Father Sean Cooney celebrates Mass every Sunday and at least once during the week. He hears Confessions at several area parishes, assists with senior adult ministry, presides at weddings and funerals, helps with retreats, leads pilgrimages to Ireland, provides spiritual direction, and has been retired for 11 years.
His experience is not unique. Unlike retirement from a secular career, for the 67 retired priests in the Diocese of Orlando, retirement does not always mean a time of peace and quiet. As retired priests continue to care for the people of God, the annual Priest Retirement and Care Collection on August 23, ensures that they will also receive care in their senior years.
Explaining the importance of the special collection, Bishop John Noonan remarked that retired priests are “wisdom characters” who continue to be a vital part of priestly ministry in the diocese.
“They retire from active ministry but they never stop being a priest,” said Bishop Noonan. “They are wonderful because they have served the diocese for so long and now it’s our turn to take care of them. They have taken care of our people and we need to make sure that they are looked after in their old age.”
The funds from the annual collection will be used to assist with medical claims, prescription drugs, nursing home care, auto insurance, retirement residence subsidy, and pension benefits. With a 20% increase of retired priests over the last 5 years and 38% of diocesan priests over the age of 60, the cost of care is escalating quickly.
“This collection allows Bishop Noonan to safeguard the personal and professional dignity of our retired men. It provides the resources appropriate and needed for them,” said Father Ed McCarthy. He retired from active ministry in March, 2011. Bishop Noonan appointed him the Vicar for Senior Priests, effective October 1, 2013.
Dan Hardester, manager of Services for Senior and International Priests, said as priests have taken lifelong vows, we are called to give our lifelong support.
“These priests have dedicated their lives to sacramental ministry among us” Hardester said. “As part of their priestly ministry, they have pledged themselves to be family among the people of the Diocese of Orlando.
“They pledged obedience to Bishop Noonan, and they have taken all of us as family,” he continued, “and just as we take care of the needs of the seniors and elderly in our own families, in our wider family of church, these are our senior and older members and we are called to take care of them.”
Father Cooney still assists at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church and Most Precious Blood Catholic Church. He has been a priest for 56 years, previously serving as a high school teacher in his home country of Ireland, a campus minister for two decades and pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church for nearly 10 years. He appreciates the time to slow down, even a little. He recalled that while there was some initial fear of losing his identity in retirement, he continues to be greatly blessed in his vocation.
“The greatest blessing has been the opportunity to learn and practice and live a holy life as a child of God and a servant of God and his people. That’s the gift that God keeps on giving over the various life stages of being a priest,” said Father Cooney.
Editor’s note: This Priest Retirement and Care collection will benefit local, diocesan, retired priests of the Diocese of Orlando and is not to be confused with the Annual National Campaign for Retired Religious (nuns, priests and brothers).