Father Pat Ryan is finding life at the Regina Cleri retirement home for priests extremely comfortable. But that doesn’t mean he’s just sitting around all day.
Father Ryan retired from active ministry in 2015 and served for five years as chaplain with the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon. Regina Cleri, where he has lived the last six months, offers an opportunity to visit with other priests now that COVID-19 restrictions there relaxed due to residents receiving vaccinations. It offers prayerful liturgical experiences and excellent meals, he said.
Father Ryan continues to help at a former parish, St. Robert Bellarmine in St. Charles, where he was pastor from 2005-19. He has helped at Our Lady of Presentation, St. Peter in Kirkwood and other parishes. He plans to celebrate Mass on Mondays at Mary Queen and Mother Center in Shrewsbury.
An annual collection on Easter assists archdiocesan priests in retirement, regardless of where they live and whether they remain active in sacramental ministries. Parishioners are asked to contribute online at www.archstl.org/retiredpriests or through their parish.
Helping by celebrating Masses, hearing confessions and seeing people he knows is a joy, Father Ryan said.
Ordained in 1970, Father Ryan taught at St. Dominic High School, Saint Louis University, Aquinas Institute, Paul VI Institute and Brescia University. He started a field education program at then-Kenrick Seminary, which helped seminarians develop their pastoral experiences. He was head of adult education for the archdiocese, and helped launch the DeSales Program in parishes, eventually helping it expand to other parts of the country. Father Ryan was a teacher and coordinator of a lay ministry program for dioceses in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana, via Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, from 2000-03.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity the diocese gave me to work for the American bishops to teach lay ministers for the training program for laypeople who wanted to administer at parishes. We got them certified with a bachelor’s degree and certified with a program accredited with the South Central Accrediting agency and the American bishops,” he said.
Rural dioceses lack priests, so the need for lay leaders is essential, he said. While at Brescia University, he was responsible for Masses at five parishes on a weekend, traveling 150 miles in the process.
Laypeople will be more important as time goes on, utilizing their skills and collaboration, Father Ryan explained. “People want to help, and we have to put people on a mission to be Church. One of the lines I use a lot is ‘The Church does not have a mission, the mission has a Church.’ We were told what to do by Jesus: teach, preach, form community, reach out with prayer and worship, do moral formation.”
Father Ryan, who also was pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Lemay from 1991-2000 and St. Norbert Parish in Florissant from 2003-05, has an interesting family history. His great grandfather came to Kentucky from Ireland, married a Native American woman and they had two boys. The great grandparents died in a cholera epidemic, and Father Ryan’s grandfather and the grandfather’s brother were sold into slavery.
They were bought by a barber and were mistreated horribly. They escaped as teenagers and got on a boat going down the Ohio River before joining up with a tug boat headed up the Mississippi. That boat captain invited the boys home for a home-cooked meal. Father Ryan’s grandfather met the boat captain’s sister, they fell in love and married, settling in St. Louis.
Father Timothy Foley appreciates being a retired priest in residence at Immaculate Conception Parish in Arnold.
“I enjoy my ministry at the parish,” he said of the six years he’s helped the people there since his retirement.
COVID-19 has limited parish life the past year, but he still keeps busy with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, Mass and sacraments.
“I do the best I can,” Father Foley said.
He appreciates the support people of the archdiocese provide to the Easter collection for retired priests. “The support keeps me doing what I’m doing,” he said “I’m fortunate to be active.”
Father Foley and a slew of other retired priests in his situation don’t have financial or administrative responsibilities and, as he put it, can be “available for people things and present for the sacramental aspects of the Church.”
Father Foley, who was ordained in 1965, served the Church well before retirement, including 30-plus years as a pastor at St. Mark Parish in St. Louis, St. John and James Parish in Ferguson, St. Thomas the Apostle in Florissant and Christ the King in University City. Among the many things that stood out was helping parishioners at three of his parishes get involved in and taking in clients of Room at the Inn, a program offering temporary, emergency shelter for homeless women and families.
>> 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: 80 retired priests, including 21 who are in residence at parishes
CONTRIBUTE: Online at www.archstl.org/retiredpriests or at parishes
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski wrote in a letter regarding the collection that “through their ministry and decades of service, our priests are there when you, your family and your fellow parishioners seek their guidance. But in retirement, it will be they who count on you for prayers and support — especially through the difficult times we’ve faced over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the health and wellbeing of many of our aging and retired priests, and the need for your support is greater than ever.”