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Msgr. James Telthorst, though retired from active ministry, still keeps a full schedule and celebrates Mass for various communities including the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Normandy, where he celebrated Mass March 16. Msgr. Telthorst lives at Regina Cleri Home for Retired Priests, which is supported by the annual collection for Retired Priests, held at Masses on Easter weekend.
Msgr. James Telthorst, though retired from active ministry, still keeps a full schedule and celebrates Mass for various communities including the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Normandy, where he celebrated Mass March 16. Msgr. Telthorst lives at Regina Cleri Home for Retired Priests, which is supported by the annual collection for Retired Priests, held at Masses on Easter weekend.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

‘Ministering, but not administering’

Retired priests leave parish work behind, join brethren at Regina Cleri

Approaching 50 years old in the early 1990s, Father Thomas Robertson thought he was all set for retirement, though it was a long way off; he planned to live in a cabin he owned along the Meramec River after leaving parish ministry.

The Flood of ‘93 wiped out that plan … and the cabin, too.

Then, as he neared 70, Father Robertson figured he’d settle into a private residence upon retirement. Similarly, Msgr. James Telthorst admitted to having “a couple of dreams” about having a place of his own. Neither envisioned living at Regina Cleri Home for Retired Priests

But upon retirement in the past year, Father Robertson and Msgr. Telthorst joined their brethren at Regina Cleri.

What changed?

Father Thomas Robertson, left, talked with Father Robert Argent March 19 at Regina Cleri Home for Retired Priests. Father Robertson called Father Argent the “best pastor ever” as he served under him in the 1970s at St. Matthias Parish. Father Argent in turn praised Father Robertson for his commitment to helping four sisters from Vietnam after the Vietnam War.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Well, nothing, except that the apartment community became appealing to both of them. At Regina Cleri, they don’t have to worry about yard work, snow shoveling, cleaning, meal preparation … basically, anything to do with home upkeep. All of that is provided at Regina Cleri, where retired priests live in two-room apartments with bed, bath and living rooms, plus a kitchenette to use when not partaking in one of three meals provided daily. Plus, they get to be with brother priests, who concelebrate Mass, help at area parishes or senior-living centers and just plain enjoy each other’s company.

Catholic St. Louisans help make this possible, opening their hearts at this time of year and giving generously to the annual Collection for Retired Priests on Easter Sunday. The special collection benefits retired priests regardless of where they live or whether they remain active in ministry.

At any given time, about 90 archdiocesan priests are in retirement status, with around 30 at Regina Cleri. Active retired priests might live at Regina Cleri, in a parish or on their own. Retired priests requiring more care may be in assisted living at St. Agnes Home in Kirkwood or skilled nursing at Mother of Good Counsel in Northwoods.

The collection supports men “who have sacrificed so much for our parishes and communities,” stated Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who described it as “an opportunity to give back to those who give so much.”

Father Robertson and Msgr. Telthorst are effusive in praise of their new digs.

“I’m impressed,” said Father Robertson, 78, whose official move-in date was Jan. 3. “The service here is very good, and the staff is very nice.”

“It’s home to me; it really is,” said Msgr. Telthorst, 75, who moved in June 16, 2017.

Msgr. Telthorst keeps a busy schedule of celebrating Masses — at a parish, at senior-living apartments and for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Normandy, “where I grew up as a priest.” After ordination in 1968, he served in Normandy as associate pastor at St. Ann Parish. At Good Shepherd, he knows some of the sisters from back then.

“It’s been kind of a comeback for me,” Msgr. Telthorst said, adding that in retirement, “I’ve had a wonderful time rediscovering my youth” in returning to his old stomping ground and familiar faces. He also has been able to focus solely on the liturgy, reminiscent of his tenure as the director for the office of worship, all of this without additional pastor-as-CEO duties.

Msgr. James Telthorst had breakfast seated next to Sister Rosalinda Sobremisana, RGS after Mass at the Sisters of the Good Shepherd convent in St. Ann. Msgr. James Telthorst is retired from active ministry but still keeps a full schedule of offering Masses.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
“We like to say that we’re still ministering, but not administering,” Msgr. Telthorst said with a smile.

Father Robertson has been substituting occasionally for Mass at his old parish, St. George, while discerning his retirement ministry, “whether that’s in a hospital or working with the poor.” He’s done both since ordination. He worked on the front lines in the War on Poverty at St. Barbara Parish in St. Louis, his first assignment after ordination in 1965, and he spent 17 years as a part-time chaplain at the VA Hospital in Jefferson Barracks.

Another highlight in his priesthood was in parish work, though it had nothing to do with administration. In the mid-1970s, a religious sister at St. Matthias in Lemay suggested that he sponsor refugees after the Vietnam War ended. So, he signed up.

“She said, ‘You’d be good at it,’” said Father Robertson, who eventually served as surrogate father for four girls, ages 7 to 15. Their mother and brother were deceased, and their father, a former policeman, was struggling after the war. The parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Conference and numerous volunteers helped them with the necessities of life, “but they needed someone to be a parent for them. That was my job,” he said.

He worked with them on a daily basis, helping with homework and tutoring them in English. Eventually, the girls joined other relatives from Vietnam in California, but they stay in touch Father Robertson. They still call him “dad,” with their children calling him “grandpa.”

The experience “changed my life,” he said, calling it “a good thing in my life,” among many good aspects of a life in service to the Lord.

Easter Appeal for Retired priests

When: Second collection held at Masses on Easter weekend

Benefits: Priests in retirement, regardless of where they live and whether they remain active in sacramental ministries.

Years of service

Msgr. James T. Telthorst

Birthdate • May 7, 1942

Birthplace • St. Louis

Education • Laboure High School; Cardinal Glennon College; Kenrick Seminary; St. Louis University Divinity School

Ordination • May 11, 1968, by Archbishop John J. Carberry

Priestly Ministry

Associate pastor, St. Ann Parish, Normandy, 1968-72

Faculty, St. Louis Prep Seminary North, 1972-82

Part-time associate pastor, St. Ann, Normandy, 1972-76

Associate pastor, St. Adalbert Parish, St. Louis 1976-80

Chaplain, Sisters of Charity, Incarnate Word Convent, Normandy, 1978-80

Chaplain, Oblate Sisters of Providence at St. Francis Day Care Center, Normandy, 1980-82

Director, Office of Worship, 1982-91

Part-time associate pastor, Corpus Christi Parish, Jennings 1983-84

Part-time associate pastor, Most Holy Trinity Parish, St. Louis, 1984-88

Associate pastor, Cathedral of St. Louis, 1988-91

Pastor, Cathedral of St. Louis, 1991-2002

Pastor, Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, 2002-09

Pastor, Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, 2009-17

Granted retirement status, with residence at Regina Cleri, 2017-present

About: Msgr. Telthorst was named Prelate of Honor with title of Reverend Monsignor by St. Pope John Paul II, which was announced by Archbishop Rigali on Sept. 5, 1995. He was dean of the North St. Louis Deanery from 1994-97. He also was elected to a three-year term the Archdiocesan Priestly Life and Ministry Committee in December 1977.

Father Thomas M. Robertson

Birthdate • Sept. 7, 1939

Birthplace • St. Louis

Education • St. Louis Prep Seminary; Cardinal Glennon College; Kenrick Seminary

Ordination • April 3, 1965, by Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter

Priestly Ministry

Assistant pastor, St. Barbara Parish in north St. Louis, 1965-70.

Teacher, Laboure High School, 1965-66.

Teacher, DeAndreis High School, 1967-69.

Associate pastor, St. Pius V Parish, south St. Louis, 1970-73.

Part-time teacher, St. Francis de Sales High School, 1970-71.

Associate pastor, St. Matthias Parish, Lemay, 1973-80.

Associate pastor, St. Raphael Parish, south St. Louis, 1980-87.

Pastor, St. Bartholomew Parish, Hazelwood, 1987-96.

Pastor, St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, north St. Louis County, 1996-2005.

Pastor, St. George Parish, Affton, 2005-17.

Senior associate pastor, St. George Parish and St. Dominic Savio Parish, Affton, 2017-18.

Granted retirement status, with residence at Regina Cleri, 2018-present.

About: Father Robertson served as a part-time chaplain at the Veterans Hospital in Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County from 1978-95. He coached soccer while at DeAndreis and has served as a chaplain for the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame since 2006. Father Robertson attended classes at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., in 1992.


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