Glenmarian Grateful for Time and Ministry
He was still pastoring three Mississippi missions in 2007 when he had a heart procedure and made a decision about his future. "I didn't feel like I'd have enough energy to keep leading three missions," says Father Bob, "and I thought the people deserved more. So I requested Glenmary senior membership, which means I no longer have an assigned role. But I can still be a missioner in ministries I choose and at my own easier pace."
Like many other Glenmary senior members, though, Father Bob still has an active schedule. "My family has said to me many times, ‘ What part of the word retirement don't you understand? It's a simple idea!'" Father Bob says, laughing.
He now has more time for the ministries he's doing and the people to whom he's ministering. "When I was a pastor, I would always have a long to-do list," he remembers. "And I felt bad at the end of the week when I hadn't checked everything off. I had to remind myself that other needs came up which weren't on the list."
These days he is providing sacramental ministry as well as ministering to the homebound, the hospitalized, people with alcohol dependency, and those seeking spiritual direction.
"But I also have the gift of time for a little more contemplative lifestyle," he says, "which includes unrushed prayer, reading of some serious theology, reading for pleasure, and walking for exercise."
Since receiving senior member status he has been living in Houston, home to one of the missions he pastored. "I love ministering in small southern towns. It's our vocation (as Glenmarians) and it's what God called me to do."
As a sacramental minister he calls himself a "circuit rider," celebrating some weekend English and Spanish Masses for Mississippi Church communities without a resident priest—including the Houston mission, Catholics in nearby Vardaman including farmworkers, and the former Glenmary mission in Ripley.
When I visit homebound people and those in nursing homes," he says, "I have more compassion and rapport with them now because I'm close to their age. I'm impressed with the deep faith many of them have. They are often lonely and very grateful to be able to talk to someone." He's glad he has the time to sit and listen to their stories.
"And at the hospital, I can spend time with patients and family members who need me to support or pray or cry with them."
For at least 17 years, Father Bob has also served as a "personal guide and companion" to people with alcohol dependency who are on their way to sobriety. "I journey individually with them, up through the fifth step of a 12-step program (developed by Alcoholics Anonymous)," he says. "I've probably done 250 fifth steps with people." The fifth step calls for the individual to tell the complete nature of his or her wrongs to another person.
"It takes a good deal of time to support people through this process, and to be available by phone or in person at any time. They are very thankful, and I know this ministry has saved some careers, marriages and lives."
In addition, Father Bob provides spiritual direction for laypersons and individuals in ministry. "I prefer the term ‘spiritual companionship,'" he says. "I listen to each person and we make the journey together."
Father Bob points out a reality of rural ministry when he talks about the distance to his Mississippi destinations. For instance, the Tupelo hospital and Eupora nursing home where he visits are both 35 miles away, and one homebound Catholic lives 18 miles away. "I put about 1,500 miles per month on my car just locally," he says.
"I keep telling Brother Terry (O'Rourke, senior member living in Aberdeen, Miss.) that I'm gradually cutting back on my schedule. And he always answers ‘No you're not!'" says Father Bob with a chuckle. "He knows me too well! If my phone or doorbell rings, I'm not going to say no to anybody."
Since he became a Glenmarian 54 years ago, Father Bob has had a wide range of roles including pastor of missions, formation director, ecumenical regional worker, Glenmary vice president and president, director of the pastoral coordinator program, and co-convener of Glenmary's Commission on Justice.
"I saw all these ministries as part of God's plan for me," he says. "But the work I'm doing now is where my heart is: ministering to neglected and marginalized people in a small rural town and county.
"I'll keep using my gift of time to do Glenmary's work, as long as I'm able, for the rest of my life."
This article appears in the October 2012 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.