Priests forever ‘never really retire’
Senior clergy honored at luncheon for their steadfast service to archdiocese.
In his brief remarks at the annual retired priests’ luncheon, Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark summed up what was on the minds of his fellow bishops, pastors and Archbishop José Gomez.
“It’s one of the great events of the year to be able to celebrate with our retired priests,” he said at the May 7 reception and luncheon in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels’ conference center. “And, in reality, you’ve only retired from the responsibilities of administration. Because so many of you are involved very much in helping the parishes, not just in our diocese but throughout Southern California.”
And the stats bear the bishop out.
For starters, the number for the six longest ordained priests sitting at the archbishop’s table added up to an incredible 400 years of service. Topping the list was Msgr. Felix Diomartich, who was ordained 75 years ago. Then came Msgr. Richard Murray, 69 years; Msgr. Thomas McGovern, 66 years; Msgr. John Segaric and Father John Cooley, both 64 years; and Msgr. John Hughes, 63 years.
Moreover, among the current 130-some additional retired priests from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a conservative estimate of the length of their combined priestly lives comes to an estimated 6,500 years. The really impressive part, however, is how many are still deeply involved in ministries, ranging from continuing to celebrate Mass and hear confessions to starting meditation and spiritual reading groups.
Take, for instance, Father Colm O’Ryan, pastor emeritus at Good Shepherd Church in Beverly Hills. “I retired late, three years ago this summer,” the priest for 57 years told The Tidings, his old sod brogue still well intact. “I’d done way past my retirement age. I was 80.”
And when the outgoing cleric finally did retire, his big fear was being bored, having worked since he was a child growing up in Ireland. But, to his pleasant surprise, there hasn’t been a single boring post-retirement day yet. Besides celebrating daily and Sunday Masses and hearing confessions, he also takes Holy Communion to the bed-ridden elderly of the parish and helps out with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
In addition, he started a spiritual reading group about three years ago that interweaves with a Bible study group. “I get more out of it than the people do,” he admitted, “’cause there’s such a wealth of faith in the 30 or more people who come.” Plus for many years, he’s also been part of an international meditation group started by a Benedictine monk.
“The challenge is working with the new man, the new administration,” Father O’Ryan stressed. “You have to support them all the way. The cardinal rule is not to be in opposition, not to be setting up a rival parish --- a rival community --- but to be supportive and to be there as a backup. I’m lucky here at Good Shepherd because I have an apartment over the garages, so I’m not under the pastor’s feet all day long.”
After a good chuckle, Father O’Ryan added, “I’m enjoying retirement, really. You have more time for prayer and doing what you feel is important. I enjoyed the administration, to be honest with you, when I was pastor here for about 18 years. But I’m happy not to have to go to meetings. My favorite parody on the Gospel verse is, ‘God so loved the world he did not send a committee.’”
‘I’m still out there’
Fellow Irishman Msgr. Jack Foley feels the same. “Fifty-three years a priest now, so that’s not so bad,” he quipped, before reporting, “I’m still helping out. I do Masses when they need me during the week and weekends. And I assist at funerals and weddings now and then. I did two Masses this past weekend at a neighboring parish, St. Bede’s in La Canada. So I’m still out there.”
The pastor emeritus at Holy Redeemer Church in Montrose was pastor there for 17 years. He also served at Immaculate Conception in Monrovia, St. Cyprian in Long Beach, St. Lawrence in Redondo Beach and St. Genevieve in Panorama City.
In 1959, he was ordained from All Hollows Seminary in Dublin before being missioned to Southern California. As he rose through the local clerical ranks to pastor, he never really liked the administration part of the job, with a “lot of headaches, especially if a school was involved.”
What made things even more administratively complicated was when Holy Redeemer was clustered with St. James the Less in La Crescenta, including combining the schools with elementary grades at St. James the Less and middle grades at Holy Redeemer.
“But it’s been a wonderful life,” Msgr. Foley, 77, pointed out. “I’ve always been very happy in the priesthood, and I’ve felt, you know, that this is what I should be doing. It’s what I’ve wanted to do. And I’m around most of the archdiocese helping out now.
“The joy and happiness of the priesthood is being able to help out and really reach out to people in the parish community. I’m very much a people person, so I’m still trying to keep in touch with everything. I’m not letting go. I think I would be lost if that happened and I got away from being a priest. That’s not my speed.”
“Retired” isn’t the right word for the 81 priests who attended the retired priests’ luncheon as well as the other officially retired clergy in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, observed Archbishop Gomez.
“They are a big help, especially because of the fact that they have dedicated their life to the people of the archdiocese and, secondly, they never really retired. So they continue to say Masses in different parishes, hear confessions, do counseling and many other ministries. They retire from administration, but not from ministry.”
The archbishop also noted that these men, retired or not, are priests forever, with the sacred gift of a vocation. He called them “wonderful witnesses” of the institution of the priesthood in today’s Catholic Church, supporting “us” with their prayers, examples, advice and, especially their continued celebration of the Mass.
“I am very grateful to them for their years of service to the archdiocese,” he said. “First of all, for their vocation and their generosity of saying, ‘Yes’ to God when they received their vocation and also for their service to our people. And now as retired priests they continue serving us through their priesthood and ministries.”
‘It’s gone by very fast’
One of those dedicated, long-haul priests is Msgr. Peter Amy, ordained from St. John’s Seminary in 1964. He’s served at St. Didacus Church in Sylmar for 37 of his 48 years of priesthood: as an associate pastor, as administrator, as pastor for three decades and, finally, as pastor emeritus for the last 10 months.
In some ways, in fact, the 73-year-old priest is busier now than he’s ever been. He celebrates Mass two days a week along with a couple of Masses on weekends. He hears confessions on Friday and Saturday evenings, along with leading a novena on Wednesday nights. And, in addition, he’s gone back to his first love of hospital ministry at Holy Cross Hospital twice a week, where he is on call.
“Well, I’m not involved in administration, so I don’t have to bother about paying bills and dealing with personnel problems,” he said with a knowing chortle. “So I can really concentrate on doing the things that I was ordained to do. And, of course, I have a lot more free time as well.”
Msgr. Amy’s first month of retirement was the hardest, just adjusting to the lifestyle change and finding things to do. He watched a lot of movies and even found the time to read a whole book, he reports, laughing. “But since then, things have started picking up,” he said. “But the challenge was just getting used to it.”
He says the change was largely psychological. For example, visiting the sick in hospitals was always part of his parish work. “Just the freedom now of being able to say, ‘Yeah, I can do that’ rather than ‘Yes, I have to do that,’ is somehow different,” he explained.
He definitely believes there is a real role today, especially with the decline in vocations, for retired priests like himself. But he is also well aware that in America’s youth-driven culture, there’s the ever-present notion of “when you’re retired, you’re done.” He doesn’t buy that for his fellow priests or for lay senior citizens either. Older parishioners he knows well at St. Didacus, in fact, are not only more active now in their parish, but also in outside civic affairs and social clubs.
When asked about his 48 years as a priest, Msgr. Amy, who was born at St. Vincent Hospital in Los Angeles and graduated from St. Charles Borromeo School in North Hollywood, didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, yeah, it’s gone by very fast,” he said. “And I certainly have been happy. It’s been good to me.”
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.