Serving those who served us every week: The annual Good Shepherd Collection

By Paul Wirth

         The Diocese of Erie is blessed with a large group of retired priests, many of whom continue to serve the faithful in various ways.

         “There is much accumulated wisdom, kindness, generosity and dedication among our retired priests,” says Father Nicholas Rouch, vicar general and director of Clergy Personnel. “Of 33 retired priests, 20 assist at parishes on a regular or as-needed basis.”

         In return for their lifetime of service, retired priests receive help when needed from the diocese and its people. That’s where the Good Shepherd Collection comes in. It will be taken in parishes this weekend, April 20-21.

         The annual Good Shepherd Collection helps subsidize the operation of the Bishop Michael J. Murphy Residence for Retired Priests. The collection also supports the priest pension plan, which is underfunded, and it provides a safety net of funds to help retired priests who have an unexpected healthcare need.

 Priests from the Diocese of Erie traveled to St. Peter Cathedral,
Erie, for the Chrism Mass during Holy Week, 2024. The Mass,
celebrated by Bishop Lawrence Persico, included an opportunity
for the priests to renew the promises they made at their ordinations.
Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

         When you stop to think about it, a priest’s working life is far different from that of the average member of the faithful. Priests earn less salary than most people and are not eligible to retire until age 75. They often work for 50 years or more.

          “As a group, our retired priests provide great fraternal support for younger priests,” Father Rouch says. “Also, if our retirees didn’t volunteer to help in parishes, we would likely have to reduce the number of weekend Masses around the diocese.”

         What does retirement for a priest look like? Here are snapshots of what some diocesan priests have planned:

         Msgr. Daniel Magraw, senior associate at Holy Trinity and St. Stanislaus parishes in Erie, plans to retire this year when he turns 75. However, he has volunteered to continue working as a senior associate, one option for priests who have reached retirement age.

         “I feel like I still have something to give,” he says, “as long as I am healthy.” Details of his future assignment won’t be known until Bishop Lawrence Persico finalizes clergy assignments this spring.

         Msgr. Magraw also coordinates the Good Shepherd Collection. It is timed yearly to coincide with the Fourth Sunday of Easter, when the Gospel theme is ‘shepherding.’

         Msgr. Joseph Riccardo, pastor of Ss. Cosmas & Damian Parish in Punxsutawney, will be eligible to retire this year but has volunteered to stay in active ministry for another year. That’s a path eight other diocesan priests have taken, remaining in active ministry even though they are past retirement age. They range in age from 75 to 87.

         Why does Msgr. Riccardo chose to stay if he could retire?

         “The shortage of priests weighs heavily on my decision,” he says. “As long as I am healthy and am able to handle the workload, I am willing to continue.”

         Also, Msgr. Riccardo will celebrate his 50th Anniversary as a priest next year.

         “More than 30 of those years have been spent here at Ss. Cosmas & Damian,” he says. “This is my family; these are my friends. What better place to celebrate the joys of the priesthood than with my family?”

         Father James Gutting, senior associate at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish in Bradford, is moving to the priest retirement home when he turns 75 in August. 

         The retirement home “is a wonderful place,” he says, where aging priests celebrate Mass together and have dinner together. “It will be good to be around that community of guys,” he says. However, faithful to his calling and sense of duty, he still plans to fill in where needed when other priests in parish assignments want to take a vacation.

         Sixteen of the diocese’s 93 active priests will reach retirement age in five years. The diocese encourages priests to plan carefully for their retirement needs, and many retire without needing financial assistance. But with the cost of retirement care and health care rising, some will inevitably need financial help.

         “I encourage everyone to consider a gift to the Good Shepherd Collection,” says Msgr. Magraw. “Please pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and a happy and healthy retirement for our priests.”