Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

More Work Ahead for Elderly Priests, Nuns

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

More Work Ahead for Elderly Priests, Nuns

Article excerpt

They labored 60, 70, 80 hours a week in schools, hospitals and parishes, turning an immigrant church into the nation's largest or helping American Catholics achieve education and income levels on a par with Protestants.

Now, when their contemporaries are enjoying days of golf and theater and retiring in comfort to Florida or Arizona, what earthly reward awaits many of the nation's priests, brothers and sisters?

More work.

The priest shortage has led many dioceses to set their retirement age at 75, while the dearth of vocations in religious orders has led some nuns in their 70s to go out looking for work to financially support their communities.

``The personal issue is not to be able to retire in this particular culture until one is 75 is almost inhuman,'' said Monsignor William Stanton of St. Ambrose Church in Buffalo, N.Y. ``How many people last that long?''

As it is in American society, the prospect of widespread retirement is relatively new for those who have sworn their lives to the church.

``Once a priest, always a priest'' was the expectation of most priests ordained before the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, said the Rev. David Brinkmoeller, executive director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Priestly Life and Ministry.

``That used to be the normal thing - that people would die with their boots on,'' he said.

But as the church opened itself up to American culture, the influence of Social Security and other programs that gave the average person the expectation of a period of retirement in which one would enjoy life gradually filtered into the priesthood.

Ironically, said Monsignor Charles J. Fahey of the Third Age Center at Fordham University, one of the motivating factors for offering retirement programs was a glut of priests in top positions that was clogging the traditional paths of advancement for younger priests.

``It was about 1970 that the notion of the retirement of priests began to come into parlance,'' Fahey said. ``At the same time the rest of the country was doing away with mandatory retirement, we were putting it in.''

Sister Jane Frances Power said when she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in 1933 some of the younger members thought anybody over 50 shouldn't be teaching.

But demographic changes that once motivated dioceses to, in Fahey's words, ``get the old bucks out'' now have them offering incentives to keep priests, nuns and brothers working into their 70s and beyond.

In 1989, 1 percent of Catholic sisters were under 30 and 41 percent were 70 and over. Of the nation's 155,000 men and women in religious orders, 44,000 are past 70. The lack of younger members bringing in income has resulted in a shortfall of retirement funds estimated at more than $3 billion, and provided an incentive for older members to keep working to help out. …

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