Residence gives retired priests a place to call home
By Peggy Moraczewski
Fourteen priests from the Diocese of Austin currently call the St. John Paul II Residence for Priests in Georgetown home. Of the 14, 11 are retired after serving the diocese for decades. For others, it provides a community while in transition or serves as a respite during recovery from illness or injury.
The residence, which sits adjacent to St. Helen Parish, was completed almost a decade ago. There are eight duplexes and a central community building that houses a kitchen, a dining/activity room and a chapel where the priests take turns celebrating daily Mass.
Some residents have lived there since the early years, including Msgr. Victor Goertz, Fathers Fred Chalupa, Paul McCallum and George Tzanakas.
Deacon Michael Aaronson is assigned to serve as Minister to Retired Priests, a position created by Bishop Joe Vásquez to ensure retired priests are cared for and live in dignity. Deacon Aaronson visits the priests daily and helps them in a multitude of ways, including providing transportation for those who no longer drive. Overall, he is considered a valued friend.
The community offers the privacy of individual dwellings with the additional benefit of the camaraderie of their fellow priests. Known as the king of one-liners, Father Fred Chalupa said, “The best part of living here is that you get to do whatever you want to!” As with most families, there is an appealing blend of personalities that make it feel like home.
“Some of the mealtime conversations get pretty interesting because most of us don’t hear very well and we may have several different conversations going at once,” said Msgr. Victor Goertz, who prefers to be called Father Victor.
Although Msgr. Joseph Deane and Father Leonard Leddy have lived and served in the Diocese of Austin for decades, a musical Irish brogue lingers in their voices.
Raised on a farm in Ireland, Msgr. Deane keeps the residence gardens blooming with roses and fruit trees. His vegetable garden provides an abundance of fresh produce used in meals prepared in the community kitchen.
The priests recalled their first-hand experiences seeing St. John Paul II when he visited the U.S. Msgr. Deane commented on preparations for the pope’s arrival in San Antonio and the massive crowds drawn to see him. Father Victor said he was blessed to see St. John Paul II in Washington, and Father George Tzanakas had a front-row seat in Philadelphia. Unknown to them at that time, their future home would bear the name of this holy man.
Many of the priests are on-the-go and continue to be involved with the broader community. Msgr. Tom Frank refers to himself as the rookie. He moved to the residence last July, after serving the diocese for 44 years.
“I was worried about retiring because my parish was always my family, but these guys took me right in and made me feel at home,” he said. He is in good health and enjoys helping out wherever he is needed, especially going out to the rural parts of the diocese and celebrating Mass at various missions in Central Texas.
Group visits from parishes and schools are encouraged by, and scheduled through, Deacon Aaronson. Recently, the priests enjoyed a visit from the staff at St. William Parish in Round Rock, who entertained with Christmas carols, shared homemade treats and decorated doors throughout the residence.
Young carolers from the third and fourth grade classes at St. Helen Catholic School warmed the hearts of the priests and Christmas gift baskets delivered by the St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School (SDSCHS) basketball team were greatly appreciated. In January, St. Dominic Savio students planted ornamental trees on the residence grounds as well.
The priests focus on the blessings of a home and people who surround them with generosity and love. They constantly nourish their relationship with God.
Last fall, at a convocation of retired diocesan priests, held at the residence, Dr. Manuel Cortez spoke on the spirituality of aging.
Bishop Joe Vásquez celebrated Mass in the chapel and all of the retired priests concelebrated. A Mass and luncheon are planned with the bishop this spring. All retired diocesan priests and any retired priests living in the diocese are invited.
Currently, the St. John Paul II Residence is at capacity, said Scott Whitaker, director of Stewardship and Development for the Diocese of Austin.
“The diocese is in the initial stage of planning for future expansion,” he said.
To learn more about supporting retired priests and the expansion of the residence, contact Scott Whitaker at (512) 949-2400 or visit www.austindiocese.org.
For more information about visiting the St. John Paul II Residence, call Deacon Michael Aaronson at (512) 784-8395.