Move-in ready

Wednesday 1 July 2015 — Homeport: 02541 — U.S. Postal Service introduces ZIP codes (1963)

In the real estate trade, dear readers, we use the expression “move-in ready.” It means prepared for immediate occupancy. Standards will vary from place to place. An igloo in the Arctic would have different requirements than, say, the papal apartments. One would think that if you happened to be the newly-elected pope, your living space would be ready for you. This has proven not to be the case. 

Upon the death of St. John Paul II, the Church proceeded to elect Pope Benedict. Unfortunately, there was no place for him to live. The papal apartments weren’t move-in ready. 

The wiring and plumbing failed building codes. There were buckets (actually, steel drums) catching the leaks in the roof. The wallpaper and furnishings were shabby. The kitchen was outdated. The place was a real “fixer-upper,” as we say in the trade.

Meanwhile, Benedict remained in his old apartment until he moved to Castle Gandolfo while the work on the papal apartments was being done. The project was carried out by more than 200 architects, engineers, and workers.

It took three months to get the place in shape before Pope Benedict (bringing along his piano) could move in. There Benedict lived happily until his unexpected retirement.

Where do you put a retired pope? There was a convent in the Vatican Gardens rented by contemplative nuns. The lease was up. The decision was that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would retire there, once the nuns moved back to France.

But now there was another problem. Benedict’s retirement home wasn’t ready for him either. History was repeating itself. Again Benedict moved to the summer residence at Castle Gandolfo while the convent was being rehabbed. 

Once Pope Francis was elected, the doors to the papal apartment were unsealed so that the rooms might be prepared for the arrival of Pope Francis. Meanwhile, Francis stayed at the guesthouse where he and the other cardinals had lived during the conclave. Since the cardinal from Argentina was now the pope, he was upgraded from a single to a double room. 

After the work was completed, His Holiness Pope Francis was given a tour of the refreshed papal apartments. The apartments were very nice, I’m sure, with a medical/dental suite, private chapel, library, study, bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, roof garden, and staff quarters. Pope Francis found it to be altogether too much for him. He decided not to live there after all. 

There was a brief period of speculation as to where in the world His Holiness might choose to live, if not in the papal apartments. I put my money on the extraterritorial Lateran Palace. After all, that had been the primary residence of the popes from 313 (when Pope Miltiades moved in) until 1309 (when Clement V moved out). To this day, the Basilica of St. John Lateran (and not St. Peter Basilica) remains the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.

I lost the bet. Pope Francis decided to stay right where he was — in St. Martha’s Guesthouse. Surely you know, dear readers that the pope has lived in the papal apartments in Vatican City since 1377. But the pope doesn’t live there anymore. The papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace stand empty.

If this sort of residential instability is standard operating procedure for the popes, I figure it’s good enough for the priests of the Diocese of Fall River. Clergy transfers have recently taken place. All over the diocese there was a scramble to get various rectories ready for the next inhabitants. 

Father Peter John Fournier, being a younger priest, still travels lightly. His transfer to Mansfield was not a complicated logistic. I did notice, however, that when Father Peter John arrived here at St. Patrick Church, all of his belongings fit in just one car. Three years later, when he moved on, it took two cars. That’s a 100 percent increase in stuff. The older you get the more stuff you accumulate, until it’s time to reverse the process as you approach retirement age. 

In came Father Ray Cambra. Father Cambra is a seasoned priest, just five years younger than I. This means of course he has more stuff. He moved here from the former Sacred Heart Rectory in Fall River, which was the former convent of the Holy Union Sisters. That convent-turned-rectory had 42 rooms. He lived alone. 

How to fit Father Cambra (and Maximillian, his Great Dane) into St. Patrick Rectory? The largest suite here consists of three rooms. I didn’t need three rooms, so I packed up and moved into a two-room apartment. 

Father Cambra arranges and composes music. One of his three rooms he designated as his music studio.

The windows, floors, walls and ceilings had to be washed, the drapes dry-cleaned, the closets cleared of clutter, and the floors waxed — all within a couple of days. Father Cambra and I are now busy settling in.

This happens (or maybe not) throughout the diocese during clergy transfer season. No rectory is ever move-in ready.

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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