A great way not to recruit new men and women for a priestly or religious vocation is to talk about how few new vocations there are and how old all those who currently serve the Church are getting. In fact, vocation numbers are inching upward, and both young and middle-aged men and women are hearing the call of the Lord to serve him as priests or religious in increasing numbers.  

So, it may raise an eyebrow or two that our special vocations section this week focuses on retired and older priests, bishops and religious. 

There is something powerfully affirming in the fact that the vast majority of priests ordained today report extraordinary rates of satisfaction. The same holds true for many women religious, for religious brothers and even for bishops.

We know that young men and women prayerfully considering a vocation are often motivated by a desire to serve the Lord and tend his flock. Stories of heroic service and the lives of the saints may resonate most deeply with some, while others are called to be contemplatives, catechists or social workers. Even the vocation of missionary still can ignite a youthful spirit. 

At the same time, there is something powerfully affirming in the fact that the vast majority of priests ordained today — despite the sacrifices they have made and the challenges they have faced — report extraordinary rates of satisfaction. They love being priests even after 30, 40 or 50 years of service.  

The same holds true for many women religious, for religious brothers and even for bishops. 

One common theme is how much “retired” priests enjoy serving their people once they have been able to shed the responsibilities of running a parish. As a Chicago priest put it: “The essence of their call of ministering to the sick, visiting the homebound and preaching the word is rekindled. Their preaching has the wisdom of age and experience. They appreciate their freedom.” 

And while bishops are generally forced to retire around the age of 75, they often find they are just as busy after they leave the chancery. Bishop Emeritus Anthony Bosco of Greensburg, Pa., delights in the fact that he no longer has administration obligations: “I’m carrying out my priestly vocation as I envisioned it in the seminary with the parish priests as my wonderful role models.” 

The same holds true for women religious who serve in communities and parishes far past normal retirement ages out of a love for what they do and the people they serve. “As long as we can work, we want to,” said Sister Patricia Kenny of Silver Spring, Md. “When we say we retire, it is usually with a smile.” 

So many young men and women have seen their parents or their parents’ friends wearily cross that retirement finish line. The demands of the modern business world can grind down the hardiest soul, while the TGIF mentality of many a modern consumer suggests that work is just a way to buy more stuff. For those who want something more, who want to make a difference in people’s lives, who want to be the hands of the Lord in healing wounds and repairing broken spirits, the Lord may be offering an alternative. 

The rewards may not be a big paycheck or lots of worldly acclaim, but something more precious. Retired Archbishop Daniel Kucera of Dubuque, Iowa, put it this way: “As all of us get older, we begin to realize the presence of God in our lives and the wonderful love he has for us. ... I’m a very happy man.” 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor