By Connie Berry
“On a scale of 1 to 10 — I’d give her a 10,” retired Father William Guckert said of Wendy Ryan.
Ryan has spent the last year and a half getting to know the retired priests of the diocese in her role as coordinator of retired priests’ services. She’ll be the first to tell you how much she loves her work.
“It’s really a lot of fun just to talk to them,” Ryan said. “Some have been in the military and have been all over the world and some have very quietly worked in the diocese for more than 50 years just doing their ministry.”
Father William Guckert recently retired from St. Agnes Church in Brewerton after 22 years there and he said Ryan was very helpful during his retirement process and she’s still an integral part of the life of the retired priests after she helps them get settled. Father Guckert and more than a dozen other retired priests are living at the Nottingham in Jamesville, a suburb of Syracuse. “She has helped us with the apartments and with the common room. It’s very nice here and Wendy is one of the reasons why. She is a gift from God to us,” Father Guckert said.
Father Guckert loved his parish so leaving it was difficult. He said the diocese could have asked him to serve at the Cathedral and he would have turned it down to stay at St. Agnes Church. Today, however, he is enjoying his new home, with much thanks to the hand lent by Ryan and the diocese.
Ryan said it is good for the priests to know that the diocese still cares about them after they have given so much of themselves to others. She sees herself as an advocate and resource for the retired priests and she wants to make sure they know she’s there for them.
She may get calls regarding health insurance, car insurance, moving to assisted living, moving to nursing homes, how families can help and also how to help retired clergy who may not have a support system in place. All the issues that arise with any retirement are those common with the retired priests, Ryan explained.
“There are 98 retired priests in the seven counties of the diocese,” Ryan said. “The number is going to grow exponentially over the next couple of years.”
As the retired priest population began to grow, the diocese looked for a person qualified to assist them. Msgr. Richard Kopp is Vicar for Priests of the diocese and he explained that as that population grows and their needs become more complex, it is important to have the right person in place to advocate for them.
“We needed someone with the ability to develop a deep understanding of the special needs of our priests,” Msgr Kopp said.
“Someone with knowledge in the social services or medical knowledge, and we happened to find Wendy who, as a nurse, has a background that complements the position. And, she has the people skills which are necessary.”
Ryan sent a letter to all the retired priests when she first began in her position and she has since visited with nearly all of them. She said they are surprised to find that she will come to them rather than have them make the trip to the chancery office.
“I want them to know who I am and to feel comfortable calling me,” Ryan said. “They are going to have questions about benefits, their pension and I try to go to them to make it as easy as possible for them. Sometimes they’re surprised by that.”
Father Guckert lauded the fact that a visit with Ryan doesn’t feel like it’s work-related.
“She came out to see me several months ago and she was very pleasant,” Father Guckert said. “I liked that she wasn’t in any hurry to say good-bye. In fact I apologized to her for talking so much but she has a good presence. She’s not officiating when she talks to you.”
Part of Ryan’s affinity for her work comes from years of experience as a registered nurse. She worked in many positions over the years, most of them part time while she raised her two daughters, Katie and Jennifer. Now that they are older, she said she felt it was time to pursue a new position. Ryan saw the advertisement in the bulletin at her church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville.
“I said a prayer and hoped that I would find a job that I would enjoy and one where I could help people,” Ryan explained. “I had a good feeling about this job from the beginning.”
The retired priests carry a wealth of experience and understanding with them, she said. “They’re a highly-educated group,” Ryan said. “They have a lot of wisdom and a lot of experience. We have priests who were at Woodstock, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., who worked with carnies at fairs all over the state. They are really a lot of fun to talk to. I love it.”
Like retirees everywhere, some of the clergy have family nearby and others have none. Some have parishioners who serve as their family and others have other clergy who are like family to them.
Working Monday through Friday with the older priest population does leave Ryan wondering what her own life will be like in 30 years. “It does make me think,” Ryan said. “I could be where they are. It’s really not that far off. I want to treat them like I would want to be treated.”
“Like I said, on a scale of 1 to 10, she’s a 10,” Father Guckert said.
For more information about retired priests’ services, call Ryan at (315) 470-1459 or email her at email@example.com.