In a temporal sense, the rooms Father Phil Krahman visited May 11 at Mother of Good Counsel Home in Northwoods were representative of rooms anywhere, similar in form and function for residents’ care and comfort whether there or at other skilled nursing facilities.
But in a spiritual sense, the rooms represent so much more; they reflect the personalities, wants and desires of their particular residents — the souls within.
“I call it ‘sacred space,’” said Father Krahman, adding that he conveyed to seminarians in a recent presentation that “when you go into this space, God is with you. It’s very humbling and really a privilege to enter this sacred space.”
Father Krahman, 71, regularly ministers in sacred spaces as the archbishop’s liaison to senior priests, journeying with them through the stages of senior living — retirement through end of life.
At any one time, the archdiocese has about 90 retired priests, a third in independent living apartments at Regina Cleri Home for Retired Priests in Shrewsbury, at parishes or on their own. Priests needing more care reside in assisted-living apartments at St. Agnes Home in Kirkwood, at Mother of Good Counsel or other area nursing homes.
Father Krahman works on a team in “this important ministry” that is “focused on the men who have served the Church for so many years.” The team includes: Father Michael Boehm, the archdiocesan vicar for priests; Sue Rockamann, a registered nurse and the archdiocesan director of priest wellness; and Nancy Bryant, Administrator of Regina Cleri.
“We work well together,” said Father Krahman, adding that his and Rockamann’s “roles often overlap and we work well collaboratively. We are both involved with the priests’ wellness. Her focus is on their medical needs as well as serving as their care coordinator when the priest needs specialized care. I focus more on their spiritual and emotional support. But clearly these ministries complement each other.”
Father Krahman reports to Father Boehm to keep him informed about a retired priest’s care and condition. Father Boehm in turn keeps Archbishop Robert J. Carlson up-to-date.
The ministry of the archbishop’s liaison developed just over four years ago as Father Krahman was discerning ministry as he neared retirement. A former chaplain at St. John Mercy Hospital, including 14 years in the intensive care unit, he discerned that his gifts were more suited to a health-care environment than a parish. Former vicar for priests Msgr. Rich Hanneke — Father Boehm’s predecessor — and Archbishop Carlson concurred Father Krahman’s background in health care was a natural fit for the new position ministering to senior priests.
In a typical week, Father Krahman makes rounds at least once a week at Good Counsel, with more visits as necessary; he’s also a regular at St. Agnes Home and visits other nursing homes and hospitals. Along with Father Boehm, Rockamann and Bryant, Archbishop Carlson also visits retired priests as the need arises. Former priests “really perk up” when the archbishop visits, Father Krahman said.
In creating the new position and his visits, Archbishop Carlson’s emphasis on the well-being and care of retired priests is evident; likewise in his pastoral care after they die. He usually celebrates their funeral Masses, with brother priests — the recently ordained through the retired — concelebrating.
The archbishop celebrated funeral Masses for two brother priests in a 48-hour span in the first full week of May. Msgr. Richard J. Lubeley, 97, died May 2, with the funeral on May 9. Father Robert V. Fleiter, 82, died May 7, with the funeral on May 11.
Father Krahman frequently visited both in the hospital, supporting them and their families through a difficult time. He entered Father Fleiter’s hospice room at St. Anthony Hospital soon after Father Fleiter died.
“Even after he had died, it was sacred space,” Father Krahman said simply.
The passing of Msgr. Lubeley and Father Fleiter occupied much of Father Krahman’s schedule in late April and early May, curtailing his visits to brother priests in nursing homes and hospitals. About an hour after Father Fleiter’s funeral Mass and cemetery service, Father Krahman resumed that aspect of his pastoral care with a visit to Mother of Good Counsel.
He spent about an hour visiting with Fathers Marty Mulvihill, Charles Burgoon and John Ditenhafer, who were unanimously happy to see him and quickly invited him into their sacred spaces. The visits covered topics ranging from sports and former parishes to medical and pastoral care.
The sports motif dominates Father Marty Mulvihill’s room. The walls are adorned with jerseys of St. Louis icons Stan Musial and Brett Hull and players from his adopted pro football teams — Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Jamal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs. A Montreal Canadiens T-shirt (his favorite hockey team other than the Blues), a Blues cap, an Arena banner, Cardinals cowboy hat, bobbleheads and horseshoe trophy add to the scheme.
Despite the sports talk, the spiritual was never far away; the crucifix from his father’s casket also hangs on a wall. Father Krahman refers to Father Mulvihill, 61, as “unofficial chaplain” at Mother of Good Counsel, and Father Mulvihill calls himself a “sacramental minister.” He celebrates Mass five days a week, anoints the sick and hears confessions. He also serves as liaison to the liaison, keeping Father Krahman updated about the 10 retired priests in residence at the facility.
They ended their visit with an Our Father.
“It seems like you’re in a great space,” Father Krahman observed after the prayer.
“I really like it here; it’s home,” Father Mulvihill said.
In the visits at Good Counsel, Father Krahman mostly listened as his retired brethren shared their stories, the so-called ministry of presence.
“It’s not a unique idea,” he said. “You don’t have to say much, just be present.”
Father Burgoon, 79, welcomed Father Krahman’s presence. He told him that Mother of Good Counsel was “a good place to be” and accepted the offer of a blessing by saying, enthusiastically, “I’d certainly appreciate that.”
“I’m always glad to see (Father) Phil,” Father Burgoon said later. “He’s a great guy to visit with.”
Father Ditenhafer, 82, expressed similar sentiments and likewise accepted a blessing as Father Krahman’s visit concluded.
“Amen,” Father Ditenhafer said emphatically. “Thank you ... and God bless you.”