By Joan D. Warren
FALL RIVER — One plays the piano, another is busy walking the grounds. A white-haired man celebrates Masses regularly, another tends to the gardens, and a sage living on the second floor is reading the New Testament in Greek and Latin.
Many are former classmates and have known one another for more than 60 or 70 years. Each has his own stories, hobbies, interests and memories, but they all have two definite things in common: they are retired priests of the Diocese of Fall River, and live at the Cardinal Medeiros Residence on Elsbree Street in Fall River.
Priests in the diocese are fortunate to have retirement options after devoting their lives to serving God and his flock of faithful believers in Christ. Of the roughly 55 retired priests in the diocese, 22 former pastors live in the Cardinal Medeiros Residence on the campus of the former Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, which closed at the end of 2023 academic school year.
The 23-suite residence is a communal yet independent living environment where each priest has his own suite and has the option to take meals together in the dining room.
Tastefully decorated, the three-level residence has many amenities to make it comfortable for the shepherds of God.
There is a multipurpose room with books, recliners, and a big screen television; an exercise room, community room, barbershop (a barber comes in once a month), access to the Memorial Chapel in the Bishop Connolly wing and more.
The age range of the residents is from early 70s to 93 years young, with more than half over the age of 80.
Some come and go as they please while others stay close to home. Several of the Fathers are busy celebrating Mass as fill-in clergy at diocesan parishes — some on a regular basis.
Others perform weddings, funerals, baptisms and other Masses when requested by former parishioners, friends and family.
Many of the priests are happy to spend their time reflecting, reading, studying Scripture and enjoying a slower pace of life in contrast to 24/7 lifestyle they were accustomed to as parish priests.
Father Jay T. Maddock has been busy as of late presiding over weddings and funerals.
“You’d never know I was retired,” the former pastor of Holy Name Parish in Fall River said.
For many years, Father Maddock was at the diocesan Tribunal working as a canon lawyer and parish priest, serving in various parishes in the diocese.
Retiring in 2021 from Holy Name in Fall River, the 74-year-old, originally from Mansfield, said most of the men living at Cardinal Medeiros are long-time friends.
“We all know each other. Our diocese is small enough so that we interact with one another. There is a good deanery system where we would have lunch and a meeting on a regular basis,” he said.
Father Maddock presided over two funerals and celebrated a wedding in the past two weeks.
“The son of my former secretary asked me to preside over the wedding in Newport. It was a lovely event,” he said.
Father Maddock is a New England sports fan and enjoys going to Patriot and Red Sox games.
When retired Father Martin L. Buote moved from his own home in Wareham to the Cardinal Medeiros Residence last year, he gave up some of his favorite things — his vast library of books, his own kitchen, and his fruit trees, to name a few.
What he didn’t give up was his zest for knowledge and his undeniable sense of wonder in learning new things.
At 90, Father Buote is reading the New Testament in both Greek and Latin, performing orchid hybridization, writing a book and in his spare time, watching classic TV on his computer.
As former pastor of St. Anne’s Parish in New Bedford, Father Buote has no intention of slowing down. He said he is content at his present home, although he misses his kitchen.
“I am a chef of Chinese culinary. For many years I would make a meal of thanksgiving for volunteers. There would be multi-courses that included everything from appetizers to dessert,” Father Buote said.
Still driving, he likes occasionally to take meals at Little Chopstick in Fall River (the most authentic Chinese food in the area, he said). In his suite, artwork that he created hangs on the walls (a mountain scene painting and a wood relief depicting his beloved parents), and an older sewing machine (he sewed his own vestments for years) is set up for quick alterations.
His age does not limit what he can do, nor will he let age get in the way of living life to the fullest, he said.
Father Thomas Lopes has lived at the residence for the past 12 years, retiring as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Easton. A native of Martha’s Vineyard, immediately following his retirement, he lived on the island for three years in a family home.
“I was ready to come here for the social aspect. I don’t think many in the diocese know what is provided for us here. It is quite phenomenal,” Father Lopes said.
Being an “islander,” he frequently goes to both the Vineyard and Nantucket to help fellow priests who need assistance from time to time and to visit family. The oldest of seven, he has 27 nieces and nephews and keeping up with family is a priority.
Father Lopes said one of his favorite aspects of living at Cardinal Medeiros is putzing around in the garden and grow perennials, gladiolas being his favorite.
“I like to go out at about 2:30 in the afternoon and play in the dirt. I enjoy decorating with flowers and take plants from others when they need some TLC,” he said.
With no sign of slowing down, the 85-year-old said he is blessed to be at Cardinal Medeiros.
“I hope to be here a good long time and not get sent to the ‘Big House.’” The big house is what the men call the nursing home.
Msgr. Barry Wall has resided at Cardinal Medeiros for the past 15 years. At 87, he is spry and quick with an anecdote about things regarding the diocese.
As the official diocesan archivist and historian, the former pastor at Holy Rosary Parish in New Bedford can recite names, dates and places with ease.
He recalled days gone by when the diocese operated two summer camps where seminarians acted as counselors. He has known many of his fellow residents from that time in history.
“In the 1950s and 1960s, St. John Camp in Freetown and St. Vincent de Paul Camp in Westport were vibrant and many of us met there as seminarians. We studied at different seminaries but came to know one another way back then,” Msgr. Wall said.
The residents are a family and respect local traditions, he said.
“We all get along and that is something of we are proud. We know each other well and share a wonderful spirit among us,” Msgr. Wall said.
The home for retired priests officially opened on Sept. 18, 1996, blessed by Bishop Sean O’Malley. It had previously housed the Jesuit Fathers who taught at and ran Bishop Connolly High School.
The original residence had 17 suites and about 10 years ago expanded on the second floor to add six suites totaling 23 single occupancy living spaces.
Each has a bedroom, bathroom and living area. Every unit is configured differently. The priests have access to three nearby chapels for personal worship, small communal living spaces as well as a rooftop deck.
The home is on the Connolly campus attached to the school building.
Under the umbrella of Diocesan Health Services, the day-to-day management of Cardinal Medeiros falls to Lisa Breton.
Upbeat and with a smiling face, Breton said the priests are friendly with each other. Some go out for meals together, watch the news after dinner, take walks and converse during mealtimes.
“You’d never know they are retired. They have more energy than people half their ages,” she said.
Breton, who has 15 years of employment at Cardinal Medeiros, oversees two full-time and 16 part-time employees.
Her tasks include payroll, supervision, ordering and making meals a few days per week.
“I am very happy here. Our employees love it and the big draw for many of them are the priests. We have a few that are retirees who want to work part-time and have come from churches in the dioceses or word of mouth. They know this a kind, considerate place to work,” she said.
There are housekeepers who double as CNAs for minimal care of the Fathers. A registered nurse comes in to check on them and they have laundry service one a week. Their suites are cleaned regularly as well.
The brethren are offered three meals in the dining room each day and the staff are conscious of dietary restrictions.
“We want to keep them here as long as possible and strive to make their retirement years happy,” Breton said.