A welcome home
“I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.” (Psalm 25)
After more than a half-century of service in the House of God, Father Robert Obermeyer lives in a Warren County log house he built with his own hands.
About 35 miles southeast, in Cincinnati’s Mount Auburn neighborhood, sits “The House that Father O Built” (photo, right), so named by members of Our Lord Christ the King Parish when they dedicated the single-family residence in his honor four years ago. That house, constructed in association with Habitat for Humanity and a group of churches called the Shalom Coalition, provided a home for a single mother and her children.
The dedication was a retirement gift to Father Obermeyer, the parish’s longtime pastor, who had just stepped down after celebrating his Golden Jubilee, or 50-year anniversary as a priest.
He doesn’t think the word “retired” quite fits, however. “I call it ‘retreaded,’” he said.
That’s because Father Obermeyer, like many of his retired peers, continues to supply vital ministries in an age of priest shortages. Retired diocesan priests provide sacraments, visit hospitals and prisons, minister to the sick, and attend to many other critical functions.
Their service has become invaluable as a time approaches when, for the first time in the history of the archdiocese, retired priests will outnumber active ones.
“We’re very active,” said Father Obermeyer, 80. “We go to high schools and grade schools to hear confessions. I do weddings, funerals, and respond if someone needs (anointing). Somebody called today. … It goes on and on.”
“I think I’ve heard everybody’s confession in the archdiocese,” he said, laughing.
His regular activities in retirement have included serving as chaplain at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading, celebrating Mass at a rest home in Hamilton and at a church in Beavercreek, and teaching at a school in Springfield.
“Retired guys don’t say, well I’m out of here, I’m going to do something else,” he said. “All are committed to the Church.”
Yet the obligation to support these shepherds who’ve toiled so long for the faithful has become an increasing challenge. The archdiocese retirement plan, established nearly 50 years ago, faces pressures similar to those of Social Security and most private pension systems.
Priests, like other Americans, are living longer, and living costs are climbing. In addition, a greater percentage of priests are nearing the retirement age, posing critical strains on the fund.
For their support, these clergy depend on their retirement income, Social Security and personal savings, unlike priests who are monastics or belong to religious institutes.
“We’re actually called secular priests,” Father Obermeyer said. “We have to kind of make our own way. We don’t have a motherhouse.”
One Faith, One Hope, One Love is addressing these needs. Ten percent of Its $130 million goal is allocated to caring for retired diocesan priests.
Father Obermeyer, ordained in 1961, began his priestly work as a high school teacher and then as a principal. He later became pastor at All Saints parish in Kenwood, just northeast of Cincinnati.
In 1984, he was called to a pastoral assignment in the nearby area of Loveland. There, a new parish, St. Margaret of York, had formed to accommodate a growing suburban population. But before a church could be built, the new parish’s pastor, Father John Roettle, died suddenly. Father Obermeyer took up the work of building the parish, including its church and school.
Overseeing the construction aspect seemed an appropriate assignment for the son of a homebuilder. Father Obermeyer’s log residence in the Oregonia community of Warren County is another testimony to those skills.
“I built it 25 years ago for a family, when I was younger and stronger,” he said. “Now it’s home.”
Despite his active schedule, retirement has relieved him of some burdens.
“It’s kind of fun now because I don’t have to go to night meetings or raise funds,” he said.
But he’s an enthusiastic supporter of One Faith, One Hope, One Love, and his retired brethren are depending on it.
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