By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
DARBY – Whether they’re playing pinochle, reading or reminiscing, the 60 retired priests of Villa St. Joseph continually pray for the Church of Philadelphia.
Cardinal Justin Rigali recently acknowledged the priests and their prayers through a pastoral visit to the Darby, Delaware County residence for retired, infirm and convalescent priests.
Villa St. Joseph is known affectionately as “the Villa.”
“As retired priests, they have a very important mission still in the Church – the mission of prayer and intercession,” the Cardinal said after a Mass he celebrated there in January.
“It’s a great joy to be with the priests, so many of whom have spent many, many years in service to the people of God,” he added.
Archbishop Emeritus of New Orleans Francis B. Schulte, 83, ordained a priest for the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 1952 and an auxiliary bishop here from 1981 to 1985, has officially called the Villa his home since December 2009.
“The Villa is a wonderful home for priests,” he said. “We build community and we experience community.”
“I’m quite content,” said Father George J. Boyle, 84, pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Parish in Havertown, Delaware County. “There’s great camaraderie among the priests here.”
Father Boyle arrived at the Villa in November 2009. “Before I came here, it was the fear of the unknown -I didn’t know what the routine would be like. Having come here, I’m very happy.”
Msgr. James P. Matteo, 65, pastor emeritus of Queen of Peace Parish in Ardsley, Montgomery County, arrived at the Villa in January 2009 and officially retired in June of that year.
He likes to play an occasional game of poker and pinochle with his priest friends and, when weather permits, swaps stories on the Villa porch.
“There’s always somebody to talk to,” he said. “We have such a beautiful, happy home. I love it. Our life here is a life of prayer,” he said.
Msgr. Matteo said he knows the importance of prayers for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, a priority the Cardinal underscored in his homily.
In conjunction with the universal Church’s celebration of the Year of the Priest, Villa St. Joseph will host the Archdiocese’s eighth Holy Hour for Priests at 3 p.m. Friday, June 4. “We’re very happy – we’ve had a good year for priests,” said the Villa rector, Msgr. William A. Dombrow, 70.
“Life is good,” said 65-year-old Msgr. Joseph C. Cunningham. He retired to the Villa in January 2009 after serving as pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Wayne, Chester County, for 20 years.
“This was a good choice for me, to be able to come here and know that under one roof all my needs would be provided,” he said.
The fact that he was able to settle in so quickly and easily after nearly 38 years of active ministry pleasantly surprised Msgr. Cunningham. “To be able to shift gears and get into this retired life and care for my health and well-being a little more” is welcome, he said.
Msgr. Cunningham said he visits family and friends off site whenever possible as well.
“It’s a wonderful thing, seeing all these men of different ages, backgrounds and experiences joining together and forming a real community,” he said. “There’s a definite love and concern for all the brothers – one for another. It made it that much more real today by having the Cardinal be with us to remind us of our unity in Christ.”
The other priests also acknowledged their appreciation of the Cardinal’s visit.
“It’s always nice to have the boss around,” said Father Boyle.
“It was quite an honor to have Cardinal Rigali with us today, to celebrate the Eucharist with us,” Msgr. Matteo said.
“I particularly appreciated the Cardinal’s reference to intercessory prayer and our role as intercessors,” added Archbishop Schulte.
The priests expressed their gratitude for the prayers and financial backing of the faithful of the Archdiocese.
In a letter to St. Isaac’s’ parishioners announcing his retirement, Msgr. Cunningham told them that whenever they hear about a collection for retired priests of the Archdiocese or for Villa St. Joseph to “remember that there’s someone there who loves you,” he said.
Archbishop Schulte echoed the sentiment. “Please remember the priests at the Villa, priests who have served the Lord and all of you faithfully,” he said.
“In their senior years, they have the time to pause and look forward to the coming of the Lord. So pray that they will be prepared when He comes.”
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.