Aging Ministry marks 50 years of helping seniors

January 9, 2024

Pope Francis greets an elderly woman as he meets with people in Asuncion, Paraguay, in this July 12, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

HOUSTON — Since 1974, the Archdiocese has developed a ministry to focus on adults 65 and older.

Back in that year, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded 22 million adults ages 65 and over, which was 10% of the overall population. That same year, under the leadership of Sister Teresita Partin, C.V.I., the first director, and Sister Dorothy Sachnik, C.V.I., the Office of Aging Ministry, a Diocesan Services Fund office, was created. Their vision was to adapt up-to-date research and practices on aging to the pastoral and personal needs of older adults.

At left, founders of the Office of Aging Ministry are (left) Sister Dorothy Sachnik, C.V.I., and Sister Teresita Partin, C.V.I., the first director of the office. (Photos courtesy of the Office of Aging Ministry)

The staff utilized consultations and workshops to help parish leaders maximize their efforts to minister effectively to the needs of the aging. Their plan included helping parish leaders become more aware of community resources to foster the autonomy of older adults and promote meaningful involvement in the parish community life.

In 1976, the Senior Senate structure was formed to provide an advisory bridge between parish senior groups and the office. Initially, the office identified 21 active senior parish groups. The staff provided adult enrichment classes, a spiritual day of reflection and several social celebrations. In 1976, the office established Recognition Days as an annual event to honor outstanding service efforts from parish seniors.

In 1978, the Office of Aging expanded its staff to provide outreach services. This effort entailed a Friendly Visitor Program to provide aging adults with a variety of pastoral and practical in-home services. The outreach program was transferred in the 1980s to Catholic Charities’ Services to the Alone and Frail Elderly. In 1986, the Third Age Learning Center was established using senior volunteers to teach a variety of classes to other seniors in the community. The Office of Aging continued to provide outreach services as new parish senior groups or clubs were established.

The Silver Anniversary years

In 1995, Sister Partin retired, and Sister Sachnik became the director. She continued the many activities of the office’s ministry until 2001, when she retired. Katherine Bingham was then hired as the director. Under her leadership, the office marked an increased focus on developing partnerships with community organizations serving seniors. This enabled the office to offer leadership development and support in aging ministry to parishes and pastors.

The Senior Senate structure expanded to include three senior senates serving the Central, Southwest and Northern areas of the Archdiocese. Each senate consists of representatives from parish senior clubs who meet monthly or quarterly. They convene to pray together, exchange senior club activities and receive educational support on aging topics from community organizations. In addition, the senates’ seniors celebrate through service recognition, wedding anniversaries and spiritual days of reflection.

During this era, in 1999, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a landmark pastoral document called Blessings of Age: A Pastoral Message on Growing Older Within the Faith Community. The document addressed not only how parish communities were called to address the challenges of aging but also how to foster intergenerational relationships whereby the sharing of gifts could enrich the entire community.

In 2017, both founders died: Sister Sachnik died Feb. 18 and Sister Partin on Sept. 10.

The U.S. Census in 2020 recorded 55 million adults age 65 and over, almost 17% of the population. In 2020, the Office of Aging identified 104 Archdiocesan parish senior groups and recognized the need to address three critical areas of aging: caregiving, aging in place and end-of-life planning. The office then developed regional seminars in collaboration with its community partners to support families with older adults. In addition, the office posted written, audio and video resources on its webpage that address these areas of aging.

Approaching the Golden Anniversary

When Bingham retired in the fall of 2021, Mark Ciesielski, who had served as an associate director in the office for six years, was named director. He had helped navigate the ministry through COVID-19 to help seniors remain connected when in-person meetings were nearly non-existent. This included hosting online meetings with community educators or digital Days of Prayer, maintaining phone outreach to parish senior club leaders, updating online resources, and sending weekly email memos with community resources and spiritual encouragement.

Although this period greatly impacted the number of active parish groups, many parish senior groups have resumed in-person meetings and activities. 2023 presented a return to the Office of Aging’s annual in-person Day of Prayer and three Senior Senate Recognition Days, all well attended.

Ciesielski also identified two growing needs in the Archdiocese. The first involved how to respond to the aging needs of Spanish-speaking families. In response, a bilingual associate director, Olga Najar, was hired to begin addressing this reality. The second recognized need was to foster greater awareness of the ministry services among parish leaders.

In turn, a monthly advisory team consisting of parish leaders serving older adults was formed.

In March of 2023, a pastoral ministry formation program for parish leaders was offered at St. Mary’s Seminary in partnership with the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. The formation served to offer pastoral ministry skills to better engage and support older adults in parish life.

The future for an aging church: Opportunities and challenges

By the year 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau projects the peak of the Baby Boomer Generation to reach 73 million adults age 65 and older, which is 21% of the population. This scenario will provide both opportunities and challenges for the Church.

Opportunities to tap the vast pool of wisdom, gifts and resources of older adults for building the Body of Christ and challenges for the Church to provide the support needed to help care for an aging population.

Pope Francis’ weekly catechesis in 2022 emphasized the value and care of older adults as the roots of the Church’s communal tree. To promote this end, the Office of Aging is hosting an Archdiocesan Catholic Conference on Aging at Prince of Peace Parish on Friday, Jan. 26, for parish leaders and on Saturday, Jan. 27, for older adults and their families. It consists of a variety of presentations and community organizations to enrich and support older adults in parish life.

For more information and how to register for this free conference with tracks in English and Spanish, visit or call 713-741-8712.