“In their old age, they still bear fruit (Psalm 92:15).”

This year, the Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates the second Annual World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly on the weekend of July 23-24. Initiated by our Holy Father Pope Francis in 2021, this annual event is intended to lift up and honor those among us who have “borne the heat of the day” so to speak and have entered their “golden years.” In his 2022 message to commemorate this day, our 86-year-old Holy Father wrote:

“Old age is no time to give up and lower the sails, but a season of enduring fruitfulness: a new mission awaits us and bids us look to the future. The special sensibility that those of us who are elderly have for the concerns, thoughts and the affections that make us human should once again become the vocation of many. … The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is an opportunity to proclaim once more, with joy, that the Church wants to celebrate together with all those whom the Lord – in the words of the Bible – has ‘filled with days.’ Let us celebrate it together!”

Here in the Diocese of Trenton, we will mark this special occasion with two Masses I will celebrate for Grandparents and the Elderly, one on Saturday, July 23, 4:30 p.m. in St. Denis Church, Manasquan, and a second, July 24 at 10:30 a.m. in St. Charles Borromeo Church, Cinnaminson. Families and parishioners in both parishes are warmly invited and encouraged to participate and, wherever possible, to bring grandparents and elderly relatives and friends with them for Mass. As Pope Francis has urged, “Let us make sure that no one feels alone on this day.” For many of us, this day will only bring fond memories of grandparents who have gone home to the Lord. We can pray for them still. For others, however, God has continued to bless us with the loving presence of our grandmothers and/or grandfathers. And, of course, we all know people who are elderly. A call or conversation, a letter or card, a gift or, even better, a personal visit would go a long way in reminding our seniors that they are still loved, cherished and needed. As Bishop of the Diocese, I encourage the clergy and faithful of the four counties to reach out to some elderly person simply to let them know you care.

In this year’s Message for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, our Holy Father focused on a line from Psalm 92:15: “In old age they will still bear fruit.”  When I first read that title, my thoughts immediately turned to a different group of elderly – folks with no children of their own but who have been no less fatherly and grandfatherly over the years: our retired, elderly and infirm priests of the Diocese. These good men who no longer carry the burdens or responsibilities involved in full-time parish or other diocesan ministries, “still bear fruit” by their “helping out” part-time with parish Masses or sacramental schedules. They “still bear fruit” by the active witness of their priestly lives. They “still bear fruit” by the prayers and sufferings they offer for their fellow Christians so in need of their prayers. These elderly priests are, indeed, our “spiritual fathers and grandfathers.”

We often speak in the Church about the “shortage of vocations” in our seminaries. We sometimes forget that there is a rapidly growing shortage at the other end of the vocational spectrum as our active priests steadily “age out.” Twenty-five years ago, there were 12 retired priests in the Diocese of Trenton. Today there are 75. Five years from now, there will be over 100 retired priests here. We face a shortage of resources to provide for the basic needs of this quickly growing group. It strikes me, as Bishop, that we need to do something significant to support these men who “still bear fruit.” 

Currently, our priests’ retirement home known as “the Villa” is filling up fast. I am looking for other diocesan properties and unused facilities that I could renovate and restore to fittingly house our growing population of retired and elderly priests who need a place to live in their retirement. To keep our current Villa going, to create new and more available opportunities for our retired and elderly priests and to provide adequate nursing care for those who are infirm, I am establishing a new, annual collection to be conducted on World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly to specifically support our elderly priests – our “spiritual fathers and grandfathers” in the Diocese of Trenton – who “have borne” and “still bear fruit” for us.

This Diocese is so very generous with all the many external national and international collections asked of us throughout the year. Beginning this July 23-24, I am inviting the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Trenton to consider contributing generously to this new reserved diocesan fund I am creating to support our retired, elderly and infirm priests.

Grandparents and the elderly have seen so much, learned so much, lived so much, given so much, loved so much. They make the world a little softer, a little kinder, a little warmer for us. Their love never grows old. So, too, with our “spiritual fathers and grandfathers” in the Church who have shared Christ’s loving presence and message so faithfully in Word and Sacraments, in counsel and comfort, in witness and example. “In old age they still bear fruit.”

Grandparents and the elderly “are a treasure in the family (Pope Francis).” Retired, elderly and infirm priests are a “treasure” in God’s family, the Church.  Let’s remember them all in the Diocese of Trenton.

To read this year’s message of Pope Francis, go to: www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/nonni/documents/20220503-messaggio-nonni-anziani.html