By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — There is no such thing as a “retired” priest. There are only priests who have shifted, because of age, into a new phase of their ministry to God and his people.
Just check out the group that enjoyed lunch together Oct. 20 at McCormick & Schmick’s on the Plaza.
Father Mario Moscaritolo still serves as a chaplain on call at St. Luke’s Hospital. In addition, he is a spiritual advisor to several men’s groups in various parishes, and voluteers at a food pantry at St. Paul Episcopal Church in midtown Kansas City.
And he had to leave the luncheon a wee bit early in order to make a 2 p.m. training session for volunteers at Union Station’s Science City.
“I’ve tried to retire three times,” Father Moscaritolo said. “I think I ought to live on an island somewhere.”
Forty-seven years as a priest, Father Moscaitolo was among the “youngsters” at the luncheon. Father Jerry Waris, whose service spans 44 years and counting, said he is seeing the breadth of the diocese, having said Sunday Mass in some 25 parishes since he “retired” from being a pastor in 2010.
And he likes what he sees.
“I get to meet people in all these parishes who are absolutely wonderful,” Father Waris said. “And I have never gone to a parish whether there wasn’t some sort of outreach to the poor whether it was a collection being taken up, or a food pantry. That tells me that the people of this diocese really know how to connect the Eucharist with service to the poor.”
The Oct. 20 luncheon is just one event in a series designed to show the retired priests how much they are still remembered — and loved.
The impetus for the twice-a-year luncheons came from the Downtown Serra Club, but that quickly evolved into an ad hoc Diocesan Committee for Retired Priests and Religious that includes not only Serrans, but Knights of Columbus, World Apostolate of Fatima and Diocesan Council of Catholic Women members.
Serra Club member Tom Walsh said the luncheon is informal, offering retired priests the chance to be together and chew the fat with men of their own age and experience.
As many as 20 retired priests have attended, Walsh said, and all are welcome.
If they can fit it into their schedules.
Father Tom Wiederholt, 48 years a priest, said he celebrated Mass the previous Sunday at St. James Parish in Kansas City.
“Life is good,” he said. “I’ve got all the work I want, and I don’t need much.”
Father Wiederholt said he also loves meeting people he has served over the years.
“It’s so much fun to go the store to get a half-gallon of milk, then having that take an hour and a half because you keep running into people who want to say, ‘Hi,’” he said.
Some of the priests admitted that health issues have slowed them down.
“I’ve opted out of Sunday Masses,” said Father Norman Rotert, a recent cancer survivor whose 54 years of priestly service includes serving as diocesan vicar general. “But I still say daily Masses at Visitation (his last assignment as pastor) and other parishes around.”
Father Jim Hart, 46 years as a priest, is keeping his diabetes well under control, but is staying busy.
“I took St. Joseph’s Medical Center for a week because the chaplain was on vacation,” he said. “This week, I have a nursing home. Two days ago, I celebrated Mass at St. Thomas More. And I have done Mass at St. Ann’s, Cure of Ars and Ascension (in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas).
“I’ve got a terrific amount of energy,” Father Hart said. “I have more energy than I have years.”
Msgr. John Leitner, 56 years as a priest, said he ministers at Villa Ventura, where he lives, but is also available when needed.
“I say noon Mass at Christ the King during the week and hear confessions,” he said. “I’ve been to St. Andrew in Gladstone, and once in a while, I’ll go to Harrisonville (Our Lady of Lourdes) and Pleasant Hill (St. Bridget).”
The opportunity to keep up with their peers and swap the latest news wasn’t lost on the retired priests.
“The Serra Club and others have done so much to show appreciation for our work. We’ll never be able to repay them,” Father Waris said. o