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home : opinion : perspectives

11/22/2012 9:00:00 AM
'Lord, to whom shall we go?' Why I haven't really retired

"How does it feel to be retired, Father?"

The answer is, "I don't know." According to the dictionary, "retire" means "to withdraw from one's position or occupation; to conclude one's working or professional career." I don't believe that priests do that.

Thanks be to God, I gave up administration at 75 - but I didn't give up being a priest. If you look around, you'll see that most priests give up administration, but are still very active in ministry. Each story is different; I can only share mine.

The first thing I did after I turned over the parish to my successor was to look for a community where I could celebrate Mass and the sacraments, teach a little and have an opportunity to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy - in short, to be a priest.

That was just about the time that Rev. David LeFort was named pastor of St. Mary's parish in Clinton Heights, leaving my former associate, Rev. Geoff Burke - pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Latham and chaplain at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Latham - all alone, without an associate pastor.

Some might think, "Lucky for you." I believe it was part of God's plan. When I called, Father Burke, the community of Our Lady of the Assumption and the Sisters of St. Joseph took me in.

That was 10 years and thousands of miles ago. (I still live in Delmar, thanks to the generosity of a former trustee and his family.) It's not a long commute to Latham; many folks travel much farther every day. But it was a big change.

From the time I entered the seminary until the day of my retirement, I had lived with others - in the seminary, in a residence hall, in a rectory. I was used to eating with others, sharing recreation and conversation and prayer. Suddenly, I was alone.

I remembered what my young associate, Rev. Jim Cribbs, used to say: "You have to learn to say goodbye, or you'll never learn to say hello." (Father Jim died much too young in 1998; he was only 36.)

It took a little time to discover he was right, and to learn that "alone" and "lonely" are not the same word.

I've had a number of mentors in my life, none better than my dad. I learned a lot from him. He lived into his 90s; he was alone for more than 10 years after my mother died. He had a little plaque next to his bed. It was the first thing he saw when he awoke in the morning. It said, "Keep me going, Lord!"

That's my prayer: "Keep me going, Lord." I love what I am doing: I love to offer Mass; I love to preach; I love to celebrate the sacraments; I love to visit the sick; I love to teach.

I love being a priest. How could I retire?

(Father Daley is pastor emeritus of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Delmar.)

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