Monsignor Bernard Schmitz had dedicated 50 years to his parishes here in Colorado and in South America. When it came time to retire in 2019, he didn’t know where he was going to go.
“I didn’t own property, I didn’t have an apartment, I didn’t have a place to go,” Msgr. Schmitz said.
Fortunately, that same year the Archdiocese of Denver opened Prophet Elijah House — an affordable retirement community for Colorado priests who have given their lives to God. Prophet Elijah House provides independent living, but offers the personal connections of living with people who understand what it means to be a priest.
When Schmitz entered the priesthood, no one spoke to him about saving money for retirement, which was far from his mind. His image of retirement was of his grandfather rocking on a porch to cool off in the summer heat of Atchison, Kansas and waiting for God to come.
For the monsignor, that picture couldn’t take shape. And retiring from the priesthood isn’t sitting on a porch rocker, he said.
“Retirement from the priesthood isn’t like a typical retirement,” Msgr. Schmitz said. “You still say Masses, you can still take confession and provide spiritual counseling, but you have no parish of your own.”
Prophet Elijah House provides companionship. Retired priests can have a meal together, say vespers together and enjoy each other without the administration issues that come with running a parish, Schmitz said.
“The camaraderie happens at dinner time around the dinner table like any family,” Schmitz said.
Living in a community has its health benefits too, Msgr. Schmitz added. The priests can make sure they keep their appointments with doctors and are taking care of themselves. Much of this care is done by Deacon Mark Wolbach who is the director of the house. Deacon Wolbach not only schedules house maintenance, he makes sure the priests are taking their medication properly, and helps out at meal time.
“The life of a retired priest can be lonely,” Deacon Wolbach said. “They were moved to serve, but they have no kids and a small stipend to live on. The parish has been their family.”
Deacon Wolbach has worked hard to make sure the priests’ home apartments are comfortable and safe. He makes sure there is art on the walls and food in the refrigerator, especially during the COVID-19 crisis when Prophet Elijah House stayed closed to visitors to protect the health of its residents.
Msgr. Schmitz said the beautiful grounds and the proximity to the seminary has been a blessing. It represents a full circle for Schmitz who lived on the same campus in 1967. The seminarians offer an antidote to any cynicism in our world today, Msgr. Schmitz said.
“The Seminarians bring excitement and hope for the future,” he said. “We came to the priesthood because we love the Lord, and because we love people, and Prophet Elijah House feels like home.”
To support our retired priests, visit elijahdenver.org and consider making a gift today.