Supporting ‘Sustaining Hope’ will help retired priests


Special to The Dialog


Father Jim Hreha doesn’t plan to ever retire from the priesthood.

But the administrative pressures he faces as pastor of St. Jude the Apostle in Lewes, a $1-million operation where he is responsible “for 4,000 or so souls,” is a different matter.

“There will be a time when that burden is lifted,” said Father Hreha.

Then he can focus on what drew him to the priesthood. “I’ve always said I wanted to be a priest, saying Mass and forgiving sins.”

The Trust for the Welfare and Retirement of Priests will provide for Father Hreha when that time comes. Sustaining Hope for the Future has earmarked $3 million to strengthen the trust. The fund removes one of the pressures priests such as Father Hreha would otherwise worry about in addition to the running of their parishes and caring for the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of their parishioners.

“It allows you to focus more on ministry,” Father Hreha said.

Sustaining Hope for the Future seeks $28 million from its parishes for a variety of projects. Also included is $10 million to bolster the Lay Employee Pension Fund; $2 million to sustain diocesan ministries, and $11.2 million for individual parish projects.

St. Jude is one of 33 parishes participating in Wave II of the Sustaining Hope for the Future campaign, which officially begins Sept. 20-21. Those parishes have a combined target of $16,435,000.

Diocesan officials have said the Trust for the Welfare and Retirement of Priests is not adequately funded at present. A variety of factors led to the need to strengthen the trust, according to Joe Corsini, the diocese’s chief financial officer.

One major gift provided for the trust, he said, and parishes and ministries have not paid anything into the fund. That coupled with the economic downturn of 2008, which resulted in a 30 percent decline in the trust’s value, makes strengthening the trust a priority.

Besides the drop in value, which was finally recovered in 2012, the trust lost anticipated revenue on the 30 percent drop in value and still paid pensions and medical coverage for retired priests.


An aging priesthood

An aging priesthood — the average age of priests in the diocese is 64 — ­also increases the need to bolster the trust, Corsini said.

Priests may retire at age 70, with 25 years of service, and must submit their resignation at age 75. Bishop Malooly may waive retirement if the priest wishes to continue in official ministry beyond celebrating Mass and the other sacraments, and working in other spiritual fields.

Retired diocesan priests receive an average monthly pension of $1,878, with a cost-of-living adjustment planned for July. The average monthly healthcare expense for a retired priest is $1,333. Combined, the average monthly cost to the diocese for a retired priest is $3,211. Most retired priests receive Social Security benefits.

Three priests retired in June: Fathers Ed Aigner, Robert Coine and Paul Mast. That increased the number of retired diocesan priests to 37. That number is expected to increase sharply by 2020, when the diocese anticipates 58 priests will receive retirement benefits.

That number does not include some priests with other pension plans, such as those loaned to the Archdiocese for Military Services who receive military retirement benefits, Corsini said. Retirement needs of order priests, such as Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Capuchin Franciscans and Norbertine priests who serve in the diocese, are provided by their religious community.

Pension a ‘godsend’

Father Bruce Byrolly, who retired 10 years ago from St. Mary Refuge of Sinners in Cambridge, Md., where he still lives, considers the diocesan pension a godsend. “It would be difficult” to live on Social Security alone, he said.

He was ordained a priest in 1958. He owns his own home in Cambridge, thanks in large part to a relative’s bequeathal to him.

Freed from administrative obligations, Father Byrolly now is able to focus on areas he enjoys, such as helping with a community shelter and other social justice activities. At 82, he also is studying at Neumann College in Aston, Pa., to become a spiritual adviser.

He helps his successor as pastor of St. Mary’s, Father Bill Lawler, by celebrating one Mass on weekends. He also assists at St. Ann in Bethany Beach during the summer.


Retired and still serving

Father Hreha of Lewes said the assistance provided by retired priests is essential to parishes, especially those along the Delaware and Maryland Atlantic beaches during the summer tourist season when Masses sharply increase.

He serves on the Clergy Policy Committee for Sustaining Hope for the Future and has already made a pledge to the campaign. “I wouldn’t do it any other way,” he said of asking parishioners to give to a campaign. “I think leadership by example is essential. It also shows our own commitment to the church.”

At 58, Father Hreha still has more than a decade to go before he is eligible for retirement. But he feels confident the diocese will be there for him when he does retire.

“I have given my life to the church,” he said. “The church promises that they will take care of me during my retirement years.”

Sustaining Hope for the Future will help the church keep that promise.