Christmas collection supports the Clergy Welfare Fund – Arkansas Catholic

Christmas and Christmas Eve donations go to the care of elderly and infirm priests in the diocese

Posted: December 14, 2021

Chris Price

Father Ed Graves, Senior Priest of the Diocese of Little Rock, lives at St. John’s Mansion on the campus of St. John’s Center in Little Rock. Passionate about music and art, Father Graves, seen here on December 1, can usually be found drawing, painting or playing Elvis Presley songs on his guitar.

With vows of chastity and obedience, the priests of Arkansas gave their lives for the spiritual nourishment of the Church.

The Diocese of Little Rock is asking the faithful to remember all the priests who have served the state and to donate to a special Christmas fundraiser in all parishes from December 24 to 25 to support the Clergy Welfare Fund, which takes in charge of retired and infirm priests.

“The main purpose is to care for and show our appreciation to our priests who have spent their lives serving in our parishes,” said Greg Wolfe, director of finance for the diocese.

When priests are ordained, they are either members of a religious order or of a local diocese, which is responsible for them until their death. For example, if they are at the Abbey of Subiaco, the abbot has the responsibility of looking after the brother or the priest. If ordained for a diocese, the bishop is responsible for it, Wolfe said.

The Clergy Welfare Fund supports the needs of aging priests who no longer serve in a parish, as well as those who fall ill and cannot perform their priestly duties. This includes the provision of living conditions, meals, health care, transportation and end-of-life care.

The Clergy Welfare Fund supports the needs of aging priests who no longer serve in a parish, as well as those who fall ill and cannot perform their priestly duties. This includes the provision of living conditions, meals, health care, transportation and end-of-life care.

“If they have to go to a nursing home, which is the most expensive thing – it can go up to $ 6,000 a month – the fund pays for it,” Wolfe said. “Sometimes we have someone in a retirement home. One year we had three people in a nursing home so you never know how much expense we’re going to have to face. “

Currently, the diocese supports 17 retired priests, called senior priests.

Wolfe described the fundraising as a three-legged stool. Diocesan priests do not have individual retirement accounts. Instead, the diocese pays part of their salaries into the fund, which is overseen by a board of directors and audited annually by an external accounting firm. Additional income is generated from interest earned on $ 20 million invested in stocks and bonds.

The final contribution is the money donated during the Christmas fundraiser. The collection is still the second most popular collection in the diocese. In 2019, Catholics donated $ 521,686, and in 2020 it was $ 511,239.

“We need the Christmas collection to cover the expenses of the retired priests,” Wolfe said. “In a year, it takes all that. These three things are needed, parish bills, investment income, and a good, strong Christmas gift. All that money goes to the welfare of the clergy.

As the diocese sets aside funds for sick priests, Wolfe said 95% of the money is spent on senior priests.

Many senior priests in the diocese choose to live at St. John’s Manor, which is located on the top two floors of Fitzgerald Hall on the St. John Center campus in Little Rock. Each has an apartment with a living room, a bedroom and a private bathroom. They take their meals in a shared dining room and have a shared lounge for watching TV, reading and playing a game of billiards.

There are six senior priests currently living at the mansion, and more are expected to join soon, said Marc Rios, resident director of Fitzgerald Hall, who runs the facility with his wife, Tracy, and Father Warren Harvey, who is also chaplain in Saint-Vincent. Infirmary in Little Rock.

“My main responsibility is to make sure that the priests are taken care of,” said Rios, a member of the diaconal formation due to be ordained in 2022. “For me it is a ministry. They gave their lives to the diocese, so it is a joy for me to give them back part of it. We owe a lot to make sure they live the rest of their lives in health, peace and happiness.

Father Harvey and the Rios live at the mansion and call it a blessing to serve those who have served the Church.

“At dinner, once we had all of our (senior) priests here, we counted all the years of service these priests gave, and that was almost 500 years. It’s half a millennium of service to the Lord, ”said Rios. “I started to cry thinking about it. It’s pretty powerful, man. You know, when I look and see those old wrinkled hands, I see the hands of Christ. I think how many thousand times they’ve lifted up the Lord in dedication, you know? It’s important to think about what they gave, and they still give.

Although he said nothing can be taken for granted, Rios believes the faithful will give generously to care for retired pastors.

“The Catholics of Arkansas take care of their priests,” he said. “They couldn’t be taken care of without the generosity of the diocese, the people of Arkansas.”

Rios said life at the mansion is not extravagant.

“They are very grateful to have a place to live,” he said. “Many of these priests have nothing. As diocesan priests, they do not have their own furniture. When they move from parish to parish, everything is planned for them. Thus, they do not amass or accumulate much physical goods. Sometimes they come here with just the clothes they have and a few items, so we are able to provide them with a fully furnished apartment, someone to take care of their laundry, someone to feed them, someone. one to clean their apartments. And they are very grateful.

Father Ed Graves, 80, is one of the residents. Almost every day he still celebrates Mass for missionaries of charity and Carmelite sisters and, on occasion, replaces a pastor in a parish. Although he said he did not have the stamina to run a parish, he said living at the mansion allowed him to still serve in limited capacities.

“I am still involved in active ministry, but most of our older priests are not,” said Father Graves.

For years, he planned to retire and live in Memphis with his sister, but instead chose to live at the mansion.

“It’s more auspicious,” he said. “I have always believed that priests need other priests to be supported. It’s good to have a place where you can meet up with like-minded people. It’s better than being on your own. It’s a godsend for us.

Father Graves also spends his days drawing, painting, playing the guitar and socializing with his brother priests.

Rios said the interaction they have is essential to their health and happiness.

“I have seen in my pastoral work that once an elderly person is placed in a hospice or retirement home where maybe they don’t have that group interaction, they start to tumble. very quickly, ”he said. “Here they have the camaraderie, and Father Harvey, myself and my wife to make sure there is always interaction. The bishop comes to lunch almost every day and his presence tells us that they are not forgotten. It’s absolutely awesome. They never feel alone.

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