After decades of service to the Church, priests “retire,” sort of. Although they are no longer pastors, juggling parish council meetings, school budgets and other heavy responsibilities, in most cases, they are helping out at parishes all over the diocese.
By the Numbers
Total number of priests for the Diocese of Phoenix
Retired priests in the Diocese of Phoenix
Capacity for Regina Cleri
Age at which a priest may retire, though retirement occurs earlier in some cases
Fr. Richard Felt, ordained to the priesthood in 1969, retired four years ago and lives in a condo in central Phoenix. He celebrates Masses weekly, from Scottsdale and Glendale to far-flung Bapchule and beyond.
“I know our senior priests are delighted to be of service,” said Fr. David Sanfilippo, vicar of priests for the Phoenix Diocese. “We are so grateful to them for their generosity in responding to the needs. It almost makes more sense to call them our ‘senior’ priests rather than retired.”
Although many priests own their own homes, not all do, Fr. Sanfilippo said. “There hasn’t been another option.” Until now.
The “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign will dedicate $3 million to the establishment of Regina Cleri, a retirement home for priests of the diocese. Property near Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in downtown Phoenix was acquired late last year and the future facility will house up to 25 priests.
“By providing a retirement home for priests in our diocese, we acknowledge the critical role of our priests to our Catholic faith … they give their entire lives to the Church, and by providing them a community amongst their brother priests we say, ‘Thank you, we love you and we want you to be in communion with your brothers,’” said Cande de Leon, executive director of the Office of Mission Advancement.
Pope Francis has described the Church today as “a field hospital after battle” — a constant source of mercy in order to endure and overcome our wounds. The priests living in service to our diocese make daily, unseen sacrifices for the good of the faithful. After a lifetime of service, devotion and sacrifice we want to provide a dignified retirement for our priests who have spent their lives in service to God.
Regina Cleri is one of the institutions receiving support through the campaign’s Francis Mercy Fund case, which supports organizations hand-selected by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted to carry out the work of bringing the Good News through healing, comfort and hope in intentional ways throughout the diocese.
“I think it would give peace of mind to many of our retired priests to know that they are going to be living with and supporting one another in their retirement years,” Fr. Sanfilippo said. “To pray together, have Adoration in the chapel, pray the Office together — that’s something that is the heart of many priests.”
Thirty-eight of the Phoenix Diocese’s 140 priests are retired. “Several years ago, the chancery did a survey of our priests asking for their thoughts regarding retirement housing for our retired priests. That survey showed that many hoped that there would one day be an option for the retired priests to live together in community,” Fr. Sanfilippo said.
“When the time comes for them to consider retiring from the administration responsibilities of priestly ministry it will be good to know that they have the option to live in community to care for one another and have a safe place that provides for their basic needs.”
The Holy Cross Fathers have a retirement home in Phoenix called Casa Santa Cruz. Fr. Sanfilippo described it as a “wonderful facility” he and others visited as they sketched out how a similar home for diocesan priests might take shape.
The retirement home to be built for the Phoenix Diocese will be geared toward independent living. Meals would be provided but residents would also have the option of preparing their own. Assisted living services would be contracted through organizations such as the Foundation for Senior Living.
“It will be a caring environment that will provide for the basic needs for the elderly,” Fr. Sanfilippo said. “There will be handicapped-accessible rooms, food that will provide a balanced diet for our senior priests and a chapel for prayer and Mass.”
The Diocese of Phoenix is not alone in its desire to have a retirement home for priests. The Archdiocese of Chicago has three residences for retired priests. Nazareth House in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a home for seniors run by religious sisters with a special wing devoted to priests. Fitzgerald Hall in the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, was repurposed into apartments for retired priests from throughout the state.