Bishop Emeritus Anthony G. Bosco likes to tell the story of when he was out shopping and a woman came up and asked, “Didn’t you used to be Bishop Bosco?” Yes, he said, then added, “I’m Robert Redford now. I look different in person.”
Bishop Bosco of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa., is known for his sense of humor, but the truth of his joke is this: once a bishop, always a bishop, and the same goes for priests and religious sisters and brothers.
Unless they are truly incapacitated, men and women in vocations seldom retire. Call it transitions. Elderly priests and bishops go where they’re needed for the sacraments or Mass. They teach and write, or volunteer. An apostolic sister who did one job for decades finds another way to do the work of the Lord.
The shift to retirement is less obvious in contemplative monasteries, abbeys and convents, if it happens at all. It usually doesn’t. A monk can labor in the garden as long as he’s able, and there’s no age limit for a sister to welcome retreatants. Life in the communities goes on.
Each retired priest and religious continues to do what he or she can do, even if they’re barely able. Confessions are heard from a wheelchair, gnarled hands painstakingly make rosaries and blessings are given from hospital beds.
Most of all, these men and women are praying for us. Even if their legs have given out, even if their hearing and eyesight have grown weaker, and even if their memory falters, they are praying for us. From that, they will never retire.
I was touched by the men and women I encountered while preparing the articles in the vocations special section titled “Celebrating Lives of Service.” They live in their communities, in their own homes, in retirement homes, or they need skilled care. Many still work, but often at something different. Now they can travel; they visit relatives; they have dogs and hobbies; and there’s more time for quiet prayer.
Each one has stories about triumphs and hardships, lessons learned, their own faith journeys and the people who touched them. Some talked about their enduring energy, and, yes, some talked about slowing down.
Although there’s no room to write everything they told me, I enjoyed listening to it all, and I am enriched for the experience. I wish for you the same.
Take time to talk to the old priest who fills in at your parish, and spare a moment for the elderly nun who used to teach your kids. They have a lot to tell us, and we must never let them forget what they mean to us.
Years ago, Bishop William Curlin’s friend, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, thanked him, and Bishop Curlin, who met Mother Teresa in the early 1970s when he was a pastor in Washington, D.C., humbly said that he “didn’t do anything.”
She said to him, “You took bread and wine and said, ‘This is my body, this is my blood,’ and God came down to earth.”
For that and more, we are thankful. God bless all the men and women who have served us through serving the Lord.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.