No one knows. No one talks about it. Everyone hopes that he will pass away after all the children are out of the house and can support their mother. Or they hope that the priest's wife has a good education and career that she used during his priesthood, financially supporting the family so he could focus on ministry and then supporting the children after he passes away.
for Romanian Catholics, the 'burial of Jesus' service on Good Friday is very similar to our funeral services for all believers.
Last year, I took an on-line course for Eastern Catholic clergy wives. We discussed lots of issues- children in church, working outside the home, how we could support our clergy husbands, how we can improve our relationships with parishioners and more. Maybe I missed the conversation, but I believe that we passed over any sad discussion of what we would do if we lost our husbands at an early age. And what would we do?
Clergy wives are expected to sacrifice for their clergy husbands' ministry. We had a four-month old, and I was one-month pregnant when we first moved across the country to serve our bishop. Three years later, we moved across the country again to try and salvage an ailing mission. I could expound on the fact that it is very very difficult for me, an extreme INFP, to form relationships quickly and to deal with change, but being the 'trailing spouse' was also murder on my teaching career.
After Europe, I taught in Oregon for two years. Then I taught in Ohio for two years, and then after we moved again I was forced to commute an hour one way four evenings a week for my first teaching position here in California. I even drove that hour one way commute to give my students their midterm exam when I knew that I would have to go into the hospital the next day to labor with our deceased twenty week son. I made that commute for two years before I could get a better position closer to home. And I am lucky to teach four evenings a week. My career has not progressed, however, because it is disjointed after following my clergy husband around the country and I work part-time to accommodate homeschooling our children. But I do have education and a part-time career to support my family alone if need be, God forbid.
A little over a month ago, an Orthodox priest was killed in a car accident. Fr Matthew Baker was also a husband and father to six children. I would love everyone to be Catholic- Western or Eastern, but I was relieved he was Orthodox. I knew that financially his family would be okay (not great- not to compensate the loss of their father, but they would survive financially). In a month, over $735,000 was raised for his stay-at-home wife and his young children. And with his jurisdiction being a large one- Greek Orthodox- I assume that there is severance (again- any amount of money will not compensate their emotional loss) from their archeparchy as well. I do not begrudge her a penny of this after the tragic death of her beloved husband.
I'm just jealous because there is no plan for Catholic clergy wives. If my husband does not receive anything now, why would I receive anything if he died? Now, we have a small retirement fund through his hospital, and I have a Master's degree and work part-time. I could put the children in public school so I could work more. We could sell our townhouse and move in with my parents. Of course, that would entail moving across the country again and losing my 'place in line' with the college. But we would probably survive financially with no help from the church. It is right that the church allows married clergy with nothing put in place to help them when the clergyman passes away? I suppose this is yet another argument against married clergy, so we keep quiet about the problem.
Anecdotally, I have learned of clergy families who are left with nothing- no retirement fund, no housing, and really no parish community. In Romania and the United States, the clergy family is so wrapped up in the image of having the priest-husband-father there, there is nothing left when he is gone. The wife leaves the clergy house as quickly as she can (a new priest is coming!), and her family moves in with the closest relative. A few parishioners remember her and send her some of the foodstuffs their farm is producing. But she cannot attend services at her priest-husband's parish. It is too sad, and the new clergy family would feel like she is trying to undermine the new ministry. In Romania, there are other Byzantine Catholic parishes to attend, but in the States, Eastern churches are few. So the family ceases attending Byzantine services. At best, the family becomes Roman-rite Catholic, forsaking the traditions that once were so important to their family culture.
And this reality is what I fear for my family: losing our priest-husband-father at an early age. My greatest dream is to be wrinkled and grey with him, still preaching and singing and making Easter bread and praying that more than twenty people come to church. My wildest dream is that our son would be ordained and he could take over our mission (funny- my dreams do not extend to the crazy notion that we would actually be able to build an actual parish in the wild West). Then, we could be wrinkled and ancient and semi-retired, a Catholic priest never completely retiring.
The motto of our bishop and of this blog is 'Fear Not Little Flock'- and I suppose that will be what I will say to my children if the worst happened. So why do we live this life? We know that it cannot end well. Like any happy marriage, it will end- somehow- in tears. But we clergy wives try to act bravely and live the life, knowing that it could end in poverty and loneliness. We clergy wives chose martyrdom, even if we did not realize that was the life we signed up for when our husbands were ordained...
"Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal. " (C.S. Lewis in film Shadowlands)
I would love to revise this blog post with your stories of clergy families being taken care of by their church- through their bishop and the people. I have not heard of this happening...