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TORONTO - A stack of Monopoly money sits on Marisa Rogucki’s desk, but she isn’t preparing for board game domination. Rogucki plans on taking the colourful bills to one of her clients, an elderly priest suffering from dementia.

When he was younger, the priest would carry money in his pocket, readily available to be given to those he thought were more in need than himself, said Rogucki.

“At this point in his life, he can only remember things that he has done in the past.”

So now, to provide him with a sense of security in the long-term care facility where he resides, she’s bringing the priest the fake money so that he may share it with the staff and residents at the facility.

“It might actually make him feel a little bit better about himself because now he doesn’t have any money in his pocket,” she said.

As the priest’s power of attorney, Rogucki “tries as much as possible to give him a semblance of a life that he’s had before.” Rogucki co-ordinates the care of the 83 retired priests under the The Shepherds’ Trust, a retirement fund for priests of the archdiocese of Toronto. According to Rogucki, the plan is for the fund to be self-sufficient within seven to eight years.

“This money will protect those retired now and those in the future for whatever they may need, whether it’s housing (or) health care,” she said.

“My role as co-ordinator for the retired priests, for the archdiocese, is to care for their well-being, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.”

Rogucki has power of attorney for priests when they have no family or no family close by. She’s been taking care of priests up to and at the time of their death for the past eight years. About six years ago, she recalls her first death experience with one of the priests. Rogucki was travelling back and forth to his home.

“We had just finished saying the rosary when he passed away. We all watched him just take his last breath,” she said. “Having had the opportunity to be by his side was very momentous, was very touching, something that I’ll never forget.”

But priests are living longer, says Msgr. Ken Robitaille.

“It’s important to always tell people that priests never retire,” he said. “We’re priests for life.”

Robitaille was ordained at age 23 and retired in 2001. When priests retire, he said, they leave behind administration work. If they’re healthy enough, they will continue to do parish work, like helping out on weekends, which Robitaille has been doing for years.

The monsignor, now 82, lives on his own and receives a monthly pension from The Shepherds’ Trust, but the organization is much more than a distributor of cheques. The trust keeps track of all the retired priests’ needs. It also helps priests find homes. There is no specific Shepherds’ Trust residence, so priests can live in different locations across the city and Canada or move back to their homelands. Some live with family or in facilities that care for those who need extra help.

In Robitaille’s case, he lives in his own apartment.

“Marisa helps us to find a place when we retire, nursing homes and things like that,” he said. “I’m looking after myself, but it’s more and more difficult because I have arthritis now.”

Robitaille remembers a time years ago when there was no retirement support system and no pension fund for priests.

“Before the (Second) Vatican Council, priests didn’t retire, they stayed on in the rectory until they died,” he said, because there was nowhere else to go. Younger, healthier priests would run the parish.

“But after the Vatican Council, two things happened: priests are living longer and then all the social systems have changed with pensions and health plans,” said Robitaille. “Also after the Vatican Council, all priests and bishops had to retire at the age of 75.”

The Shepherds’ Trust money goes directly to the diocesan priests, “and they are responsible for their own needs, whether it’s clothing or housing,” Rogucki said. For their religious order counterparts, the monies raised from religious order parishes is sent to their respective orders for their care.

“We are happy the way we are cared for. And we are grateful for what the people give every year in The Shepherds’ Trust collection to maintain this retirement fund,” said Robitaille.

“Fifty years ago, we didn’t have enough money to save. We weren’t making enough money to become part of the Canada Pension Plan.”

Robitaille wants the laity within the diocese to know “that their priests are happy and being well taken care of.” And as for the younger priests coming into the priesthood, Robitaille said they can expect to be taken care of with a health plan and pension in their senior years.

Still, when asked why people should donate, a question Rogucki has been asked many times over the years, she asks a question in return. “Who is the Church?” Her answer: “We are the Church.”

Catholics look to priests during baptisms, communion, confirmation, marriage and death, she said.

“So we have to put back into the Church what we got out of it when we needed it.”

Being with the priests makes Rogucki happy. She organizes monthly luncheons and help for the priests for everyday things, including setting up utility bills and the Internet.

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