Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 14, 2004
A place to call home . . .
Retired priests begin to settle in at Villa Vianney
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Settling into his new apartment at Villa Vianney, Msgr. Don MacDonald looks about the spacious suite from his living room couch as if to count his blessings.
Directly ahead of him is a stunning westward view of the North Saskatchewan River valley and downtown Edmonton. To his left are his bedroom, kitchenette, washroom and office, while his television and personal effects are close at hand.
But none of the amenities would be of much value were it not for his fellow retirees.
"It's great living here with the guys. The camaraderie is really good. I've known them for a long time," said MacDonald, 74, vicar-general of the archdiocese. "I've known Father Frank Patsula for more than 50 years. It's nice to retire with someone you've known for so long."
Along with Patsula and Fathers Rich Bednar and Vernon Regis, MacDonald recently moved into the completely renovated, nine-unit retirement home. The building was long a residence for the Good Shepherd Sisters who donated the entire Catholic Pastoral Centre site to the archdiocese more than 15 years ago.
Construction delays had postponed a planned move-in date last fall. Just last month, MacDonald took up residence in his apartment, coming over from the Grey Nuns Centre.
"I have been fortunate because both places are very comfortable," MacDonald said. "I've had great neighbours, wonderful meals - and the view here is incredible."
Besides the Pastoral Centre's grounds and the magnificence of the view, Villa Vianney also gives the priests space and privacy for quiet reflection.
"The priests who live here, we all still keep pretty busy," he said. "We celebrate weekday Mass in our chapel. We visit senior citizens' homes and still celebrate a few weddings. Yet it is quiet here. We all respect each other's privacy, just like we were living in a walk-up apartment building."
Living at Villa Vianney is not free. MacDonald's apartment, including meals, laundry and cleaning, costs around $1,100 per month. Rents vary depending upon the size of the living space.
"Living here gives me a greater compassion for how people living on fixed incomes struggle to make ends meet," MacDonald said.
Wayne Provencal, financial administrator for the archdiocese, says the priests are responsible for all of their own costs.
"The priests receive a monthly pension from the clergy fund. It is up to them how they spend the money," Provencal said. "The priests living at Villa Vianney give back to the archdiocese, in effect, to pay their rent."
Provencal says the benefits at Villa Vianney are at least on par with other retirement facilities while every attempt is made to keep the costs at Villa Vianney lower. Donations to the clergy fund are always welcome, he said.
Five suites currently remain vacant, although MacDonald thinks two will be occupied soon. The chapel is complete. The shelves of the reading room remain bare, but will fill just as more residents arrive. Still in the works are a recreational room, wellness centre and an office for a doctor or nurse on call.
Much of the original woodwork and treatments are preserved, including tiled flooring and early 20th-century door casements and stairwell banisters.
In a typical day, the priests make their own breakfasts in their apartments before attending morning Mass. The men take turns presiding. They gather in the dining room for noon and evening meals prepared by Corrine Fehr, while Mona Podloski pushes a cleaning cart about the building to keep it in immaculate condition.
"I'm a servant of the servants," Podloski said with a bright smile.
"I am well looked after. Corrine and Mona are marvellous," said MacDonald. "They are very personable."
MacDonald has given his life to serve the archdiocese in numerous capacities, including rector of St. Joseph Seminary and chaplain at the U of A Hospital. After leaving his family "back east" in Nova Scotia, he has no siblings living nearby.
"The good Lord has blessed me with pretty good health," said MacDonald, who still enjoys a game of golf from time to time.
He receives visits from other priests and occasionally from former parishioners, who manage to make their way to the building.
"Everybody knows where the Pastoral Centre is, but some haven't found where our place is yet," he said.
"We certainly welcome visitors. Over the years, you develop many friends. They keep in touch and come to visit to show their appreciation for the service we tried to render them. And we are grateful for them too, because they have encouraged and supported us over the years. It's mutual," he said. "It's good in that way because we are a diocesan family."