30, 2006

Priests at St. Paul Hermitage continue to minister in retirement

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE—In 1998, Msgr. Richard Kavanagh was already 16 years into his retirement, but he was still serving the archdiocese.

That year, he helped establish a special relationship between St. Paul Hermitage and the archdiocese.

The third floor of the facility was renovated into apartments by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. Retired priests may live there if they wish.

Msgr. Kavanagh was the first retired diocesan priest to move there.

Priests who move to the hermitage may live relatively independently in the apartments or can receive more constant medical care in the health care section.

Five other priests now live at the hermitage. But even in their twilight years, they still continue to live out their call by ministering to their fellow residents.

The hermitage residents are well-served and by priests of great experience and pastoral wisdom who have a combined 351 years in priestly service.

Some residents are attracted to the facility specifically because they know they will be ministered to by the priests and the Sisters of St. Benedict, who founded it.

“It’s everything to me,” said resident Loretta Sweeney, who was a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis for many years. “That’s why I picked this place, because you have Mass every day and confession and everything.”

The resident priests not only touch the lives of the residents, but the staff as well.

“I think it makes it more comforting to know there’s someone [here] that has that spirituality about them,” said Laurie Zielinski, a licensed practical nurse on staff at the hermitage and a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

But the residents and staff are not the only ones to benefit from their relationship with the retired priests who live there. The priests themselves are helped by the lives of faith of those around them.

“You see these people and their faith, and that’s what helps push your own faith up,” said retired Father John Sciarra, who resides at the hermitage.

Retired Father Herman Lutz, the junior priest in residence with 47 years in the priesthood, serves as the official chaplain at St. Paul Hermitage.

He makes sure that Mass is celebrated daily and that other sacramental, devotional and pastoral needs of the 118 residents are met.

“Most of the people here have been good Catholics all their lives,” he said. “They did all kinds of things for the Church during their lives. And now they can’t do that anymore. And so it would be wrong to kind of neglect them now that they can’t do that anymore.”

But while the argument could be made that the retired priests should be able to rest from their many years of service, Father Lutz said his continued ministry is therapeutic.

“It kind of keeps me mentally busy and occupied,” he said. “I feel better because of that. I don’t want to sit around and rot.”

The care of the priests residing at St. Paul Hermitage is funded in part through the United Catholic Appeal and the Legacy for Our Mission: For Our Children and the Future campaign.

Other priest residents are Fathers Henry Brown and William Cleary. Father Jim Rogers, a retired priest of the Evansville Diocese, but originally ordained in 1939 for the archdiocese, is also a resident. †


Local site Links: