Last June 19, 2008, One Small Step Forward Foundation Inc., through Bing del Rosario, met with Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco, head of the archdiocese of Cubao, and Monsignor Dan Sta. Maria, parish priest of Libis-Christ the King Church, and other diocese officials at the bishop’s office to sound out the diocese on their interest in building a QC priest retirement home.
Bing and Elise had recognized that Catholic priests face a major dilemma once they retire, typically, around the age of 70. Although the parish they belonged to tries to accommodate them, the shortage of bed space could force the parish to push out the retired priests or the retirees feel compelled to continue to celebrate mass even if they’re no longer physically up to it. Unfortunately, there is usually little or no family support system in place – they have no children to turn to and nephews or nieces are distant and live lives of their own. With their minimal salaries, they will have saved very little if at all. And there is no formal retirement plan in place to provide them with a decent monthly living allowance that allows them to pay for rent, food, utilities, and transportation.
Bing envisioned the retirement facility to include: a cafeteria; toilet and baths per floor or per set of rooms; prayer nooks; mini-chapel; reception; visitor’s hall; exercise and play room; entertainment area; snack bar; reading-writing desks in the bedrooms; nurse’s station; walking track around the facility; flower and vegetable garden; laundry area. He also saw the need for a car and garage – to bring retired priests if they celebrate the liturgy, minister to sick parishioners, visit the hospitals or provide spiritual counseling. The car, based on policy to be set, might also be availed of to transport or run errands for – doctor or dentist appointment, bank, grocery store, pharmacy, post office, and regular mall visits.
Another assumption was that 85% of the retired priests booked into the facility will be capable of independent living, with the remaining 15% requiring some form of “assisted living”. By definition, being “infirm” and therefore falling under “assisted living” will include priests on wheelchairs, those with dementia or alzheimer’s, stroke survivors, etc. Therefore, the overriding design of the facility is that it must cater to the weak and feeble, which means – wheelchair ramps, hang bars in all toilets and baths, minimal stairs (and only the more nimble priests get booked on the second floor), secure walking tracks, minimized fall hazards, hand railings everywhere, etc.
The preliminary estimates to build the retirement facility was P25M, plus P5M in furniture, fixtures, and appliances. Monthly payroll was estimated at P40,000, while food and cooking materials would be P120,000, and other costs – phone, internet, cable TV, newspaper subscriptions, purified water supply, piped water, power, LPG; cleaning supplies (lysol, detergents, etc.), grooming materials (tissue rolls, shampoo sachets, hand soap packs, etc.), medical supplies (basic cough, fever, LBM etc. medicines, vitamins, syringes, gauzes, etc.) estimated at P50,000. To reduce the build expense, the Foundation proposed to tap into the large number of architects and contractors among the laity, e.g., Couples for Christ, for free architectural design and at-cost contracting. Minimum land area required for the actual building is 1,500 square meters. Assuming vegetable and flower garden, walking path, driveway for visitors, etc., total land required would be 5,000 square meters.
As for the role of One Small Step Forward Foundation, Bing formally volunteered to put in the time – as much as two days a week for the next three years – to project-manage from concept, design, build-out, and early operations. On the cost side, the Foundation proposed to put in P500,000 annually for a maximum of five years to assist in the construction or ongoing operations. The rest would have to be sourced by the archdiocese, from a special fund drive that Bing could coordinate and manage.
In the June 19 meeting, Bishop Ness showed inclination for the proposed project. He had a lot already in mind, in Santol, in the Holy Redeemer Parish complex, located off Araneta Avenue. It was 6,000 square meters and a visit confirmed the attractiveness of the site. After the site visit, it was also agreed that:
› the facility had to be better than the one put up in Manila, which had merited poor reviews from the retired priests staying there;
› although the archdiocese can confidently raise the funds, there should be no “pre-selling” – the church officials would prefer to kick-start the project, get the designs ready, perhaps have 3D models and architectural plans available before launching any fund drive. This wouldn’t be an issue since the One Small Step Forward Foundation was committed to invest P.5M in the first year, which should take care of most if not all early expenses;
› since the construction costs would presumably be high, preference was expressed for possible phasing the construction. One suggested way to phase the construction was to build initially for 5-10 retirees and then over time, get to a facility able to house 25-30 at one time;
› all options for making the facility self-sustaining or at least covering some of the regular operating costs should be explored. This should include retirees paying from their pensions, or giving part of what they earn from funeral masses, last rites, hospital and clinic visits, counseling, etc. back to the retirement facility. Future expansion for revenue-generating meeting space, retreat options, receptions, etc. should also not be ruled out.
Subsequently, Bing proposed the next steps:
1. Diocese management to arrange a 2-3 hour meeting with the Manila retired priests who are living, had lived but moved out, or opted not move in, at the Manila retirement home. Bing to facilitate the discussion, to understand exactly what the issues were or still are. What were the show stoppers? What were the irritants? What’s in their wish list? Bing to have a similar discussion with the administrators and staff of the Manila retirement home. Preferably, this could be on the same day as the discussion with the priests above.
2. Get a more accurate handle on the QC diocese demographics. How many priests, their ages, what percentage are immediately taken in by relatives, what percentage are well-off to afford their own condos, what is the retirement age, what are retired priests allowed to do and not allowed to do, how long do retired priests live as independent-ambulant vs. handicapped & care-dependent. A thorough analysis of the numbers will affirm or revise the capacity numbers initially suggested. Arrange a 2-3 hour meeting with a majority of QC senior priests who are less than 10 years away from retirement. This will be the main venue for the needs analysis which Bing will facilitate.
3. Bing to do further research into retirement communities and identify must-have vs. nice-to-have features. At the same time, diocese management to identify the process for identifying the architects (who must work on pro bono basis) who will assist with the project.
However, very recently, in early November 2008, Bishop Ness requested for a deferment to project start-up, citing other higher priorities that had come up. This included setting up a more formal pension scheme for priests. Also, finalizing a health insurance package.
In response, Bing told Bishop Ness, “Rest assured that the offer has no expiration date – whenever it finally starts to move up to number one priority, we will be there to spearhead the effort.”