On a late winter day, Jace Steele cheered when he heard a volunteer wanted to read a story to him.
Jace smiled and his eyes brightened as Father Robert T. Rosebrough — known at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and elsewhere as Father Rosy — approached his bed in the dialysis unit.
The retired priest pulled out a book about the Three Little Pigs and read, ironically, as Jace munched on a slice of bacon. Father Rosy enunciated his words slowly at key parts of the story such as introducing THE BIG BAD (pause) WOLF. He used a deep voice when the wolf spoke and high voice for the pigs, and he asked Jace questions along the way. Jace cheered again at the ending of the story.
Jace nodded when Father Rosy asked to give him a blessing. He prayed that Jace continues to be loved, cared for and give love to others.
Father Rosy retired as pastor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson in June of 2018 and Worldwide Marriage Encounter now lives in Warren County. At a workshop on retirement for priests about three years ago, Father Rosy determined that when he retired he would continue working with married couples through Worldwide Marriage Encounter and volunteer in a program serving children.
An annual second collection assists archdiocesan priests in retirement, regardless of where they live and whether they remain active in sacramental ministries. Parishioners are asked to contribute online or send in a contribution with their parish envelope or in a separate envelope for the collection. Of the 91 retired diocesan priests, 21 are in residence at parishes with others in private residences or at the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests. Though retired, these priests often serve as substitutes at parishes, filling what would otherwise be a huge void.
Some, like Father Rosy, volunteer their time. In applying to volunteer at the hospital, Father Rosy thought he’d fit in a role in pastoral services. But he was told by the woman in charge of volunteers that he was a good fit to be a reader. He was confused: “I’m thinking, a reader? I’m going to read? I thought maybe I’d read for a while to make her happy then move on to pastoral ministry. But after the first two times, I realized that’s more pastoral than anything.”
He added with a smile, “It does wear you out fast.”
Volunteering twice a week for a few hours makes him appreciate the staff of the hospital even more. (Due to efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, Father Rosy has temporarily suspended his visits.)
He goes online to hunt for lighthearted and silly books. “It touches my heart knowing parents work hard to make their children feel comfortable and normal,” he said.
He tells of wearing a clown nose during his visits, and a 3-year-old girl told her mom, “He’s not a real clown.”
Father Rosy explained jokingly that “I was dissed.”
The next day he was about to sign out and another 3-year-old girl was in the hallway. He put his nose on and walked like a penguin. The girl pointed to him and said, “There’s a real clown.”
Another time, a doctor came in while he was reading a book to a 12-year-old. The physician’s job was to tell the patient and her family they could go home. But the doctor chose first to listen to the story.
Shelly Goedde, a teacher in Cardinal Glennon’s Shining Star School, called Father Rosy’s visits with the children a delight. “He brings such joy and brightens each child’s day. He entertains, makes kids laugh, brings a sense of normalcy and helps distract them from why they’re here,” she said.
Goedde said Father Rosy’s love of literacy comes through, and the staff are entertained as well.
At Regina Cleri
Msgr. James Pieper served as pastor of St. Clement Parish in Des Peres for 24 years before retiring in June 2014.
He’s still involved in some things that he did when he was a parish priest, he said after returning to the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests in Shrewsbury after an outing. Many of the priests at Regina Cleri fill in for Masses at parishes when their priests are on vacation. Msgr. Pieper recently moved there after living with his brother who has since died, and he expects he will help out that way as well.
He’s the chaplain of the Daughters of St. Francis de Sales and attends their meetings.
At Regina Cleri, he said, not having a routine schedule allows him more time to read and pray. “This is one of the few dioceses that have a home for retired priests, and it’s a great blessing,” he said.
Msgr. Pieper spent 20 years in the archdiocese’s Marriage Tribunal and the rest in parishes. “I found the work that a priest does is very fulfilling, celebrating Mass and taking care of the various organizations. I saw their usefulness and importance,” he said.
>> Support for retired priests
WHAT: Donations to provide retired priests and future retirees with vital support, including physician services, hospitalization, vision care, nursing home and disability costs as well as day-to-day needs
WHO: 91 retired priests, including 21 who are in residence at parishes
CONTRIBUTE: Online at www.archstl.org/retiredpriests