Deacon Bill Wilson, second from left, and his wife, Ceil, center, of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, take a photo with family members after Deacon Wilson was honored by the Mount Carmel Guild for community service during the Guild’s Oct. 20 gala. In retirement, the Wilsons stay active by working in multiple areas of their Catholic faith. Courtesy photo

Deacon Bill Wilson, second from left, and his wife, Ceil, center, of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, take a photo with family members after Deacon Wilson was honored by the Mount Carmel Guild for community service during the Guild’s Oct. 20 gala. In retirement, the Wilsons stay active by working in multiple areas of their Catholic faith. Courtesy photo

By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent

and Mary Morrell |Correspondent

Well before he was ordained a deacon, Bill Wilson was involved in the construction industry and spent many happy years as superintendent of a large company. He was asked, in 1998, to serve on the diocesan building commission, a volunteer position of one or two days a week. In 2008, he became diocesan director of the Office of Property and Construction, retiring, for the third time, in 2015.

Deacon Wilson laughs when his retirement history is mentioned, saying, “There’s always work to do,” which is why few were surprised when he returned to the diocesan Chancery in Lawrenceville in late summer 2017, this time as a consultant with the diocesan Department of Risk Management.

The new position required Deacon Wilson to take an online course with 63 different lessons, 63 quizzes and a final exam. “I’d never taken an online course,” he said with a laugh, admitting to being elated when he passed them all.

“I’m energized,” he acknowledged, happy to apply his wisdom and experience of a lifetime to his most recent undertaking.

Deacon Wilson is among the thousands of retirees who return to work after retiring, jumping into what is often referred to as an encore job, a job that offers something a little different, allows retirees to continue to learn, to stay active and inspired, and to use their extensive experience and unique skill set in a way that adds value to their lives and the lives of others.

Encore jobs are also a trend following the expanded life expectancy for people in the United States. Today, it is not unusual for the average person to live comfortably to the age of 90. Those extra 25 years after retirement, referred to as a “longevity bonus,” may become empty, boring and detrimental to a retiree’s health without some form of work or activity to keep the mind, body and spirit active.

Making a Difference

A recent study from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, a national thought leader in issues of aging, reported that Americans offered almost eight billion hours volunteering for charitable causes, from church activities to political organizations to helping out neighbors and strangers.

The study found that retirees say that donating both time and money rewards them with a greater purpose in life. They feel that giving back to society means they make a difference in the lives of others and provides a significant source of happiness, and an opportunity to meet people with similar interests and values.

Retirees, like those in the Diocese of Trenton involved in faith-based activities and charitable organizations, find they also provide a spiritual need to those who otherwise would feel alone or have other difficulties in their lives, and that solace goes beyond any physical or emotional needs.

Marylynn Skahan, a member of St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, who retired from nursing at Virtua Hospital, Mount Holly, says she feels as though she’s “now giving back” as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in the same hospital where she cared for patients for almost 45 years.

“It was on my bucket list to become a Eucharistic Minister in a hospital,” she said. “When I saw in the church bulletin that the hospital was offering a course, I felt in my heart that this was what I was meant to do. I already knew all the chaplains there, and although I no longer have actual patients, I feel that I’m caring for them in a different way – ensuring that Christ is brought to them while they are unwell or infirm.”

“Volunteering is also a way to enlarge one’s social life,” she continued. “Several of the EMs get together every so often for lunch to share what’s going on in our lives.”

In addition, Skahan is helping to plan the 75th anniversary of the parish and donates time to assisting with the annual parish picnic. This year, she and husband, Tom, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Spiritual Connections

Theresa Hank, and husband, Deacon Moore Hank, parishioners in St. James Parish, Pennington, said they are “busier than ever” since retiring and see their volunteerism as “something we do that might help people in some way.”

Prior to retirement, Theresa Hank worked for 14 years in the Diocese as an assistant to Msgr. Ronald Bacovin, then-director of Clergy Personnel, while her husband had a long career as projects manager at the New York Times before becoming pastoral associate at St. James Parish. He was ordained a deacon in 2003. 

More than 20 years ago, the Hanks began the HOPE ministry in their parish to offer spiritual support for parishioners suffering from addictions. Ministry members help those whose lives are affected by concerns involving alcohol, drug abuse and other addictions, as well as compulsive behavior disorders.

Now that the parish has been linked with the parishes of St. George, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus, Hopewell, and cooperative sharing of programs and services is being undertaken, the ministry has grown exponentially, Theresa Hank said.

“I was somebody whose family had members who were actively participating in a number of addictions,” she said, “and I felt so alone. Even when I went to church, I felt alone. I could not feel God’s presence. By founding this ministry after we retired, I have found my spiritual connection to God, not only for myself, but also for those suffering from addiction, to let them know that God is right there beside them and they can turn to him as well as to us.

“The spiritual piece of our ministry far outweighs any practical resources. Recovering from addiction is an ongoing journey, and it doesn’t matter how long one has had the addiction,” she added. “Offering them the understanding that God is with them on their journey is what matters most.”

Recently, Theresa Hank earned certification as a peer recovery specialist so she could work with the Mercer Council on Alcohol and Drug Addiction to assist in decriminalizing opioid addiction, “which is different from our HOPE Ministry,” she said.

“With HOPE, people come to me for help through the church, but as a peer recovery specialist, I will meet them for the first time in various locations, such as the ER or a courtroom,” she said. “I will officially begin my work after the New Year, when the first steps will be to answer calls to the MCADA 800 number, most of which are referred by Capitol Health. Then, eventually I will be the person who will respond to those calls.

“Moore and I also serve on councils for education and prevention of drug addiction for the townships of Ewing and Hopewell, acting as their faith-based, or church-related, connection to the communities,” she added.

“For us, it is a privilege to help those in great need in a non-judgmental way,” said Deacon Hank who, in addition to his duties as deacon in St. James, performs prayer services for the women in the Mercer County Jail. “These are great faith-filled people [who] have not turned away from God, as many people think,” he said.

The couple also volunteers their time in Hopewell Gardens, a federally subsidized living facility for the aged and handicapped of various ages, where Deacon Hank leads a Communion prayer service each Thursday morning in the senior center for residents not able to travel to Mass each week.

“It is also uplifting for us who have the time and means to offer assistance to those in any kind of need,” said Deacon Hank, adding, “We are accompanying them on their journey, but in turn, they are accompanying us as well, so the blessing is two-fold.” 

‘Everyone Has a Gift’

In addition to his return to work in the Chancery, Deacon Wilson and his wife, Ceil, who are members of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, have devoted much of their retirement to the sick and the elderly. Married for 62 years, they are as devoted to their charitable work as they are to each other.

“We have not stopped thanking the Lord for that,” said Ceil Wilson. “We have a very full family life as well as a life outside our children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.”

At age 83, she plays Bocce Ball and walks the track at the Hamilton YMCA, but also devotes her time in Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, Hamilton, where she is a chaplain.

“I like to bring joy and happiness to those ... people who may otherwise be inactive and sitting alone,” Ceil Wilson said. “The Lord has blessed me with a sense of humor, so we laugh all the time and are thankful for each new day.”

Ceil Wilson also believes in sharing her God-given gifts after having had a career.

“God had a plan for me,” she said. “I was head of recreation for a nursing home, and when the priest came in to give a service, I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a chaplain. So after I retired, I spent time in after-care at school, but then went to Robert Wood just talking to people about their lives and it brought me such a sense of peace and joy that I took the courses necessary to go in to pastoral care.”

Now two days a week, four hours a day, “I have one floor to care for while on duty [as chaplain] and wear a phone for emergencies, which means if an emergency arises or if someone is dying, a nurse will call me so I can share the loss and explain what the next steps would be, not only for Catholics, but those of all faiths as well,” she said.

“Some days nothing urgent happens,” Ceil Wilson added, “so I become a good-will ambassador, ensuring patients are well cared for.  Most of them don’t have company, so I say healing prayers if they are open to it, and most of them are. In fact, before I leave home, I ask, ‘Lord, may I pray with many people.’”

For Deacon Wilson, the journey through retirement has been a time of gaining insight and meeting challenges, both of which are important undertakings at any age. Most recently, he was honored by the Mount Carmel Guild for his devoted service to the poor and needy.

“Being honored was a great surprise to us,” said Ceil Wilson, “but it’s the act of charity that means much, much more.” 

Deacon Wilson’s advice to other retirees: “Stay active. A lot of people feel they have nothing to offer. That’s not true. Everyone has a gift.”

While the work of his later years has not been as strenuous as his earlier years in construction, Deacon Wilson stressed he is still not a person to sit still. “I love my work. It all started with a summer job, and it lasted more than 46 years.”

Describing his time in the Diocese as a blessing, Deacon Wilson tells a story that ties a life full of work and faith together. “Many years ago, when I was a carpenter’s apprentice, I helped to build Notre Dame High School. Today, when I look out the window of the Chancery, I see the same windows I helped set as an apprentice.”