By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
What happens to a Catholic priest when he retires?
Having taken a lifelong vow of chastity, he's got no wife or children.
There's only three options: He can go to a parish where a priest needs help and work on a part-time basis, filling in when the main priest is ill or on vacation; he can purchase his own home if he has the financial means to do so; or he must live in a facility owned by his diocese.
Father Charles Davis opted for Choice No. 3. Retired from St. Mary's in Temple, Christ the King in Belton and St. Joseph's in Killeen, Davis now lives at the John Paul II Residence for Priests in Georgetown. Located next to St. Helen's Catholic Church, the residence is within 10 miles of Southwestern University.
'It's a great place to call home,' Davis said. Measuring at about 1,000 square feet, his duplex comes with a one-car garage, two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom. Like all of his neighbor priests, he lives alone - with exception of Angel, his pet dog, a 2-pound Yorkshire Terrier.
The living spaces come furnished, and everything's built to accommodate people in wheelchairs. The kitchen counters are low, and the bathroom is handicap accessible with handrails near the toilet and in the oversized shower.
'Some of the priests who live here can't get up and about very much,' Davis said. 'But they have everything they need right here.'
In the middle of the facility, there's a community center that houses a chapel, commercial kitchen, dining hall and meeting hall.
'Mass is held every morning,' Davis said. 'We take turns presiding over it.'
After Mass, the residents usually go to the dining hall where Linda Lewis, the on-site administrator, serves them breakfast. Ms. Lewis is a native of New Orleans who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina; she used to cook for the Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. She now cooks for the priests living at the Georgetown facility.
'She's a phenomenal cook,' Davis said. 'If you can think it, she can cook it.'
After breakfast, the residents have the option of retiring to their own units or relaxing in the community center's lounge area. There's a treadmill and a dozen recliners situated around a big-screen TV.
'So people can visit with each other, play cards or watch movies,' Davis said. 'And then lunch is served promptly at noon.'
Davis has formed several friends in the six months he's lived at the Georgetown home, and he enjoys the comradery. But he doesn't spend all of his time at the center.
'I'm at the part of retirement where you're able to still get out and do things,' Davis said.
Able to drive and walk with ease, he visits friends and colleagues in Temple and Austin whenever he wants. He also continues to serve as volunteer chaplain at St. Mary's School in Temple.
'I like this part of retirement,' he said.
When his health fails and it comes time for constant medical care, he will have to go to an assisted living center or a hospice facility. As is custom, his retirement salary will pay for those services.
Owned by the Austin diocese, the Georgetown residence was built with funds from the 'Our Faith, Our Legacy Capital Campaign' at the request of Bishop Gregory Aymond. He was determined to create a community home for area priests who didn't have parish assignments.
'I felt strongly that our clergy needed to have a home, a religious community to which they could belong, if they were in between assignments or retired from parish work,' Aymond said.
So the John Paul II Residence opened in November 2005.
'It's the only one in the Austin Diocese,' said Christian Gonzales, communications director for the Austin Diocese. 'We're all glad to have it, to be able to offer it to our priests.'
The priests who live there pay rent with an automatic deduction of their retirement salary. But the diocese provides health insurance for each priest and the funds required to staff and operate the center. These funds come from the Catholic Services Appeal.
'Other than the rent, I don't have any bills to pay,' Davis said. 'I don't have to keep up with anything except for the cable on the TV. That's extra and mine to pay.'
As of this month, the Georgetown residence houses 14 priests. Eleven of those are retired. The remaining three are Diocese employees who would rather live there than in an apartment.
The Georgetown facility can accommodate up to 16 people, but it sits on seven acres of land, so there's room for expansion. Gonzales said the Diocese's long-term goal is to add another 10 to 15 duplexes.
'With that kind of room, we'd be able to house 30 priests,' Gonzales said.
The bishop is pleased with the facility's success and has high hopes for the future.
'I'm very gratified with the results,' Aymond said. 'Now every priest in the diocese, regardless of age or transition, has a place to call home and the option to continue living in a religious community.'
Contributions to the Georgetown retirement center for priests are welcome at the Austin Diocese home office at P.O. Box 15405, Austin, TX 78761-5405; 'St. John Paul II Residence for Priests' should be written on the check's memo line. For details, call 512-949-2441.