Old soldiers never die

Tuesday 7 March 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Distinguished Service Medal: Anniversary

There’s a Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, Mass., and another in Bristol, R.I., and then there’s the Home for Soldiers and Their Orphans in Darien, Conn. These are the places old soldiers (who never die) can go to fade away. An old soldiers’ home might be a retirement home, a nursing home, or a hospital. Although old soldiers’ homes have existed since the 1830s, they came into their own after the Civil War. As elderly Civil War veterans began to pass away, most of these institutions eventually became part of what is now the Veterans’ Administration. 

There are places old soldiers can go, but where can old priests go? 

I remember when old priests didn’t go anywhere. They simply remained as titular pastors in the parish to which they had been assigned. Men in their 90s were still considered pastors on duty, although the day-to-day operation of the parish was carried out by a bevy of curates. 

The Priests’ Hostel in Fall River was originally built for the use of priests on active duty who, for some reason, needed to be temporarily away from the hustle and bustle of parish life. There are currently a few priests residing at the Priest Hostel. 

When the supply of young curates began to evaporate, there was no one to assist the old pastors in their parishes. In my own lifetime, the phrase “retired pastor” came into use. Before that, the phrase “retired pastor” was an oxymoron. Pastors didn’t retire. They remained in their assignment. Like old soldiers, they just faded away.

With the growing numbers of retired pastors, another issue arose. Where would a retired priest go? The answer was that he could go anywhere he wanted to go. 

Some priests kept inherited family homes and others purchased cottages for themselves, often in partnership with other priests of the same age. Some priests moved in with family members, often siblings. These private residences served as a kind of safety net in retirement.

According to the latest census by Father Tom Lopes, who is the diocesan liaison to retired priests, these are the retired priests currently living in private homes within the diocese: Fathers Jack Andrews, Jim Buckley, Martin Buote, Ed Byington, Bill Campbell, Phil Davignon, Ken Delano, Brian Harrington, Paul Lamb, Horace Travassos, Jim Morse, Lou Pereira, and Msgr. Ron Tosti

Priests living outside the diocese are Fathers Bill Costello, Jim Ferry, Peter Graziano, Roger LeDuc, and Jerry Shovelton. Father Joe Mauritzen lives in a seminary, where he is on staff.

Bishop George Coleman lives in a local rectory, as does Msgr. Dan Hoye.

Then something new came along. Bishop O’Malley opened the Cardinal Medeiros Residence in Fall River. This provided independent living facilities at reasonable cost to the priest. Retired priests quickly filled the facility, so many that the residence was expanded to accommodate even more retired priests. Priests living at the Cardinal Medeiros Residence are Fathers Henry Arruda, Jerry Barnwell, Bill Blottman, Michael Camara, Paul Canuel, Dick Chretien, Ed Correia, Manny Ferreira, John Gomes, Henry Kropiwnicki, Roger Levesque, Tom Lopes, Jim McLellan, Tom Rita, Arthur Wingate, and Msgrs. Tom Harrington, Henry Munroe, John Perry, John Smith, and Barry Wall

I bet you recognize some of these priests’ names, dear readers, and may have wondered where they went.

Priests who need nursing home care can choose any nursing home they can afford but they can always find exceptional and reasonably priced care at one of the several diocesan nursing facilities. 

All of these things have been on my mind for the past month. Father Frank Wallace (aka FXW), an old soldier and my housemate, recently suffered a fall. He spent a week in the hospital undergoing tests. There were no broken bones, but his doctors recommended long-term nursing care. 

FXW has frequently said to me, “Tim, I’m 95 years old. I’m the oldest priest in the diocese. I couldn’t have had a more wonderful life, even if I had planned it. So, if you should happen to find me collapsed on the floor one day, you have two choices. You can either contact the nursing home that borders the rectory to the east or you can telephone the funeral home bordering the rectory on the west. Your call.”

As it worked out, it was his call. FXW decided to transfer to the Catholic Memorial Home in Fall River. There, he joins Msgr. John Moore and his own classmate Father John Driscoll, the longest ordained (senior priest) in the diocese. I bet they’ll have lots to talk about. 

And that, dear readers, is where old priests go.

It sure is quiet around here without FXW. I miss him. So does my dog Lurch. He lies at Frank’s bedroom door.

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

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts