A place for priests in their golden years

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Not far from Backlick Park lies a sanctuary for men who have devoted their lives to the church: St. Rose of Lima Priests' Retirement Villa in Annandale, where Arlington diocesan priests have the option to live during retirement. From St. Rose of Lima, one can see the comings and goings of St. Michael Church on one side and a charming wooded area on the other where Sister Kathryn Mullarkey, St. Rose of Lima residential manager, said two fawns lived at one time.

Funded by the Rooted in Faith - Forward in Hope campaign and the Bishop's Lenten Appeal under Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, the two-story villa was blessed in October 2009. The first resident, Msgr. Frank Mahler, 85, who served as the first pastor of St. Clare of Assisi Church in Clifton, among other appointments, moved in a year later. Prior to coming to St. Rose of Lima, Msgr. Mahler, who retired in 2005, resided at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria. Msgr. Mahler describes the villa as lovely and comfortable.

Seven priests currently live at the villa, which is fully handicap accessible. Each apartment includes a smattering of religious art and a private bathroom and kitchenette. All apartments also come fully furnished.

"When young priests come to visit, I ask, 'Are you looking for your future apartment?' They laugh," said Msgr. Mahler.

The villa does not receive visitors often, though it is equipped for small groups of people. Common spaces in the villa include a chapel, a dining room and a garden centered around a statue of the Blessed Virgin. Other rooms are available for meetings and leisure, should a priest wish to meet someone for spiritual guidance or entertain a visiting relative. There is storage space for supplies like chalices and vestments that allows the priests to celebrate Mass and participate in other events if they desire and their health permits.

But if priests cannot go out into the community due to their health, groups from local parishes occasionally will come to them. Msgr. Mahler said he enjoys it when local parishes organize events at the villa.

"Every year (St. Paul Chung Church in Fairfax) does an evening with Korean foods as a night to honor their elders," he said.

"It's the only time I allow myself to be called an elder," he added, laughing.

He also said that a group from St. Rita Church in Alexandria comes to decorate the villa for Christmas every year.

Because each priest has a different schedule due to varying interests and health conditions, the villa does not have regular activities for its residents. While the priests may eat together, they do not necessarily spend time together otherwise. But Sister Kathryn said that may change when the villa gets its new addition.

Designed by Geier Brown Renfrow Architects of Alexandria, the addition will double the villa's current size, which Sister Kathryn said is necessary because of the number of priests expected to retire over the next few years. The addition also will include an apartment reserved for Bishop Loverde for when he retires.

"I am hoping that having more priests here will provide the opportunity for a sense of camaraderie (to) share their spirit and wisdom," said Sister Kathryn. "I think the bishop will bring more of a sense of community to the villa."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015