Left, Fr. Don MacLean, 85, and his friend and power of attoney Kathleen Keslick. Right, Fr. Florentine A. Rajaratnam, who has suffered vision problems his whole life. Photos courtesy Archdiocese of Toronto

Shepherd's Trust has been ‘a godsend’ in helping with a safe retirement for priests in golden years

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  • October 31, 2018

Fr. Don MacLean’s kidneys are failing and he needs dialysis on a regular basis in order to remain in good health. But with the help of The Shepherds’ Trust fund, he has found himself in the right place at the right time.

Aid from The Shepherds’ Trust, which supports retired priests in the Archdiocese of Toronto, means he can afford to live in the long-term care wing of Mackenzie Health in Richmond Hill, Ont., where dialysis is just a short elevator ride away. 

This living arrangement is particularly helpful as MacLean is legally blind and uses a wheelchair to get around. 

“I would be helpless without The Shepherds’ Trust. (Without it), I’d be in the hands of the Philistines. It really provides for everything I have here,” he said.

MacLean, 85, was assisted in securing placement at his new home by Kathleen Keslick, who has known him since she was five years old. “Fr. Don was responsible for my brother, Fr. Ed Murphy, becoming a priest,” she says. “He inspired him.” 

In her role as his power of attorney, she is personally returning some of the care she and her family has received from this longtime, beloved pastor.

“It is very rewarding for me to be able to give back and help. It’s nice that for all he’s done for me personally and my family and the parishioners that I can give back a fraction of what he’s given to all of us, I feel blessed to be able to be here to support him.”

Over the years, Maclean has served at a number of parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto, including St. Michael’s Cathedral, St. Margaret Mary Parish, St. Edward the Confessor Parish, Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish and Our Lady of Grace Parish.

He was also one of the founding members of the Flying Fathers hockey team. In 1963, a team of priests played a fund-raising game that turned into a 45-year tradition, rising to national fame. The squad was led by Fr. Les Costello, who won the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs before his ordination. 

“I remember a story father told us where he was running late and he had to get back for Mass so he put his alb on with his hockey pads,” Keslick says with a laugh. The two often share joyful memories, as Keslick helps Fr. Don stickhandle his way through appointments and the challenges of aging. 

There are currently 90 priests in the Archdiocese of Toronto relying on the support of The Shepherds’ Trust. Over the next 10 years about 60 more priests are expected to retire from active ministry after they reach age 75.

In addition to increased retirement costs, these priests face soaring health care costs, including extended health care covering major surgery and associated costs, personal support workers for those priests alone and supportive palliative care required at the end of life’s journey.

The Shepherd’s Trust has been “a godsend” for another priest, Fr. Florentine A. Rajaratnam, who from a young age had problems with his sight.

His vision loss began when he was 13 years old and eventually resulted in the removal of his left eye. By 28, in 1974, he was diagnosed with glaucoma in his right eye. Then, in 2005, his doctor told him he had iritis, an infection that increased the pressure in his eye, causing gradual vision loss. 

In the face of his health struggles, the young Florentine remained unwavering in his dedication to his vocation calling. Fuelled by a strong desire to be a priest since he was a young boy in Sri Lanka, he was ordained when he was 23 and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination next year. 

For more than 40 years, he served the faithful with dedication and joy and feels blessed that his community of faith, through the financial support of The Shepherds’ Trust, is helping him manage the daily sight-related challenges he now faces. 

“It’s really a godsend that there’s The Shepherds’ Trust,” says Florentine, 72, who retired early due to his failing vision. “Now, as for me, my eyesight is almost gone.” 

At St. Bernard’s Residence in Toronto, Florentine is no longer able to manoeuvre to the dining room for meals on his own. His personal support workers make a huge difference, as they usher him to and from the dining room and help prepare his coffee and butter his toast. 

In addition, they visit him four times per week for 30-minute appointments to prepare his medication, take him to medical appointments and assist with miscellaneous day-to-day tasks which have been made almost impossible by his declining vision. 

Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Florentine came to Canada at 17 years old, for studies on a scholarship. He studied philosophy in Trois Rivieres, Que., and theology in New Brunswick before returning to Sri Lanka, where he ministered in parishes for two decades. 

During this time, he returned to Canada annually as part of his ministry as the director of the Voluntas Dei Institute in India and Sri Lanka. 

The Institute’s members — including priests, celibate laypersons and married couples — “attempt to attain Christian perfection through the practice of poverty, chastity and obedience and to carry out the work of the Church while in and of the world.”

After learning of the need for a Tamil priest in Montreal, Florentine took the leap and moved to Canada permanently in 1989. When the same need arose in Toronto, he joined the Archdiocese of Toronto, starting a mission for the Tamil people — Our Lady of Good Health — with the support of the archbishop of the time, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic. 

With his sight almost entirely gone, the support of The Shepherds’ Trust keeps Florentine safe and comfortable, and able to continue his ministry in two of the only ways he can. He prays and, relying on memory, concelebrates Mass in the chapel at the retirement residence.

“When you’re retired all you can do is pray and the parishioners can be assured that we pray for all the people.”

(Santilli-Raimondo is a Communications Co-ordinator at the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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