Queen of Clergy honors senior priests

STAMFORD—Priests at the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of Clergy Residence have a secret to longevity: Keep working.

Of the 23 priests at the independent-living residence, more than half still go out on weekends to serve parishes in the Diocese of Bridgeport. The word “retired” isn’t in their vocabulary.

“A priest doesn’t retire,” said Msgr. William Scheyd, who heads the advisory committee for the facility in Stamford. “The official title for them is ‘senior priest.’”

The residence recently honored five priests who were celebrating significant anniversaries of their ordinations. They were Msgr. Joseph Pekar 65 years a priest, Father Martin S. Igoe with 60 years, Msgr. J. Peter Cullen with 55 years, Father Robert J. Crofut with 50 years and Msgr. Thomas W. Powers with 25 years.

Monsignor Scheyd, who celebrated 57 years on February 10, said the group only observes certain milestones each year and that all of the honorees except one still minister in parishes as they are needed. The youngest of the group, Msgr. Powers, who was vicar general of the diocese, was recently appointed the 24th rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

He was invited because of his friendship with the group, which held their celebration on the date of his ordination, May 24.

“It was a wonderful time and gave us an opportunity to get together,” said Msgr. Scheyd.

In the mid-1990s, he headed the building committee for Queen of Clergy when he was vicar general of the diocese. Queen of the Clergy has 33 suites, 23 of which are occupied. There are about 80 priests in the Diocese of Bridgeport over 75. Some of them continue to live in parishes while others live on their own.

“Priests come and go here,” he said. “Everybody is welcome, and we have community night on Tuesday when the guys get together and share company so we can see one another. We enjoy one another’s company.”

Monsignor Scheyd, who celebrates two to three Masses on the weekends, often helps out at St. Matthew Church in Norwalk and St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, where he was pastor for 14 years.

The oldest priest from the diocese is Father Philip Brady, who will turn 104 on September 16 and celebrate his 79th anniversary as a priest on December 18 at Brookdale Orchard Glen senior community in Orchard Park, N.Y., where he lives.

“Most of us are in our 80s,” Monsignor Scheyd said. “You don’t think about age when you’re that age. When we were younger, we thought of them as dinosaurs. But we laugh about it now. Many of us don’t go out. One challenge is your legs. But we help one another, and if somebody needs a ride, they get a ride, especially if they have to go to the doctor.”

He encourages parishioners and family members to visit the retired priests, particularly those who can’t get around.

“We try to have a familial community situation here,” he said. “Unfortunately, many of us are the last members in our family. Some guys wake up and find they’re on their own.”

“We also take in priests who are ill,” Monsignor said. “We don’t have nursing care, but they bring that with them on Medicare. We have meals prepared for us and celebrate Mass every day at 11:30. Several priests have even done rehab here, and they enjoyed it.”

They also have access to the chapel, community room, library, exercise room and dining area.

The Queen of the Clergy Residence was built to offer independent living for retired priests, through the generosity of parishioners, he said. It was constructed with the understanding that the facility would have to expand as a larger number of clergy reached retirement age. It is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal and also received a $50,000 grant from the St. John Vianney Fund of Foundations in Faith.

Monsignor said, “The home is a blessing to the rest of the diocese. It is a nice community, a place where priests can live in the latter years of their life and continue to help parishes.”

And the word “retirement” is definitely not in his vocabulary.

As he says: “In the morning, I put my feet on the floor and say, ‘Thank you, God, for another day.”