Their vocations may have evolved over the decades, but the four clergy and religious profiled below still find fulfillment in their work of building up God’s kingdom.
A priest’s home
Msgr. Joseph Showfety was a parish priest when Bishop Vincent Waters’ petition to split the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., was accepted by Pope Paul VI to create the Diocese of Charlotte. Weeks later, Bishop-elect Michael Begley asked him to be the chancellor.
Msgr. Showfety accepted and played a major role in getting the new diocese up and running in early January 1972.
“We were a diocese in about two weeks,” he said.
In his seven years as chancellor, Msgr. Showfety formed the first diocesan financial council, traveled with the bishop and was on board as the diocese grew.
During his 57 years of priesthood, he opened a Catholic high school in Winston-Salem in 1959, ran a summer camp for many years and taught at a high school.
“Every place I went as a pastor, except one, had to be built or needed massive redoing or repairing,” he said. “But I had a lot of help from good people who loved the Church.”
Msgr. Showfety, 85, was eligible to retire at 70 but stayed until he was replaced at 75. He filled in for other priests and made hospital calls until multiple surgeries on his back slowed him down. He now lives in a condo in Greensboro.
“I don’t go out much anymore, and when I say Mass, I sit on a stool,” he said.
He sees blessings in a slower lifestyle. For instance, he finds more meaning and considers it a privilege to celebrate daily Mass at his home altar.
“I can pray the Rosary every day and not be rushed, and the divine office means more to me now, too. I’m not in any hurry, and when you’re not busy, you can have a real prayer life.”
Does he miss the excitement of growing a diocese and running parishes?
“At my age, no,” Msgr. Showfety said with a laugh. “But I do miss the public Masses. I miss that contact.”
He recently helped celebrate Mass at the 100-year anniversary of a parish he once served.
“There were people there from 40 years ago who knew me,” he said. “They remembered me and came to see me after that many years.”
A sister’s joy
Sister Kathleen Henneberry’s life is filled with small joys at Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat in Wheatland, Iowa.
“It’s so wonderful to sit out and watch the sunsets and to bask in the sun while I’m praying in the morning,” she said. “I love the fresh air and wonderful environment here.”
Sister Henneberry, 74, is a member of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport. She has been a sister for 52 years, and before retirement taught elementary school, worked in pastoral ministries and was coordinator of the community’s sisters who were living in a skilled care facility.
In October 2011, she came to the 180-acre retreat center to help director Sister Kathleen Storms and the other sisters with cooking, baking, housekeeping, landscaping and harvesting grapes and tomatoes from the gardens. Those ordinary labors are often filled with treasures.
“We found wild blackberries in the prairie grasses and got to pick them five different times to make jam,” Sister Henneberry said. “Then one of our guests found wild plums in the timberland, and Sister Kathleen and I picked those, too, and made jam to serve to the retreatants.”
She drives guests around in a cart to see the pond, the labyrinth, the shrine to the Virgin Mary, the outdoor Stations of the Cross and the beauty of the prairie and timberlands.
“I enjoy giving hospitality to all who come here,” Sister Henneberry said. “It’s in going through my day’s work that I am more aware of the Lord’s presence, especially when I can look outside and be outside.”
A brother’s legacy
Brother Terence McLaughlin has taken his latest book to a few signings around Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., where he once taught, was president and served on the board.
Called “Silent Acceptance,” it tells the true story of his role in 1962 in getting Jessie Turner into Christian Brothers High School. Turner was the first African-American to be accepted in a Memphis school attended by white children. The spirit of the boy’s mother, Allegra Turner, he said, was the inspiration that got him to the finish line.
“When I was tired of writing, I thought of what she drove through and kept on going,” he said.
This is probably his last book.
“It’s time to put my quill to rest,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.
Brother McLaughlin lives in a community with 20 Christian brothers, some of them still teaching, and others retired and still busy. At nearly 90, he’s thinking about slowing down.
“Is there a retirement age for brothers?” he mused. “I’m still trying to find out, and I haven’t come to the answer yet. I suppose if you’re teaching at the university, it’s understood that there’s a time to get out. But no, there’s no special age.”
Brother McLaughlin has done many things in his 72 years as a religious. In addition to his positions at the university, he was a teacher and administrator at a number of Catholic high schools, other colleges and universities, and has written several books on education.
“Retirement is great,” he said. “You choose to do what you want to do and when you want to do them.”
“However, there are many people who feel that you don’t have anything to do, so they say how about this? How about that?” Then he laughed. “So you kind of avoid those people.”
Retirement enables him to be more contemplative.
“Some things now have a deeper meaning in my life,” Brother McLaughlin said. “There’s time for more reflection than I used to have.”
The new book is self-published and he doesn’t plan to aggressively market it. “I’m in retirement,” he said. “I’m not in the skirmish anymore.”
A bishop’s peace
By his own admission, retired Archbishop Daniel Kucera of Dubuque, Iowa, did not react well to the physical, psychological and spiritual suffering that followed complications of back surgery after a fall.
In a letter published last November in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Witness, he apologized for his “temper and short fuse” over the news that he could not return to the retirement home, nor to assisted living. “Surely it is your prayers which have prompted God’s mercy to forgive my lack of spiritual stamina to accept his divine will,” he wrote about his reluctance to enter a skilled care facility.
Now, he told Our Sunday Visitor, living at Stonehill Franciscan Care Center “has been a good lesson that I should have learned a long time ago — God is going to do his will anyway.”
Archbishop Kucera, 89, has been a priest for 62 years.
Ordaining other men to the priesthood, he said, were the highlights of his years (1977-1995) as a bishop and archbishop. After decades of parish work, administration and leadership roles, then continuing pastoral work in the first years of retirement, he is enjoying being “a simple priest” again.
“I’m back to where I started,” he said. “I anoint the sick, and anybody can come to me for confession or counseling. Around here, I’m just plain Father Dan, and that’s a treat for me.”
He attends daily Mass and rosary in the chapel, has private prayer time, undergoes physical therapy several times a day, and is busy contacting friends for donations for an addition to the facility. He also is writing a book, “The Spiritual Journey of a Church Leader.”
“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,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard, but if he could stand the crucifixion, we can stand a little pain. I’m a very happy man.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.