By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller
Retirement for many priests does not mean hitting the links or sitting back and enjoying their golden years. Here’s a look at five “retired” priests.
Archdiocese of Portland, Ore.; ordained 1966, retired 2008
Father Jacob Mosbrucker, 73, was in the seminary in the 1960s when the civil rights movement began, and it was then, he said, that he got his “first real taste of the sense of justice.” Two years after his retirement, he is still active in those issues.
He serves on several nonprofit boards that work for social justice, and maintains contact with the Portland Organizing Project, a coalition of Catholic and Protestant churches that grew out of a community meeting hosted years ago by the parish where he was pastor.
Father Mosbrucker also works with Jobs With Justice, a faith-based committee of clergy and people in labor unions who work with laboring people who want to organize unions or who are negotiating contracts.
“We support justice issues based on what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have put out about labor and about unions, so we take the stand from the point of view of faith,” he said. “There is a demand for justice, fairness and equity in all [labor] relationships.”
On weekends, Father Mosbrucker fills in at parishes where he is needed.
“I see a lot of retired clergy wanting to keep some involvement and to keep working,” he said. “I think that’s really important. There’s a demand, and it keeps us alive and growing.”
Diocese of Tulsa, Okla.; ordained 1944, retired 1988
When Father William Swift retired in 1988, he told Father Paul Eichhoff, then pastor of Church of St. Mary, in Tulsa, Okla., that he would be available to help in small parishes where priests had difficulty getting someone to fill in.
“He told me, ‘Glory be! We need you here,’ so I started helping him,” Father Swift said. “I’ve been at St. Mary’s longer than anyone who has ever been assigned there.”
At 90, he gets up daily at 4:30 a.m. for breakfast, then drives to the church to celebrate 6:30 Mass, where everyone “has become quite a family.”
He later spends a big part of the day writing his next daily homily, and on Thursdays, he starts preparing one for Sunday.
Father Swift is the oldest active retired priest in the diocese. He celebrated the 65th anniversary of his ordination around the same time that St. Mary’s associate pastor, Father Gary Kastl, 29, celebrated his second.
“It’s a true joy to know him and to be indirectly mentored by him,” Father Kastl said. “I really enjoy his preaching, and for someone who is 90 and a priest for 65 years, he’s very much in touch with today.”
Father Swift treasures the time that he has for writing homilies. He also appreciates another gift of retirement. “I always remember what one of our bishops said — that retired priests can do what they can do, and not have to do what they don’t want to do,” he said. “I don’t have to go to meetings and I don’t have to make decisions.”
New Orleans Province, Society of Jesus; ordained 1953, retired “never”
Jesuit Father Rodney Kissinger has preached retreats, guided retreats and personally directed retreats and now, he said, “I am giving, with great joy, the type of retreat that Ignatius never thought of — the email retreat.”
Father Kissinger, 95, is writer in residence at Ignatius Residence in New Orleans, La., a retirement community for the province, and is best known for his essays, lessons and writings on his website, Seasoned Spirituality (www.frksj.org).
“People tell me that I have a knack, a gift to make things very simple,” he said. “I write for ordinary people and I write what they can understand. I am not an academic.”
Father Kissinger also writes a blog for the residence and is auxiliary chaplain for Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center, where he celebrates Mass twice a week.
New Orleans Province, Society of Jesus; ordained 1956, retired 2005
Father Thomas Jenniskens likes to say that in his 50 years as a Jesuit, he never got a job that he wanted, but, “I was never unhappy in the jobs that I got. God never makes mistakes in guiding us through our superiors. The jobs that I least wanted turned out to be the most fulfilling.”
Case in point: Early in his vocation, his superior asked him to find a challenging way to keep seminary students busy on weekends. Though he had no art background, he made the most of donated ceramics supplies, and soon he and the students were selling ceramics.
Father Jenniskens, 83, also started sculpting clay to make his own molds, which turned out to be some of his finest work. That includes images of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Family and seven images of The Faces of St. Ignatius of Loyola that are in the entrance of Ignatius Residence.
“As I get older and face my eternity, my prayer has been to see the face of Jesus,” he said.
He is currently working on a series called The Faces of Jesus. “I made one 20 years ago [depicting] the moment of his death, and recently created a smiling Christ.”
Despite having Parkinson’s disease, Father Jenniskens works in his studio every day, sometimes from 4 a.m. to noon.
New Orleans Province, Society of Jesus; ordained 1963, retired 2007
Father Robert McCown studied painting in France and Spain and literature at Oxford University, in England, where his examiner was C.S. Lewis. Shortly after ordination, he went to several missions in South America where he filmed the award-winning “The Jesuit Republic of Paraguay.”
He once taught Shakespeare, and since retirement, he continues to lead discussions on the bard, and to work in his art studio. Last fall, he had a exhibit at a gallery in New Orleans.
Father McCown prefers abstract style and works mostly with oils and a water paint called gouache. He is working on a painting, not an abstract, of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
“What a pleasure and a delight to be able to do this,” he said. “I feel very much fulfilled and happy. Being a Jesuit has allowed me to do anything and everything I have ever wished to do.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.