For retired priests, Prophet Elijah House ‘feels like home’

Amy Bryer Brumley

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.

COMING UP: Prophet Elijah House: An opportunity to support our retired priests

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Our priests enrich every age and stage of our lives. Through them, we are baptized, masses are celebrated, sins are forgiven, couples are united in marriage, and loved ones are delivered into the loving hands of God.

Unfortunately, after giving a life of service to the faithful, retiring typically at age 70, priests often are not able to afford a place to live, especially in Denver where housing costs continue to rise.  Luckily, we all now have an opportunity to care for them by supporting Prophet Elijah House, where they are guaranteed a locked-in monthly rate that will not outpace their pension.

The Prophet Elijah House, officially opened in April, is located on the campus of St. John Paul II Center.  The house offers its residents, retired priests, a comfortable place to enjoy their retired years.

“Our priests have helped nurture us spiritually throughout their lives, providing the sacraments and all that a priest does,” said Keith Parsons, Chief Operating Officer for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Although they have a nice retirement pension…It’s not sufficient to pay for an appropriate place in our city. The cost of housing, especially for seniors living in Denver, is very expensive,” he added.

Named after the Old Testament prophet Elijah, the two-story, 24,150-square foot facility has 12 suites for retired priests and two guest rooms (for visitors or priests recovering from medical procedures).  It also offers communal areas to aid fraternity including a chapel, community kitchen, dining area, entertainment room with reading and conversation areas.  Priests also can participate in Mass, fitness and rehab programs, and enjoy community life with their brother priests.

“It’s already served as a blessing for those who are living here now… It’s been a tremendous service to our priests in helping them and letting them know that we are with them,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told the crowd during the opening ceremony in April.

Six priests are already living in the Prophet Elijah House, and more are expected to move in during the coming months. Other priests, currently in active ministry, have added their name to the Prophet Elijah House registry and intend on moving in when they reach retirement.

“For me, a strong part of priesthood is fraternity. I look forward to a greater fraternity when the place has been around a while and more people will come,” said Father Tom McCormick, who moved in this past December just after being diagnosed with bladder cancer.  At the Prophet Elijah House he was able to receive assistance from his fellow residents.

However, none of these would be possible without those who generously donate to the Prophet Elijah House. About half the facility’s cost was provided by donors who wanted to make the center possible and keeps operating by donations of people who are willing to give back and take care of those shepherds who have taken care of us.

Your donations are vital to keep this center going and alleviate the burden of the expense it requires to deliver services and care to our retired priests who have given us so much.

“You’ve served us wholeheartedly and unreservedly and exclusively,” said Deacon Steve Stemper. “There is no one that we could be more grateful for than you — our priests.”

Contributions to the Prophet Elijah House can be made through their website. To donate, visit elijahdenver.org/support-our-priests.