Blessing the new Saint John XXIII Residence for retired priests of the Archdiocese of Washington on Oct. 11, 2020, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said he hoped that pope’s joyful spirit would inspire the residents there.

“Pope John XXIII lends his name to this house and hopefully all those who will reside herein will reflect his charming and warm personality and joyful spirit,” Archbishop Gregory said in his homily at a Mass celebrated in the residence’s chapel on that saint’s feast day. 

During the blessing of the facility in Hyattsville, Maryland, Archbishop Gregory offered prayers and sprinkled holy water on its chapel and sections of the building, and after Mass, those present stepped outside as he blessed a life-sized statue of St. John XXIII.

Outside the new Saint John XXIII Residence for retired priests is a statue of its patron saint, who served as pope from 1958 to 1963 and was canonized in 2014. In the photo below, Archbishop Gregory sprinkles holy water on the statue after the Oct. 11, 2020 Mass where he blessed the facility. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

The concelebrants at the Mass included Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the retired archbishop of Washington under whose leadership the planning for the residence began five years ago; Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher; Father Daniel Carson, the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator of the Curia; Father C. Gregory Butta, the residence’s director; and five of the retired priests now living there.

The Saint John XXIII Residence is located on a renovated wing of the building that also houses the archdiocese’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary, but with its own entrance. The residence includes elevator access to 13 apartments for priests, plus the chapel, a dining area and a sun room. Seven retired priests are now living in the residence, which opened in mid-February and replaces the former Cardinal O’Boyle Residence adjoining the Carroll Manor Nursing Home in Washington, D.C. 

In his homily, Archbishop Gregory noted that St. John XXIII was himself a senior priest when he was elected pope in 1958, one month before his 77th birthday.

“He was, from all the many stories about him, a happy, portly Italian peasant cleric who loved to laugh and was always ready with a witty response to all the issues that came his way,” the archbishop said, remembering the pontiff known as “Good Pope John.”

Archbishop Gregory noted that St. John XXIII’s Oct. 11 feast day was chosen to coincide with the day that pope opened the Second Vatican Council in 1962. The archbishop said on the day before he blessed the new residence for retired priests, he watched a clip of the robust pope being carried into St. Peter’s Basilica on his ceremonial throne as the council began.

“He smiled and gestured with delight, knowing that God was beginning something wonderful for our Church,” Archbishop Gregory said. “May the blessing of this residence for our senior priests bring a similar experience of contentment and happiness for all the residents and for those who will come as visitors and guests in the future.”

Before St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were canonized by Pope Francis in 2014, the author and scholar George Weigel noted that those two pontiffs could be seen as representing bookends of the Second Vatican Council, since Pope John XXIII opened the council during his papacy, and Pope John Paul II, who played a leading role at the council as a bishop, helped to bring its teachings to life.

Two residences in the Archdiocese of Washington now named for those canonized popes likewise could be seen as bookends for the priests of the archdiocese, housing them as they begin their training and in their retirement years.

 In 2011, Cardinal Wuerl opened the archdiocese’s Blessed John Paul II Seminary for the education and formation of the archdiocese’s next generation of priests. When that pope was recognized as a saint three years later, the building  was renamed as the Saint John Paul II Seminary. And now the Saint John XXIII Residence serves as a home for the archdiocese’s retired priests.

Archbishop Gregory celebrates the Oct. 11, 2020 Mass in the chapel at the Saint John Paul II Residence in Hyattsville, Maryland for retired priests of the Archdiocese of Washington. The chapel includes the marble altar from the chapel at Carroll Manor Nursing Home in Washington, where retired priests who lived at the former Cardinal O’Boyle Residence celebrated daily Mass. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

As the Mass began, Father Butta, the residence’s director, welcomed Archbishop Gregory, and also expressed gratitude to Cardinal Wuerl whom he said “envisioned a new home for our retired brothers.”

“This beautiful facility is a true sign of the love which the people of God in this local Church of Washington have for their priests who served them so faithfully,” Father Butta said.

After the Mass, that priest in an interview noted how the retired priests had moved out of the Cardinal O’Boyle Residence and began moving into the Saint John XXIII Residence just weeks before the closing of local Catholic churches and schools as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

“The whole world changed. We got out just in time,” he said, adding that the whole process, from envisioning to renovating and opening the new facility reflected God’s grace.

Those participating in the Mass wore face masks and maintained social distances, reflecting the ongoing COVID-19 safety precautions.

The priests participating in the Oct. 11, 2020 Mass where Archbishop Wilton Gregory (in the background) blessed the new Saint John XXIII Residence for retired priests wore face masks as a coronavirus safety precaution. In the pew in foreground of this photo are Father Vincent Rigdon and Msgr. Michael Wilson, who both live there. In the middle pew are Msgr. Donald Essex, who lives in the Leisure World retirement community, and Msgr. Peter Vaghi, the pastor of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda. At right in the back pew is Father G. Paul Herbert, who also lives at the residence for retired priests. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

After the Mass, Father Vincent Rigdon, one of the retired priests now living in the residence, expressed appreciation for its patron saint.

“John XXIII is a great example to parish priests. He was a parish priest himself,”  said Father Rigdon.

After his retirement in 2018, Father Rigdon was in residence at St. Mary Mother of God Church in Washington. Before he retired, he had served as pastor of Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Poolesville, and he earlier led St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Silver Spring and St. Francis de Sales Parish in Benedict. Father Rigdon, who was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977, served as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves for 26 years and had the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also directed the archdiocese’s Office of Missions.

Asked what he thought of his new home, Father Rigdon said, “I love it. It’s a very fine residence… You have your space, yet you’re in a supportive community.”

In an earlier interview, Msgr. Michael Wilson – who retired in the summer of 2019 – also said he enjoys living at the Saint John XXIII Residence. 

“The guys are wonderful here,” he said. “…Six of us live together and swap stories. I enjoy that.”

Msgr. Wilson has served as a priest of the archdiocese for the past 45 years, including as pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Solomons, St. Mary of the Mills in Laurel, St. Raphael in Rockville and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lexington Park. Like many priests, during his retirement, he has continued helping out at local parishes, including when public Masses resumed, celebrating Masses at St. Mary of the Mills and at St. John the Baptist in Silver Spring.

The chapel at the Saint John XXIII Residence, where the retired priests celebrate daily Mass, includes the marble altar from the chapel at Carroll Manor, and it has oak pews. The project’s architect, Dennis DeLizzio, said of the chapel, “It’s a nice scale. It’s intimate, yet it’s very holy.”

His firm, DeLizzio Seligson Architects, has worked on many other buildings for the Archdiocese of Washington, including the Saint John Paul II Seminary, Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac and St. Jane de Chantal Church in Bethesda.

“Overall, I’m just so happy we were able to accomplish these apartments for the retired priests, working with the existing building,” he said.

Nick Mona, whose construction company renovated that wing of the building to become a residence for retired priests, said that for him as a Catholic, “that’s the ultimate satisfaction, knowing the end use. These priests have given their entire life. Having them spend their latter years in comfort, which they richly deserve, is most satisfying.”

Also attending the Mass were Robert Messer, the facilities manager for the Archdiocese of Washington, and Michelle Shelton, the archdiocese’s executive director of real estate and its Facilities Management Office.

Messer said that after having been involved in so many details for the planning and construction of the residence, it was moving for him to see the priests that day being at home in the building, in its chapel, dining room and sun room. 

Some more finishing touches remain, including installing stained glass windows in the chapel and adding a courtyard, but Messer said the important thing to him is that now, for those retired priests, “This is home.”