It has taken a few years, but Bill McConville, OFM, finally feels at home at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Florida. Bill offers this honest and forthright self-reflection on his struggles of adapting to his new retirement fraternity in the latest installment of the video series, Aging with Grace, produced by HNP’s Sick, Aged and Retired Directorate. Bill admits he didn’t exactly embrace his new environment, which made the transition a heavy lift, quite appropriate for someone whose longtime hobby has been amateur bodybuilding.
It was a silent directed retreat that he does once a year at the Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta, Georgia, that provided clarity for Bill, as he explains in the video the reason it took so long for him to adjust to life at the St. Petersburg retirement friary – a move that, ironically, he requested.
“While I was [at the retreat], we decided to focus on why my inner life was so rich and my external life was so rich, [but] my life [in St. Petersburg] was so miserable. Why did I feel in exile here? I came to the realization that I was wearing body armor down here. I was not allowing myself to be open, receptive and vulnerable to other people’s histories, concerns and interests. I only wanted people to be interested in my interests and concerns,” Bill says during his narrative, A Moment With… Bill McConville, in the SAR Directorate’s April 2023 release https://youtu.be/tAh-Wfcch4o of its monthly video series.
The series highlights elder friars in 2-to-5-minute videos sharing their wisdom and personal stories and experiences about Franciscan life, vocation, ministry, and retirement. Matthew Pravetz, OFM, chair of the SAR Directorate, is producer of the video series, with Joe Juracek, OFM, serving as videographer and Kevin McGoff, OFM, serving as editor.
In the video, Bill is at peace with where he lives. “I am going to stop judging people. I am going to embrace the fact that this is my home… for the rest of my life, I hope. And that there is no alternative utopian Franciscan community for me to go to. The last two months here have been completely different. If being under the influence of grace and hard self-examination can effect change in your life, I have been the beneficiary of both of those movements,” continues Bill in the video recorded at the St. Petersburg friary. “Someone [asked] me, ‘What in the world happened on that retreat?’ Because people are saying [I came back] different.”
Age, health, and a deeper desire to move away from day-to-day public ministry were among the factors that prompted Bill’s request to move to the HNP retirement house in St. Petersburg. He had been serving in campus ministry at the University of Georgia in Athens.
“I wanted to have a rhythm of life that was more contemplative, gentler, and opened up more prayer for me. I was also beginning to have problems with my eyes – and those who know me, one of the greatest passions of my life has been reading. My ability to read became severely diminished. I found I couldn’t drive at night. [Doctors] were trying to diagnose the problem. I requested a move to the retirement community in St. Petersburg. My transition [from pastoral ministry to retirement ministry] was a 30-day silent retreat with the Jesuits in Massachusetts. Of course, moving from retreat to reality is quite something else,” Bill explains in the video.
He continues, “I not only enjoyed the life of the friars, but friendships outside the fraternal community have been enormously important and life-enriching. I really felt the absence of people who shared my interests. My eyes began to deteriorate dramatically and then I had a major heart diagnosis [with a] sort of shocking announcement from my heart doctor, [who said] there is no medical reason for [me] to still be alive. The doctor worked his magic and I am perfectly fine now,” adds Bill, who returned to the gym two weeks after he had surgery. His eyes were more of a problem, but a local optometrist found [what was wrong] after two-and-a-half-years of misdiagnosis by others.
“Those things opened up for me a way… [to] relax and begin to enjoy life. Ministerially, I didn’t want to retire from preaching, so I do my blog every day. I have done 2,400 of them over the last five years. Some of my relatives and closest friends moved [to St. Petersburg], so my life here is marvelous!”