Monday, June 05, 2006

Good Ministry Doesn't End at 75

I remember reading somewhere once the words of a retired cleric who said that retirement means only leaving the deskwork behind. Many, many retired priests continue to give so much and work so hard, realizing as they do that their priesthood continues on. And more than just sometimes, these guys report having some of the greatest joy and fulfillment they ever had only after leaving "the office."

We owe them a huge debt, and as one or two of them might just be reading this, know that there's no way to adequately say "thank you" for all you continue to give and do. In so many ways, you guys are our unsung heroes.

In that vein, Jeff Diamant of the Star-Ledger checks in with the archbishop-emeritus of Newark, Peter Leo Gerety. As Gerety's Newark successor begins for his own retirement, the archbishop recently marked his 20th anniversary of handing over the archdiocese and his 40th year as a bishop. Diamant finds that, at almost 94, he's keeping on quite nicely.

Most of Gerety's days go like this: He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and prays in his spacious, modestly furnished four-room apartment, before presiding at Mass for the 22 other retired priests at St. John Vianney and having breakfast.

He then returns to his fourth-floor apartment and reads two daily newspapers, Catholic magazines and books on history, religion or spirituality. He answers mail, does a few minutes on his treadmill and attends to afternoon chores and appointments. Evenings sometimes include church dinners or receptions.

John J. Myers, the current Newark archbishop, sometimes asks Gerety to preside at priests' funerals when Myers is unavailable or at a confirmation. This year, Gerety has presided at 14 confirmations.

He also presided a week ago at a funeral of the Rev. James McKenna, a Bergen County priest who was popular with recovering alcoholics. Enormous emotional outpourings at his funeral led Gerety to marvel at how a good priest can touch many people.

"He was one of these fellas that took an interest in alcoholics because he himself had a problem -- he made no secret about it -- but he was dry for years and years and years," Gerety said. "And he touched all sorts of people.

"So here was a great man ... that had a great influence on all sorts of people, very quietly. And yet when he died they came out in droves."....

He spends at least one night a week in New Canaan, Conn., at a retreat house bought by the archdiocese in the mid-1970s after Gerety ordered the sale of a more luxurious West Orange house a previous archbishop had used. The archdiocese needed the money to pay off debt.

Gerety spends most of his days at St. John Vianney, one of two retirement homes for archdiocesan priests. Old pictures -- of his parents, of himself with Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, of himself when he made bishop in 1966 -- and favorite New Yorker cartoons decorate his apartment's walls.

When a visitor noted most of the Catholic magazines scattered across his desk -- National Catholic Reporter, America, Tablet of London -- are considered liberal or progressive in nature, he responded, with a smile, "I also read First Things," the conservative-minded Catholic periodical.