Dominican Fr. Paschal Salisbury, 89, still enjoys celebrating sacraments at Holy Rosary Parish, which his order runs. The friar helps hear confessions and celebrates Mass. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Dominican Fr. Paschal Salisbury, 89, still enjoys celebrating sacraments at Holy Rosary Parish, which his order runs. The friar helps hear confessions and celebrates Mass. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Dominican Father Paul Duffner diligently weighs bundles of rosary pamphlets to be distributed throughout the world. At 102, the friar is one of the oldest men in the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Yet he spends each day at the Rosary Center across the street from the Dominican priory at Holy Rosary Parish.

“I have to be doing something,” says Father Duffner. “My mind is clear and my body is free.”

Father Duffner gently takes a stack of pamphlets, places them on the scale and binds them with a rubber band. Baskets and baskets of rosaries he has compiled for distribution line the wall.

This isn’t a new job for Father Duffner. The friar created the first Rosary Confraternity and Center for the Western Dominican Province in California in the 1940s. After the center was moved to Portland, he spent decades working in this building.

He tranquilly offers advice to younger friars: “Simply, God is the one who determines all of these things. My advice is: simply lead your Christian life and God will do the rest. He has a way of making you meet people and come across things that change your life. And so that’s why if you’re simply trying to be a good Christian, I think God will make things happen and bring you where he wants you.”

Retirement?

The western Dominican province has 144 friars, with an average age of 57. In the 10 western states, the province has 15 communities with men staffing parishes, Newman Centers and other special projects like Father Duffner’s Rosary Center.

Historically, the province has worked to keep friars living in community as long as possible so they can participate in the life of the priory and ministry work, says Dominican Father Vincent Kelber, prior and pastor of Holy Rosary Parish and priory.

Dominican Father Paschal Salisbury, 89, still enjoys celebrating the sacraments at the parish.

“That was kind of the center of one’s life if one joins a religious organization, especially if one is a priest,” he says.

He’s not alone in this feeling. Dominican Father Gerald Buckley celebrated morning Mass five days a week, preaching and hearing confessions until he was near the end of his life this summer. Father Salisbury hears confessions, and both he and Father Duffner concelebrate Mass when they are able.

“We’re so priestly, it’s wrapped up in our spirituality. That’s how you be a Dominican,” says Father Kelber, joking about dying preaching or studying at a desk.

“We never think of retiring in a normal sense,” he adds.

“We all want to retire sometimes from the harder obligations, but no one wants to stop working as a priest,” says the friar.

Brother-centered care

This beauty of older priests still participating in the sacraments at a parish or concelebrating Mass with brother priests can be seen across town as well.

Despite illness, Missionaries of the Holy Spirit Father José Ortega has continued both to celebrate and concelebrate Mass at St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro.

Missionaries of the Holy Spirit Father Hugo Maese, pastor at the parish and superior of the local community, says his brother’s health is evaluated daily to determine what he can do.

“By offering him this opportunity, it seems to bring much joy to his heart and enables the community to see that his illness is a blessing of inestimable value,” says Father Maese.

The Missionaries of the Holy Spirit are active in the archdiocese, caring for St. Matthew Parish, celebrating Mass at other parishes and helping in other roles when needed. The missionaries have a community in Roy. This is one of seven communities in the Christ the Priest Province, which includes 25 priests and two lay brothers in perpetual vows.

As men in the order aged, the missionaries knew they needed a plan to care for them. Missionaries of the Holy Spirit Father Domenico Di Raimondo is the retirement coordinator for the province. Father Di Raimondo and each of the missionaries went through a reflection process a few years ago on the meaning of aging.

“We are all [aging]. We have to be mindful of that. We have to be mindful of everyone,” said Father Di Raimondo.

After reflection, the men, with help from the National Religious Retirement Office, created a philosophy of aging document to govern the care of older priests and brothers.

“We live out our vocation within the ever-changing realities of our lives and our society, and each stage calls us to live our religious life in a new way,” the document says. It lists values and agreements each missionary holds in regard to aging.

Here is one of the values: “We believe that the holistic care of our brothers is the responsibility of everyone and each member of our province.”

The missionaries adopted a brother-centered decision making process, their version of patient-centered care.

There are three men on the team of discerning care for the older or infirm missionaries: the provincial retirement coordinator — Father Di Raimondo, the provincial treasurer who discusses the financial contributions of Medicare among other money concerns, and the local superior for the community. The three men regularly discuss the health of brother priests and what they might need, as well as the impact of health and needs on each man’s ministry.

“For consecrated religious living in a parish setting it is vital that our elderly and infirm priests continue receiving the support and prayers of a community. It is what gives them much life,” says Father Maese.

If a priest needs to go to another place to be cared for, he will go to a care facility near the community. This goes for the Dominican friars, as well.

“We want our brothers to age in community as much as possible. We, as religious, live in community. We are a family,” says Father Di Raimondo. As they care for their confreres, the missionaries discernthe best options as a family.

“From a community point of view, it offers us younger priests the opportunity to care for our elder brothers as any family member would do for their own loved ones,” says Father Maese.

It’s not only the missionaries who help out. Laity also play an important role. Older priests or ailing priests have “Guardian Angels,” often nurses or other retired medical professionals, who have volunteered to help escort the priests to doctors’ visits and give other care. The Dominican friars, too, get assistance from lay people when necessary.

“I think it’s that balance between making sure their needs are met health-wise and that they feel a part of the community and feel they are contributing,” said Father Kelber.

“My job is to make sure all of the friars are living their spiritual life and are doing well, that they feel part of the community and during our community meetings to make sure they have a voice.”

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