Fr. Bill Burns, left, is a retired priest in the Archdiocese of Toronto, one of more than 80 who is supported in his retirement by the Shepherds’ Trust Photo courtesy of Marisa Rosucki

Shepherds’ Trust gives priests peace of mind in retirement years

By 
  • November 8, 2015

When Fr. Bill Burns retired last June, he didn’t fear a life of poverty due to promises he made in 1965 to become a priest.

That’s because Burns knew there was the Shepherds’ Trust to help him through his retirement. Burns is one of more than 80 retired priests in the Archdiocese of Toronto who receive financial support from the Shepherds’ Trust.

“That is very important to have otherwise we’d be fairly destitute,” said the 75-year-old Burns. “The amount of money that comes in from our Canada Pension and our Old Age Security would not sustain us. We would either have to live in a parish, and that is not realistically possible, or live with family.”

Instead, Burns moved into his own condo just outside of Toronto’s downtown core.

Funding for the Shepherds’ Trust — a self-sustaining fund begun in 1996 as a retirement plan for priests in the Archdiocese of Toronto — comes from the annual collection held in the archdiocese’s 225 parishes.

In addition to the gifts of cash received during the annual parish collection, the Shepherds’ Trust also benefits from Will bequests and donations. Last year these totalled more than half-a-million dollars. All donations are tax deductible.

“Contributions to the Shepherds’ Trust are treated as a sacred trust, used solely for the care of our retired priests,” wrote Cardinal Thomas Collins. “All funds are handled prudently in an effort to sustain the financial health of the Shepherds’ Trust for generations to come.”

Funds generated by the Shepherds’ Trust not only ensure safe but modest accommodation for retired priests, they also provide social and recreational opportunities, as well as fund medical care when required.

“We are appreciative of the fact that people in the parishes support that,” he said. “We have somewhere around 88 retired priests so there are a lot of priests to be supported.”

According to the Archdiocese of Toronto the annual collection takes in about $1.2 million for the retired diocesan priests with an additional $300,000 collected to support retired religious order priests. This year’s collection is to be held at Masses over the second weekend in November.

And although Burns knew he wouldn’t starve in his golden years, he did have concerns that another hunger may go unsatisfied: his hunger of purpose. To fill that void Burns, like many retired priests, frequently fills in at various parishes when needed.

“It is always difficult to leave a community where you have been embedded,” said Burns, who spent the last 17 years serving as pastor at St. Luke’s parish in Thornhill, Ont. “It is not easy to let go of all of the things that gave you purpose and meaning. The things that get you up in the morning.

“I am not out every weekend but I am out quite a few,” he said. “I try to go whenever someone asks. It is a way that I feel that I am still contributing to the archdiocese.”

Burns is also a member of the Senior Priests Committee and serves as an interim member of the Shepherds’ Trust Board of Trustees.

When not giving back to the archdiocese, Burns can be found with his nose buried in books based on theology.

“I want to stay in touch with what is happening with the Church, what is unfolding and what direction it is going,” he said.

Spending his retirement continuing to fulfil his vocation rather than worry about money is thanks to the Shepherds’ Trust.

“It is a blessing,” he said. “All I wanted to be was a priest who focuses on people who are listening to the Word of God and trying to act on it. I’m still able to do that.”

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