A home for our fathers: Prophet Elijah House officially opened for retired priests

Life is coming full circle for several retired priests in the Archdiocese of Denver.

“This is a coming home for our priests,” Deacon Mark Wolbach told a crowd of more than 50 people at the grand opening of the Prophet Elijah House on April 24.

“For many of our priests, they started here. This is where they discerned the priesthood,” he said. “This is where they formed their hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“It’s becoming that they come back here to the place where it all began.”

The Prophet Elijah House, a brand-new home for retired priests, is located on the campus of the St. John Paul II Center — the same area where many of these priests attended then-St. Thomas Seminary.

The house, which offers its residents a comfortable place to enjoy their retired years, “is a great blessing and something that the archdiocese has talked about for over 40 years,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told the crowd during the opening ceremony.

“It’s already served as a blessing for those who are living here now,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous service to our priests in helping them and letting them know that we are with them.”

Now that the project has received its final inspections and obtained its certificate of occupancy, three priests have already relocated to the Prophet Elijah House, and more are expected to move in during the coming months.

The grand opening of the Prophet Elijah House retirement community for priests at the St. John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization took place on April 24. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

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.

Deacons Robert Rinne and Mark Wolbach minister full time to the priests living in the retirement home, and the Carmelite nuns who also live on campus clean each priest’s room once a week. The priests are also provided with one meal a day and opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth.

Father Tom McCormick, who retired in 2007, moved in this past December, just after discovering he had bladder cancer. During the weeks that followed the diagnosis, he had multiple surgeries and needed extra care.

Being able to receive assistance from his fellow residents, particularly Father Roger Lascelle, was humbling.

“Since my surgery, he’s been one of the major helps for me as I needed physical or even caregiving assistance,” said Father McCormick.

And although living with additional comforts is “a little adjustment” for the priest, who served the archdiocese actively for 60 years, he is grateful for the chance to retire alongside his peers.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that they built the house and have given us the opportunity to be here,” he said.

Just two doors down from Father McCormick is Monsignor Raymond Jones, which is fitting for the priests, who were roommates in 1951 when they were students at St. Thomas Seminary.

Being able to continue living in fellowship even into retirement is a joy for Father McCormick.

“For me, a strong part of priesthood is fraternity,” he said. “I look forward to a greater fraternity when the place has been around a while and more people will come.

“The future of fraternity is here.”

Retired priests living in the Prophet Elijah House are provided with a weekly room-cleaning service by the Carmelite nuns, one meal a day and opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

Several generous donors showed their support for archdiocesan priests with their contributions to the Prophet Elijah House, including families who sponsored priests’ suites, stained glass windows and the “Our Lady of the Memorare” chapel.

During the final opening remarks before Archbishop Aquila cut a ribbon outside the Prophet Elijah House, Deacon Steven Stemper, whose family was one of several donors in attendance, addressed the priests, including those who will enjoy the retirement home years down the road.

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

“We hope and pray that all the residents here today and for the countless years to come will reside knowing of our gratefulness for their lives and their dedicated service.”

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”