Senior priests—still active, still serving

STAMFORD—A priest doesn’t retire. Ask Msgr. William Scheyd, 81, officially retired January 30, 2016…and still on the job. Or more accurately, “jobs.”

Monsignor, who helps out at St. Matthew Church in Norwalk and St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, where he was pastor for 14 years, is also the head of the advisory committee for the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of the Clergy Residence in Stamford, for which he headed the building committee in the mid-1990s when he was vicar general of the diocese.

Of the 23 priests in the independent-living residence, 12 still go out and serve parishes on the weekends.

“A priest doesn’t retire,” Monsignor says. “The official title in many dioceses is ‘senior priest,’ and he can be a resident in a parish, a chaplain at an institution or sometimes on his own with the family.”

Queen of the Clergy has 33 suites, 23 of which are occupied. There are 80 priests in the Diocese of Bridgeport over 75. A few are planning to retire by the end of the year. Some of these men will continue to live in parishes while others will live 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 am. 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 recently received a $50,000 grant from the St. John Vianney Fund of Foundations in Faith.

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has said, “Our retired priests recognize the wonderful generosity of our diocese in making Queen of the Clergy Residence possible. They continue to serve in our parishes, schools, nursing homes and hospitals across Fairfield County. Most importantly, they offer prayers for all of us during their daily Mass.”

Monsignor said financial support from the diocese is very important to the retired priests.

“We get meals, heat, light and laundry,” he said. “We pay $800 a month rent, and that will go up to $1,000 a month in two years, but what we pay is immaterial.”

“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.”

“Most of us are in our 80s with one priest 93 years old,” he 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. Most 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.”

Everybody at the residence has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and is tested regularly.

“I insist on that,” Monsignor said. “We are all very well protected, and during COVID-19, we were very strict in making sure people wore masks.”

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

“Unfortunately, many of us are the last members in our family,” he said. “I still have a sister who is 89 with a daughter, but some guys wake up and find they’re on their own.”

Monsignor Scheyd’s involvement with the residence began some 25 years ago—long before retirement—when then Bishop Edward Egan asked him to chair a committee to develop a place for retired priests.

Previously, Bishop Walter W. Curtis had a wing at St. Joseph Hospital in Stamford with 12 rooms for that purpose and a convalescent home alongside. However, the hospital took it over when it needed more space. During those years, Cardinal Ignatius Kung, the bishop of Shanghai, who spent 30 years in Chinese prisons for defying the Communists, lived there, Monsignor said.

When St. Joseph Hospital closed, Bishop Egan enlisted Monsignor, who was then vicar general, to explore building an independent home for priests. They visited five residences in the tristate area.

“Our priests didn’t want to be in the woods and isolated from people,” he recalls. “So, the architect and I drove around and landed here on Strawberry Hill in Stamford. The architect saw a nine-acre site on property at St. Bridget of Ireland Church and said that is what we were going with. It was centrally located, with a walking area, and near a bus line and the highway, so we could come and go as we wished.”

The original residence had 17 suites with two guest rooms and major service areas. The handicapped suites had a sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette.

Monsignor has high praise for Vickey Hickey, the administrator of Queen of the Clergy, who has been there for 21 years and was recruited by Bishop Egan from Maryknoll in Ossining, N.Y. This past year, the diocese also hired a business and facilities manager.

“Vickey is very efficient. Everybody here has great praise for the staff,” he said. “They are considerate and compassionate, and they are right there to help us because as you get older, sometimes you need more help with things.”

Vickey said, “I look to Msgr. Scheyd for continued guidance for the well-being of the residents and the residence. This is a great place. A lot of people don’t know what we do here. We take care of the senior priests and do a great job taking care of them. Most of the priests who are here don’t ever want to leave and go to a nursing home, so we try to have them stay here as long as they can.”