Monday, January 24, 2022

How the Good Shepherd Fund benefits retired priests: An interview with Fr. Alberto Avella, Immigrant and priest for 38 years

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Fr. Avella is one of three priests we speak with this in issue who benefits from the Good Shepherd Priests’ Retirement Fund.

Originally from Mexico, Fr. Avella worked hard to learn English and history of the Diocese before he was ordained to serve here. He is currently the pastor at St. Teresa Parish in Grants, NM and fill in throughout the extensive spread of missions in Cibola County.

Voice of the Southwest: Why is the Good Shepherd Fund so important?

It is the main means of living for the priests in their old age. Because you’re out of the parish – you’re on your own, for your own food, your own utilities, your own car maintenance, your own traveling, your own personal expenses. Everything depends on it.

There are really three things that a priest has [for retirement]: pension, social security benefits, and his own personal savings. But if the priest can still move around, it’s essential that the generosity of the people will help to have this plan in good shape.

I know some priests, after retiring, are living in your rectory and helping with local parishes. How is that working out?

Right now, even though I’m receiving a pension, I’m still a full pastor with all the responsibilities. With these priests, I am able to serve the community – 7 parishes.

And how did you originally end up in the Diocese?

You know, in the beginning, I didn’t know about the Diocese, because I began in the seminary in Mexico.

I went to different places in Mexico, working in different Dioceses. Finally, one time I heard about Bishop Hastrich – he used to go to Mexico City once or twice a year in a pilgrimage. He had some seminarians in Mexico City studying for the Diocese of Gallup. [Bishop Hastrich was the only Bishop who answered his inquiries about becoming a Diocesan priest, and invited him to the Diocese of Gallup]

So I came in 1979 [along with a priest who has since returned to serve in Mexico]. It was February after Ash Wednesday. In the summer, we went for five classes of English, every day, with a sister from St. Michaels, a very good teacher. She didn’t know anything in Spanish, we didn’t know anything in English (laughs). Bishop Hastrich always required of us: 20 new words, every day, that we have to learn in English.

We went to Mexico for Christmas and decided not to return – there was our decision. But then Bishop Hastrich sent us a letter with money to go to seminary in Kentucky, for a semester. So we went there, came back to Gallup…I was ordained as a deacon, until December, and then we went for ordination.

[After several assignments] I enrolled myself in classes in college, for Navajo and also Child Psychology. I was there for one or two semesters, and then started really studying more about the Diocese. I didn’t know anything about it. But I grew up into it, I can say. And I’ve been here since – 38, 39 years, and I’m still here.

Knowing what you do now about the Diocese – how it can be challenging to serve here, and still provide for your own needs – would you do it all over again?

Oh yeah. I have no regrets. I’m happy in that way, you know?

Anything else you’d like to add, regarding the Priests’ Retirement Fund?

No, except to say to those who are newly-ordained, to work hard and be interested in really planning, in a pastoral way, that this fund can really grow and be well-funded for the future.

If you’d like to support Fr. Avella and priests who will one day retire, contact our development office at 505-863-4406 or make a pledge online right here.

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