Local Religious life

Circle of life

LEAVEN PHOTO BY SHEILA MYERS Father Robert Pflumm poses at Santa Marta with his sisters, Janet Lillis, left, and Jane Kelly, right. After serving the archdiocese for more than 50 years, Father Pflumm has retired to Santa Marta, just a few miles from where he grew up.

LEAVEN PHOTO BY SHEILA MYERS Father Robert Pflumm poses at Santa Marta with his sisters, Janet Lillis, left, and Jane Kelly, right. After serving the archdiocese for more than 50 years, Father Pflumm has retired to Santa Marta, just a few miles from where he grew up.

by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven

OLATHE — Life has come full circle for Father Robert Pflumm.

After more than 50 years serving as an archdiocesan parish priest, the 83-year-old now lives with his 80-year-old twin sisters about seven miles from the family farm at Johnson Drive and Pflumm Road where he grew up.

His new residence —Santa Marta in Olathe — offers something extra.

“Now I have two families here,” he said. “A blood family and a community family.”

Community living at Santa Marta is a new experience for Father Pflumm. He spent his priesthood living in homes provided by parishes. He is pleasantly surprised by the lifestyle at Santa Marta.

“I thought it would be very different than what it is, but it becomes more like a big family,” said Father Pflumm. “You get to know everybody, and you socialize with them, eat with them, but you still have your life apart as well.”

Father Pflumm retired in 2001, but he didn’t move to Santa Marta until 2011. He spent nearly 10 years living in a single-family house in Stone Haven, a neighborhood in Overland Park.

In his years before retirement, many of his needs were taken care of at parish residences, including meals, maintenance and yard work. When he moved into his own house, Father Pflumm didn’t mind cooking his meals, and the homeowners association took care of the yard work.

But the maintenance was another story.

“I got tired of all the repairs that were needed in a house,” he said. “So I decided to move into an apartment and then I wasn’t there too long when I decided to move [to Santa Marta].”

Plus, he’s not getting any younger.

“Not having any progeny, no kids to take care of me in my old age, I finally realized I’d better go someplace where I would have life care when I needed it: assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care,” said Father Pflumm.

In addition to the range of care offered at Santa Marta, Father Pflumm liked the fact that it is sponsored by the archdiocese, which donated the land for the facility and appoints the executive board.

Being an archdiocesan-sponsored community, Santa Marta has a chapel instead of a meditation room. That also appealed to Father Pflumm.

Shortly after he moved in, Father Pflumm’s sister Janet Lillis followed with her husband William. Lillis’ twin sister Jane Kelly moved in after losing her husband last May.

“She had a big house and she lived there a couple of weeks after his death and she just couldn’t do it,” said Father Pflumm.

Their older brother Joseph died of lung cancer in 1995. The surviving siblings are grateful to be together after so many years.

“We feel so blessed,” said Lillis.

The residents and staff at Santa Marta are ecstatic to have their first resident priest. But being a priest doesn’t obligate Father Pflumm to say Mass and hear confessions at the behest of the residents.

“Our residents respect Father Pflumm as a resident and a priest,” said Chet Surmaczewicz, Santa Marta’s executive director. “They love his company. But he deserves to live out retirement as he chooses, not how he is as a priest.”

Father Pflumm’s presence does help Santa Marta’s chaplain, Msgr. Ray Burger, who happens to be a seminary classmate of Father Pflumm’s.

“He takes my place on Thursdays so I can have a day off, and he helps me out whenever a conflict comes up,” said Msgr. Burger. “It’s definitely a relief to have him here.”

Surmaczewicz said the two priests work well together and Father Pflumm supports  Msgr. Burger in his efforts to meet the spiritual needs of the residents, more than two-thirds of whom are Catholic.

Santa Marta offers daily Mass, and a Saturday Communion service.

Father Pflumm continues to help out at other churches in the archdiocese when they need him, although he doesn’t have the stamina he used to.

“I get pretty tired at my age at busy times like Lent and Advent,” he said.

And with nine nieces and nephews and about 35 first cousins, Father Pflumm’s services are in high demand within the family.

“Now I’m doing weddings for the great-nieces and nephews,” said Father Pflumm. “I’m baptizing great-greats.”

Granted, “retirement” means something different in the vocabulary of a priest. But Father Pflumm tries always to reserve time for his spiritual reading, prayer, his fellow priests — and, of course, playing golf with his sisters.

But with his charismatic personality and genuine love of people, it appears he has quite a bit of ministry still ahead of him — at Santa Marta.

“He’s such a kind and gentle and caring person, and so helpful,” said Surmaczewicz. “We have great conversations about day-to-day things. Our residents love him. He’s a very positive influence on the community.”

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Shelia Myers

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