Living in retirement but still serving in prayer
By Ariana Cassard
Since Josephite priests and brothers devote their lives to the mission of the Josephite Society, where do they go when they retire?
On a hilltop of land in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Baltimore, St. Joseph’s Manor is home to 17 retired Josephite priests and one brother. Both custodial and ambulatory care is provided for the men, but beyond the physical help they receive, these Josephites find joy in living in community and prayer.
“Josephites are aging, just like any other religious community,” said Father Paul Oberg, SSJ, rector of St. Joseph’s Manor. He considers the Manor to be not a place of surrender at the end of the retired priests’ lives, but as a home in which they can continue their ministry.
Each day at the Manor begins with prayer at 7:30 a.m., followed by Mass and breakfast. After breakfast, some men are taken to doctors appointments, while others spend time reading one of the numerous books in the library.
Once lunch is served, it is followed by free time in the afternoon. At this point, many residents choose to venture out of the building and even off the property. Some spend time indulging in hobbies, such as gardening and painting.
Evenings are spent having dinner as a community and either joining in on special events or logging in more prayer time.
“I try to spend roughly four hours in prayer each day,” said Father Francis Butler, SSJ.
For the retired priests at the Manor, prayer is their main involvement in the furthering of the ministry. They pray for successful ministries, adaptation of the men coming from Nigeria, more vocations and the African-American communities the Josephites serve.
The great benefit of this life is the freedom from responsibility, according to Father Butler. He recalls the days as an active priest and all of its joys, but also the expectation of being available all hours of the day.
The men are given the gift of optional activities, such as “Spiritual Exercise” with Sister Anne Marie, a Daughter of Charity who comes Tuesdays and Thursdays to spend time with the residents. Volunteer Mike Duggan, called the “activity man,” will pick up residents and take them wherever they’d like to go, whether that’s the drugstore or a nearby horse farm.
Visitors and volunteers are vital to the operation of the Manor. Groups from surrounding parishes and organizations devote time to visiting with the men, organizing celebrations, helping with daily tasks.
“Volunteers bring outside joy to the men,” said Father Oberg. “We try to keep them busy as much as we can, but we could use more support.”
Volunteer Jeannie MacDonald has found her time at St. Joseph’s Manor to be mutually beneficial. In 2011, she moved into a house on West Lake Avenue in Baltimore. A neighbor told her about the beautiful Manor down the street and encouraged her to venture onto the property. There she came across a man walking his dogs and struck up a conversation, eventually revealing himself to be the rector. He invited her to come for Holy Hour once a month.
At the time, Ms. MacDonald brought with her many questions. She had married a Catholic man, but it was not something she practiced. She slowly became more involved at the Manor, attending Mass, and then staying for breakfast to talk with the men. It was through their faithfulness that she came to her own faith.
“The first thing that happened was I met these people, and they showed me a side of the Catholic faith I never knew,” said MacDonald. “You can’t be here and go to Mass with these men and not gain faith.”
She was Confirmed in the church at age 63. She now volunteers her time at the Manor four days a week, helping the men with their belongings, communicating with loved ones, taking them offsite to run errands and attend appointments.
“They really are all individuals,” she said, noting her joy in speaking with each resident and hearing about his priestly ministry. Her perception of the church has been completely altered by volunteering her time to these men.
Because no one ages at the same pace, the Manor must be suited for both the retired priests who are still very active and those who are facing tough medical battles. The two registered nurses and one doctor, along with the rest of the staff, ensure that each resident is provided with the best care.
“It’s like a family. When one gets sick, it hurts us all,” said Father Daniel Paul Bastianelli, who moved into the Manor six years ago.
As this population ages, financial obstacles also increase. “It’s a struggle, because the medical costs have skyrocketed,” said Father Oberg. In order to maintain the facility and quality of care for these men, the Society solicits the help of organizations and individuals who can donate resources.
“Because of the generosity of donors, we are able to keep going,” Father Oberg said.