Giving back to the lifelong servants of God, His Church

May 23, 2017

Retired priests and bishops are transported to an event in the auditorium. In the vehicle are (back seat, left to right) Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, Marina Chavez (Bishop Rizzotto’s caregiver); (middle seat) Monsignor Boli Zientek and Father Dan Warden; (front seat) Retired Bishop Vincent M. Rizzotto and Ministry Administrator/Secretary John Descant. Photo courtesy of Clergy Pastoral Outreach Ministry.

HOUSTON — Through the social teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, primary importance is placed upon the welfare of its clergy, not only today, but also for tomorrow when those who have served God and His Church reach retirement age.

The ministry responsible for ensuring the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all retired diocesan clergy that reside within and outside the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston are met is the Clergy Pastoral Outreach Ministry.

Currently, 57 priests and 151 deacons and their wives are served, and is one of 60-plus ministries supported by the 2017 Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

“It is important that we give back to the men who have given so much of their lives serving God and His Church,” said Deacon Gary Hilbig, director of Clergy Pastoral Outreach. “All of our efforts help cultivate relationships to ensure an optimal quality of life that is healthy, secure and hopeful for all retired clergy. We aspire to keep retired clergy connected to the Archdiocese through special events, news and community resources.”

The Clergy Pastoral Outreach Ministry offices in the Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza Priest Retirement Residence at St. Dominic Village, which provides independent and assisted living, as well as nursing home care for clergy and lay residents.

Currently, Deacon Hilbig is assisted by John Descant (Ministry Administrator/Secretary), Deacon Mark Clancy (Aide to Retired Clergy) and Deborah Castillo (Support Specialist).
Some of the programs and services offered to residents include monthly birthday gatherings, special holiday meals and private receptions.

The retired clergy also take tours of museum exhibits and churches, and eat at the Sacred Heart Society Hall for lunch once a month. In addition, retired priests and retired deacons and their wives who live outside of St. Dominic Village are offered home visits, lunch gatherings and social service support (e.g., gathering of resources to meet clergy needs).

Two retired priests who currently use programs and services offered through the Clergy Pastoral Outreach Ministry said they feel it is important for the Archdiocese to provide these opportunities to retired priests.

One of the priests, Monsignor Reggie Nesvadba, who lives at the residence, said he enjoys gathering with his fellow priests for spiritual enrichment, including daily Mass, Holy Hours, etc.

“It affirms me in my priesthood,” Monsignor Nesvadba said. “What I can offer the other retired priests and what they offer to me in fellowship prolongs my priesthood. I want to thank the people of the Archdiocese and the Archbishop for providing a place for retired priests to live out their years and for the people who provide to support us.”

Father Carl Tenhundfeld, who lives off-site, said he enjoys getting transportation to Archdiocesan events and appreciates the visits he received when he was in the hospital.

“It offers a source of continuity with what is going on in and around the Archdiocese,” said Father Tenhundfeld. “It helps us retired priests to keep in contact. The ministry has provided a positive influence on the lives of retired priests.”

According to Deacon Hilbig, with an increase in the aging population, the number of retired priests and deacons is expected to double over the next five to 10 years. The retirement age for priests is 75 years old and for deacons it is 70 years, although the majority choose to remain involved in ministry.

“It is important to fund the DSF because it supports and puts into action the seven principles of Catholic social teaching,” said Deacon Hilbig. “The clergy is growing older and many are dying. We have to pray for more vocations.”