The Boston Archdiocese has always encouraged pastors to stay active until they’re 75. As priests grow fewer and older – 20 percent south of Boston are 70 or older – they’re now expected to keep working, at least in temporary parish assignments.
The Rev. John Mark Hannon will turn 75 next year. The longtime pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Church could ask the Boston archdiocese to put him on part-time, senior status then. But he has no interest in retiring.
“As long as God and the cardinal let me, I’ll be a pastor,” Hannon said.
As a shrinking roster of priests grows older – and 20 percent of pastors south of Boston are 70 or older – the archdiocese is expecting more clergy to follow his example.
In a policy change announced this week, the archdiocese says priests must be available for temporary assignments as “senior pastors” at least until they’re 75, health permitting.
Until now, active, healthy clergy could ask for senior status at 70. The age change starts Saturday.
Hannon said most priests he knows will be happy to fill in for those who are sick and vacationing, and fill other parish vacancies as long as they can.
He said senior pastoral work is even better, in a way, since priests older 70 wouldn’t have to tackle the administrative side of parish work.
The Rev. Thomas S. Foley, the archdiocese’s secretary for parish life and leadership, contends that the age change isn’t a significant shift, since priests have always been encouraged to stay in active ministry beyond 75, if they can.
But he acknowledged that the archdiocese does see this as another way to manage the priest shortage as well make sure all parishes at least have a senior pastor for Masses and other worship activities.
“The shortage of priests and the numbers going into the vocation are a bigger issue,” Foley said. “This (policy) alone won’t address that, but it will help.”
The archdiocese has 482 active priests, including 84 who are 70 or older. In the south region, which includes the South Shore, there are 86 active priests, with 18 older than 70.
When Hannon was ordained in 1960, he was in a class of 60. This year, the archdiocese ordained six.
With more priests assigned to more than one parish, the policy change also highlights the extent of parish work done by lay members and employees, from finances and religious education to office staffing.
To that end, the archdiocese has just established a new office of pastoral planning, which Foley says is “the next step” to support parish ministry amid the priest shortage.
That’s fine with Hannon, who already counts on a lay finance board and business manager at St. Joseph’s, as well as lay religion leaders.
“I look good because of all they do,” he said.
Patriot Ledger writer Lane Lambert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.