Priesthood: A Gift from God
Priesthood is a lifelong vocation, which is why so many senior priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit continue to give of themselves in countless ways. These men minister for as long as they are physically able, essentially only retiring from duties associated with being a parish’s pastor.
Senior priests unable to serve in an active way because of health limitations continue to bless and humble us through their life witness.
It is important to remember that every aspect of the life and ministry of a priest — active or senior — is a gift from God; a gift that builds up and maintains the communion of our Church; a gift that helps bring people closer to the Lord. It is with tremendous gratitude that we offer our thanks for their service in Christ.
Senior Priests: A Valuable Resource
Parishes were once blessed with a pastor assisted by one or more associate pastors. This “team” of priests met the daily spiritual needs of parishioners, as well as accomplished the many administrative tasks and decisions that come with running a parish.
But the priesthood shortage has created a much different scenario for many of our active priests. Now a parish may have only one priest who is responsible for celebrating the Holy Eucharist and the Sacraments, ministering to and counseling parishioners, and giving patient and attentive service to administration. It is a daunting task for even the most dedicated and spiritually motivated of men.
For these men and their parishes, senior priests who are no longer assigned to parishes are a vital resource. They attach themselves to one parish or make themselves available to parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit, providing valuable assistance to current pastors who are stretched so thin. Some help out by celebrating daily or Sunday liturgies, ministering to the sick and homebound, visiting hospitals, and providing spiritual counseling. Others step in when a brother priest needs to be away from his parish, such as for vacation or because of sickness or a family obligation.
The Priests’ Pension Plan
The retirement years are often difficult for these men who dedicate as many as 50 years or more of their lives to caring for and ministering to others.
During his years of priestly ministry, a diocesan priest is supported mainly by a parish community. His housing, food, and transportation are provided so he is able to focus on his ministry. His salary is very modest compared with what a layperson earns in the secular world.
Our diocesan priests do participate in the Social Security program but, because of their modest salaries during their many years of ministry, their monthly benefits are significantly less than those typically received by retired lay people. While active priests are encouraged to initiate their own investments for retirement, many faithful priests are left with minimal income once they achieve senior priest status and are no longer assigned to a parish.
Showing gratitude for their years of faithful ministry, Catholics from all over the Archdiocese of Detroit, at the Synod of 1969, acknowledged and embraced the responsibility of helping our priests during their retirement years. Soon after that, the Archdiocese of Detroit established a pension plan for our priests.
At age 70, our priests begin receiving health and automobile insurance and a $1,550 monthly pension from the Priests’ Pension Plan. They use this money for basic needs, such as food, housing, and transportation. Diocesan priests live independently during their retirement years, unlike senior priests of religious communities, who are cared for and live together.
The Archdiocese of Detroit is blessed to have 94 senior priests without assignments. Whether still active in ministry or not, our senior priests make Christ, the Good Shepherd present to us — not only in what they do, but in who they are. They give witness to the Lord’s presence not only by their words, but by their lives.
Changes in Benefits and Funding
Following the Synod of 1969, the Priests’ Pension Plan was established in 1970. Prior to 1984, the plan was not a defined benefit plan. Since July 1, 1984, the plan benefits — a monthly pension and health and automobile insurance — have been determined based on actuarial information and the funding required to pay benefits as stated in the plan.
The funding of the plan has taken many forms over the years. In the early days, the Archdiocese devoted a variety of funding sources to the Priests’ Pension Plan, including allocating a portion of the Christmas collection taken up in parishes. In 1982, when the Catholic Services Appeal was first launched, a portion of gifts to the CSA supported the Priests’ Pension Plan. Beginning in 1989, the plan was funded in part through the CSA, and in part through parish assessments. The Stewards for Tomorrow campaign of the mid-1990s added to the plan as well.
In 1993, this funding changed in that the CSA no longer supports the Priests’ Pension Plan, and now parishes are assessed an annual amount, which is currently $11,528 per priest serving the parish.
We must continue to ensure a healthy and stable Priests’ Pension Plan. The average age of our active priests is high, and a large number of these priests were members of sizable ordination classes. These generations are nearing retirement, causing a pressing need to provide for the men who have so faithfully served us.
There are many financial pressures on the Priests’ Pension Plan:
- Senior priests, like everyone else in America today, are living longer and drawing on the Priests’ Pension Plan for a longer period of time than their predecessors.
- The Archdiocese must plan to meet the health care needs of retired priests now and in years to come, especially with so many parishes relying on the services of healthy senior priests. A fully funded Priests’ Pension Plan provides the necessary resources to meet the high costs of medical services, prescription drugs, gaps in Medicare coverage, and long-term care.
- A large number of priests are retiring, or are preparing to retire.
- The Priests’ Pension Plan is subject to the volatility of the general economy and investment markets.
With Thanks for Their Service in Christ
Parishes that do not want to participate may simply pay for the assessment from parish operating income.
If a parish takes up a special collection and falls short of the assessed amount, it must make up the difference to reach the full $15,644 per priest assessment. If a parish collects more than the assessed amount, the excess funds collected will be used to further strengthen the Priests' Pension Plan.
Of course, gifts to the Priests’ Pension Plan are not limited to the annual special collection. Donations to the plan can be made at any time, payable to the Priests’ Pension Plan, Archdiocese of Detroit, 12 State St., Detroit, Michigan 48226-1823.
Also, consider leaving a legacy gift to the Priests’ Pension Plan in your will or trust as part of your estate plan and honor the priests who serve us so faithfully.
It is essential that we continue to provide financial stability for our retired priests and guarantee future security for our active priests. By strengthening the Priests’ Pension Plan, we will ensure adequate retirement and health coverage in the years ahead for those who have served us with such faith-filled devotion through their priestly ministry.