Priests Retirement Center getting needed upgrades

Fr. Michael Baldwin, the director of the Priests Retirement Center, said the center is being prepared for the needs of priests who will retire in upcoming years. (Advance photo)

Want to help the retired priests of the diocese? Please consider a gift this year to the Christmas Call to Sharing Campaign. It helps support the 43 seminarians and the 19 retired priests of the Diocese of Wichita.

Fr. Pat Malone now has time to reflect on his four years as a missionary in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, about the many couples he mentored at Engaged Encounter, a ministry he helped initiate in the diocese, and the thousands of parishioners he has served.

A priest for nearly 55 years, he is enjoying the slower pace offered at the Priest Retirement Center. The center is connected to the Catholic Care Center, just west of the Spiritual Life Center.

Fr. Malone said he’s not as active as he had been in the decades after his ordination in 1969, “but retirement is great,” he said. “We have our own apartments and we come and go as we please or are able. We can basically do what we want.”

Like other retired priests, the 85-year-old Wichita native said he did a lot of filling-in for his brother priests in retirement. “It was always good to be with the people – especially with the children. That’s probably what I miss most in my ministry.”

A blessing to priests

The Priest Retirement Center is a blessing to retired priests, he said.

“Our needs are well met here. I hope that’s always the case. The nurses here do a fantastic job. I mean, what’s not to like about retirement when you have your own apartment, when you have a meal served every noon, if you’re here for it, with leftovers for the evening meal.”

Father Malone said the priests get to use their own culinary skills for breakfast. “But that’s no big deal,” he said. “Our rooms are cleaned and laundry is done every week, and we have LPNs on duty seven days a week. We have access to the Catholic Care Center.”

He said when he was having health challenges he simply moved up the hall to the Catholic Care Center. “Bishop Gerber had a great vision when he added this into the Catholic Care Center.”

The Most Rev. Eugene J. Gerber was bishop of the Diocese of Wichita from 1983 to 2001.

A joyful priesthood

Father Malone said he has had a joyful priesthood. “It’s been a great life for me. Many mistakes but God is amazing. He brings good out of our stupidity, and so I don’t have any regrets.”

He suggested that seminarians and the priests of the diocese embrace difficulties. “Work through them to come to the new awareness that God wants for you.”

The Priest Retirement Center is important to him at this stage in his life, he said.

“I don’t think there’s another facility like it in the country for retired priests. Without it…it would be very difficult for retired priests. There are many, many hands out looking for our help. But I would say that to take care of priests like me is a worthy cause.”

Fr. Malone said the fruit of the Christmas Call to Sharing is very evident at the Priest Retirement Center. “We know that our Catholic people are very generous. They love their priests and they’re willing to make sure we’re taken care of.”

Fr. Baldwin comments

Fr. Mike Baldwin, the director of the Priest Retirement Center, said the center is available to priests who retire at the end of their service to the diocese or because of health issues. “This provides a spot for them to have community and prayer together, and social time together, and quiet time on their own.”

The center has two LPNs on staff from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the night-time hours, priests may call the Catholic Care Center for medical attention.

The nurses are a blessing for the priests,” he said. “They do things like get their medications ready for them for the week. They take blood pressures, monitor blood sugar, and do a lot of things that wouldn’t be available if these priests were living off on their own.”

Although it has been a blessing, Fr. Baldwin said, the Priest Retirement Center is 30 years old and has been minimally cared for. “After 30 years we all get a few sags and bags. And so we’re working right now to upgrade some of the things that need to be done to maintain some things that have kind of been let go.”
The needs at the center have changed in three decades, he said. “We’ve learned the needs were a little different than anticipated. So, as we renovate, we’re trying to keep that in mind and bring things not only up to date but also to make them function more effectively.”

Getting ready for the future

Fr. Baldwin said the center is being prepared for future needs.

“We have a great number of priests heading toward retirement. And right now, we’re kind of at the dip in that because we have fewer priests retired right now. We had fewer vocations 30 years ago. So with that in mind, we’re trying to do this work now so that we’ll be ready for the future.”

Part of the Christmas Call to Sharing donations go to the Priest Retirement and Education Fund, which supports the retirement center, he said.

“There is no other funding source. It pays for the retirement income for the priests, and then it pays for benefits like the add-on for Medicare that’s needed for medical purposes. So that fund gets used for those things first and foremost, and then as an adjunct to that to maintain and to fund the operation of this facility.”

Retirement center a gem

Many dioceses don’t have or are not able to assist their retired priests as does the Diocese of Wichita, he said.

The priests in the retirement center may be retired, Fr. Baldwin said, but they continue to pray for the faithful of the diocese, remember the faithful at Mass, and serve as fill-in priests.

Fr. Baldwin said donations to the Christmas Call to Sharing will help the diocese upgrade it to meet the needs of the priests today and tomorrow. “It will also help our retired priests with their basic things like income and health care, so it would be a great gift to the men who have served them faithfully in years past.”