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Blessings of Age Fact Sheet



  • Today, at the turn of the century, more than one in eight Americans -- over 33 million people are at least 65.
  • At the beginning of the century, older persons numbered only 1 in every 25 Americans.2
  • By 2030, about one in five, or 20 percent will be over 65.3
  • The oldest old--those over 85-- are the most rapidly growing older age group--Between 1960 and 1994, their numbers rose 274 percent. By 2050, that would make them 24 percent of older Americans and 5 percent of all Americans.4
  • Older persons are increasingly diverse in ethnicity and race--in 1990 1 in 10 elderly were listed as other than White. This will double by 2050, while Hispanic elderly are expected to quadruple from 4 percent to 16 percent.5
  • This new cadre of older persons is in better health, is better educated, and is more affluent than at any other time in U.S. history.

The following are some examples of how older people exemplify the blessings of age, along with a "contact" who can provide additional information.
Ascending Life is the U.S. affiliate of La Vie Montante, an international Catholic organization of older persons founded in 1974 which stresses spirituality, friendship and service. Hugh Clear, its U.S. director, emphasizes  that "We want to show newly retired people that there is no such thing as retirement from the Gospel." His Miami group has a membership of over 250 people, primarily in their 60's to 80's. 
Contact: Hugh Clear, 305-279-8455
Two years ago, 75 year old Shirley Stieffel began working five to six hours a day, six days a week, year-round to sew school clothes, play clothes, dresses and blouses for forgotten kids, abused kids and homeless kids all over the New Orleans area--and she's still at it. Under the auspices of Catholic Charities, Mrs. Stieffel is a one-woman clothing operation. This year she has expanded and added five assistants for the Christmas season.
Contact: George Gurtner, Catholic Charities New Orleans. 504-523-3755, ext 3009

For the sixth year in a row, over 100 people aged 50-90 gathered for Senior Summer Scripture Days in Lansing, Michigan. Ellen McKay, the director of the bible camp, explained that, "Seniors were really hungry for serious Scripture study."  To meet that need, Catholic Charities of Lansing invites scripture scholars every summer to meet with older persons and give them the benefit of current scholarship on the Bible.
Contact: Ellen McKay, 517-342-2465

The Archdiocese of Galveston/Houston believes that, " is the call of the Spirit within each one of us in our later years to continue sharing our gifts and talents." In order to facilitate this sharing, the Diocese has had an Office of Aging Ministry since 1974 which has a wide range of programs and services involving 150 parishes, a newsletter with a circulation of over 4000,  a Lay Advisory Council, a senior senate with 82 members,  four learning centers, and the Texas Catholic Association for third age ministry, which covers all of Texas.
Contact: Katherine Bingham, 713-741-8712
Project H.E.A.D. (Help Experienced Adults Develop) has been sponsored by the Diocese of Harrisburg, PA, since 1973. Their 6-point program includes civic and legislative action as their members "undertake constructive, non-partisan civic action...for the welfare of the elderly in particularly and society in general." There are currently over 50 clubs with 5000 members, and an elder council.  The overall philosophy of the ministry is that . . . older members of our families and community are an essential part of the human community.  Their needs and desires are simply human, the same as those of the middle-aged and the young -- to be loved, to be useful, to be wanted..."
Contact: Victoria Laskowski, Director of Family Ministries, 717-657-4804
The Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corp began in 1995 and is currently active in 9 cities, including Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Older volunteers work 20 hours per week in many areas in these cities, using the talents they have obtained in the workplace.  As Ann Wagner, a volunteer in Baltimore says, "Just as the saying, ‘growing old is not for sissies', I believe being an ILVC'er is not for sissies--but it's worth the effort!"
Contact: Barbara Castellano, Co-Director, 410- 788-8478.  (She will also be attending the Bishops' General Meeting as an observer, if you would like to interview her there.)
The Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, has a Director of Wisdom, Ginny Knight who oversees an extensive program of elder ministry including social, spiritual and service aspects as well as annual Days of Wisdom.  One feature of their newsletter is a column in which the experiences and stories of older persons are passed on. One such interview was with the five Pike sisters of Uniontown, Kentucky who reminisced about growing up on a farm in rural Kentucky, living through the 1937 flood, and teaching.  They write that, "We feel our total of 151 years of teaching children of various backgrounds has brought peace in our days, invaluable wisdom to our families, to souls, and to future generations."
Contact: Ginny Knight, 502-683-1545
The Retired Senior Volunteer Program in Auburn, Indiana has 450 older volunteers. Their oldest volunteer is 98 and has been making teddy bears since she was 84. The program which is run through Catholic Charities is funded by the Corporation for National Service.
Contact: Patti Sheppard, Program Director, 219-925-0917

Other contacts include:
  • Charles Fahey, the Director of the Third Age Center at Fordham University, 718-817-4770
  • Jane Stenson, with Catholic Charities, USA, 703-549-1390, ext 128.
Read the complete text of Pope John Paul II's "Letter to The Elderly."

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