Regina Cleri celebrates 50 years of serving priests

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley blesses the cornerstone of the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests June 5. Pilot photo/Christopher S. Pineo

WEST END -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley blessed the cornerstone of the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, June 5, at a ceremony that brought Mayor Marty Walsh, local reporters, and a host of Catholic laypeople, religious and clergy together for a commemoration of the facility's 50th year in the West End.

Regina Cleri was constructed by Cardinal Richard J. Cushing after much of the West End was razed between 1950 and 1960 as a result of the Housing Act of 1949. The building became one of the construction achievements of the Church in Boston as part of the legacy of Cardinal Cushing. Cardinal Cushing dedicated the facility in December 1964, with an open house for pastors of the archdiocese.

"As Cardinal Cushing intended, Regina Cleri is a home for our senior priests -- a community of prayer, fellowship and fraternity," Cardinal O'Malley said.

"Over the past 50 years, almost 400 priests have been welcomed here, and today 56 priests representing 2,800 years of service to the archdiocese call this place their home," the cardinal said.

Cardinal O'Malley also noted that men who live at Regina Cleri may officially take up status as retired priests, but for many of them, service to the archdiocese, to the faithful, and to the community continue throughout their time at the home for retired priests.

"It's notable that many of the senior priests who live here continue to celebrate Mass in our parishes and provide our people with important pastoral and spiritual care," Cardinal O'Malley said.

The cardinal also stated plans for the facility in the near-term future.

"The Regina Cleri residence will hold an important place in the archdiocese for many years to come. As superior medical care provides us all the opportunity to extend our active lives, the archdiocese will have increasing needs, as more of our priests reach senior status," he said. "In the next 15 years, 170 of our brethren will achieve that mark."

The cardinal also pointed out the continued importance of the facility and its role in the archdiocese as a large portion of the population of ordained men require the services provided at Regina Cleri.

"Anticipating this need, I have asked the Clergy Funds and Regina Cleri leadership to explore the possibilities for expanding the capacity of services here, so that we can provide more priests with a welcoming and supportive community," he said.

Mayor Walsh also gave remarks of support for Regina Cleri and the archdiocese.

"I want to congratulate the cardinal and the archdiocese and the staff, right here, at Regina Cleri house. It's important, the 50th anniversary of this unique institution. Taking care of our seniors is an essential test, of every community, of spiritual health. We owe elders our gratitude of support. They have much to give, and it's especially true of our priests. We all know, the priests may slow down a bit, but they don't retire," said the mayor.

The mayor also spoke about the legacy of the priests who serve the community of Boston, which endures alongside their continued service -- even in retirement -- to places in the city like Mass General Hospital across the street from the facility.

"We need to find and seek their guidance. They spend years shepherding our communities, helping us achieve an understanding of the milestones of our lives, and your great wisdom is greatly needed. Indeed you are helping us achieve that directly. Many of the residents have served Boston's parishes, and are natives of the city themselves," the mayor said.

Scott Wahle, former WBZ-TV anchor, served as the master of ceremonies for the event. He said he will be working with Regina Cleri and the Clergy Fund to produce a series of video profiles of some of the senior priests of the archdiocese -- some of whom live at the facility. He showed the crowd a video segment on the facility itself.

"What a great thrill to interview them, for me, to help tell their stories, which in turn really tells the story of the Archdiocese of Boston," he told the crowd.

Two senior priests shared some of their experience at Regina Cleri, before a reception for guests who attended the blessing.

Father Mark S. Sheehan does not live at the facility, but has been in respite care for a heart condition since April.

"Atrial fibrillation, it means something is wrong with my heart, but my heart is filled with love today for all the wonderful people who have been kind to me since my arrival," Father Sheehan said.

He thanked the executive director of the facility, Stephen J. Gust, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master who serve there, and the staff of the facility who have helped him with such things as driving to medical appointments at Lahey Hospital in Burlington.

He also thanked the residents.

"Special thanks to my brother priests for their kindness to me, for their advice, for their sense of humor, and above all for their patience," he said.

Father John J. Grimes has been recovering at Regina Cleri, also from a heart condition, and noted the personal touch of the staff and the residents on the day he arrived. He said he felt particularly welcomed and cared for by the director of nurses.

"She already had my medications. She had spoken to the doctors or the nursing staff at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, and the medications were already there. I mean, it was just amazing the sense of outreach, the sense that your were going to be cared for, and that evening some of the priests, my brothers, came knocking at the door," he said.

He knew many of the priests at Regina Cleri already, and they came to welcome him and express concern for him as a brother. He said the presence of his brothers, no matter how old or in what condition, inspired him to hope.

"If there is any tendency to get discouraged or to be a little bit feeling sorry for yourself, you look at them and you are animated," he added.

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