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To the Seminary for a Second Career

In her first life, Anne Klaeysen got an MBA, married,

held a high-level management job in New York City government and raised two


Her second life more or less started when the Brooklyn resident went on a

retreat in the Smoky Mountains several years ago with members of the Ethical

Humanist Society from across the nation. Klaeysen, a Catholic by birth, had

joined the society when she married Glenn, a lawyer who had gone to an Orthodox

Jewish yeshiva, and the couple needed a clergy member to marry them.

Over the years Klaeysen went on to run the society's Brooklyn religious

education program and administrative office. At the time of the retreat, she

says, it was a "make or break" point: With her kids in high school, the

stay-at-home mom had to decide whether to return to a management job or make a

greater commitment to ethical humanism.

She chose her higher calling.

So five years ago, at 47, Klaeysen entered the society's seminary training

program, giving up her dream of a comfortable retirement, traveling the world

with her lawyer husband. And in February, she assumed leadership of the

250-member Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island in Garden City. "It's a

sense of reclaiming oneself," she says, looking back on her spiritual


Like Klaeysen, a growing number of people are entering the clergy - even

after full and satisfying careers - in search of new ways to use their talents

and make a more meaningful contribution to the world, despite the financial

difficulties. Some find counseling those in need at life's crucial turning

points to be more gratifying; others are drawn by the contemplative and

spiritual aspects of faith or the beauty of transmitting holy texts.

Whatever the reason, once the decision hits, it's often as if jigsaw-puzzle

pieces suddenly had snapped into place. "A lot of spiritual pain comes from

people whose lives are not all of a piece. They're torn apart," Klaeysen says.

"My life is all of a piece."

Nobody really knows how many of the nation's 36,450 full- and part-time

clergy (more than 6,000 in this region alone, according to the Bureau of Labor

Statistics) actually switched to those job paths later in life. But those who

worry over where the next crop of clergymen and women will sprout from estimate

that these days, at least one out of every four seminary graduates worked at

something else when he or she was younger.

It was different years ago. Until about 1980, many mainline denominations

discouraged older people from signing on, and Catholic seminaries forbade it,

partly because of an oversupply of candidates and partly because older men were

thought "not malleable or educable enough," says Dean Hoge, sociology chairman

at Catholic University of America. As the author, with Jacqueline E. Wenger,

of "Evolving Visions of the Priesthood" (Liturgical Press, 2003), Hoge found

that the number of older people entering the clergy has been sharply rising.

Career-changing has become more socially acceptable in recent years, even

for the clergy. For shorthanded Catholic dioceses, it has sometimes become a


The result: The average age of graduating seminarians has soared from 23 in

the 1980s to 37 in 2002 for both Catholics and Protestants, according to Hoge.

More older women also are joining the clergy. One in every three

Protestants now being ordained is female, and they tend to be even older than

the men, Hoge says. In the Catholic church (where women cannot be ordained as

priests) women also make up the majority of a new sort of leader known as lay

ministers, who are especially helpful in hard-pressed rural parishes. Their

average age, Hoge says: 51.

Calling Back

The first time Bill Kelliher tried for the priesthood, Army service in

World War II interrupted his studies at the Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining.

Then, Fordham Law School and a labor law practice in Manhattan held his

attention for 22 years. It wasn't until 1968, at 45, that the call to serve the

church full time returned. He enrolled again in seminary.

But it was the late 1960s, days of upheaval for the church, and Kelliher

found the fractious atmosphere unappealing. And he still struggled with the

celibacy issue. "There was always an attraction for the priesthood and always

an attraction for marriage. You delay because of the fact that you're trying to

make a decision," he says. After just five months, he returned to the law.

For 20 years, Kelliher served as corporate counsel for large corporations,

including ITT, though he never married, and he continued to feel the dual

pulls. "I'd try to teach religion as a layman and be involved in the church,

but I'd be sidetracked all the time - the law was a full-time occupation," he


The journey of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order,

helped Kelliher ultimately choose the priesthood at age 64. "He was interested

in romance, and he was a soldier," Kelliher says. "It was only when he was

recuperating in a monastery, reading the lives of the saints, that he saw the

beauty of the life he wasn't leading."

Kelliher was ordained in 1991 at age 68, and today treasures his duties as

vicar (assistant pastor) of St. Joseph's in Bronxville, a large parish where

about 3,000 people attend Sunday Mass. "Dispensing sacraments, you go from

marriage to baptism to funerals," Kelliher says. "There's such a diversity,

it's beautiful."

He didn't consider his age a problem, but "I figured someone would say,

'You're too old.' When they didn't, I was delighted. I've never looked back."

For all of these late-blooming clerics, their duties as ministers often are

as varied as the jobs they came from.

From Playgirl to the Pulpit

Laurie Sue Brockway shed her successful career as a one-time sex/romance

and relationships reporter and editor-in-chief of Playgirl magazine to become a

minister specializing in interfaith marriages. The leap from interviewing a

famed singer in his pajamas to blessing a marriage may have been a big one, but

she says her writing on sexuality actually led to her interest in what she

calls the female aspects of the divine.

It was after her father's terminal illness and death that Brockway decided

to drastically alter her life. After writing and delivering her father's eulogy

in 1997, Brockway was called aside by a Methodist minister a relative had

invited. He asked the then-40-year-old if she'd ever thought about becoming a

minister herself.

In fact, she says, she always felt she was a spiritual person and had been

hungering for a way to express it. Though it was a struggle as a single mother

with a young son, within six months, she had begun her training at the New

Seminary, a nondenominational interfaith institution in Manhattan.

With a column in New York Spirit magazine, some teaching, a low-rent

apartment and a very tight budget, "I barely supported us. My priority was to

make sure my son's needs were met and to get through school - I can't even

remember how I did it."

As a reporter who'd covered relationships, Brockway was drawn to the

wedding ministry. The daughter of an interfaith (Jewish-Methodist) marriage,

she ended up carving out a specialty in creative, inter-ethnic ceremonies. Six

years after her transformation, Brockway has been busy marrying pairs,

including a Jehovah's Witness and a Hindu, a Muslim and a Catholic. Symbolizing

their marriage's span across cultures, many take their vows on the Brooklyn


But not many would think of paying a Manhattan price for the service. "Most

people don't think of paying much for spiritual services," she says, adding

that she has turned again to writing to augment her income (Last year, Perigree

Books published her "A Goddess Is A Girls' Best Friend: A Divine Guide To

Finding Love, Success and Happiness.")

"Hopefully, writing books on my topics of expertise will eventually help me

get that college fund started for my son," she says.

On Seventh Avenue, They Know How to Sell

Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum jokes that "I sold fabric; I'm selling Judaism. .

. . The customer is always right. I have to provide people who come to our door

with something that will make them happy and fill their needs."

As program director of the National Jewish Outreach Program in Manhattan,

he made the switch to a religious profession in 1984, at the age of 46, after

two decades of running the family knitwear business. He finds there's a lot of

carryover. The salesmanship he learned in the Garment District definitely comes

into play.

His program runs thousands of Hebrew language crash courses and the

"Shabbat Across America" national campaign, with 7,000 synagogues

participating. "I make sure our bills are right, that our phone service works,

that we're stable financially and fiscally sound."

She Used to Put People Away

The Rev. Marianne Tomecek of St. David's Evangelical Lutheran Church comes

from a tough background. She was one of the Justice Department's top trial

lawyers in Houston, where her job was to put bad guys away - not save their


Today at 52, she finds her professional skills - and her courtroom wardrobe

- are useful carryovers as pastor of a large, 1960s-era cement-and-wood chapel

in Massapequa Park. As a teenager growing up in Queens, she felt the call, but

her church wasn't ordaining women. It took her until age 43 to answer the


She finds that her church's mix of routine duties and emergencies -

illnesses, deaths, accidents - strangely mirrors the rhythms of trial

preparation. And "giving sermons feels more like closing statements than I had

expected, though you have a different audience and a different client!"

Compassion Becomes a Passion

Rajinderjit Kaur Singh, a lay Sikh leader in Glen Head who's in her 60s,

rose to a position of leadership in the community, encompassing temples in Glen

Cove, Plainview and Queens, after lupus got bad enough 10 years ago that she

decided it would be best to retire from teaching elementary school in Locust

Valley. She found her new mission when she met two mothers of Sikh boys who had

been teased brutally about their turbans and eventually committed suicide.

"The pain I saw on those mothers' faces just went through me. I said, 'I'm

going to start an education project to educate people about this.'"

One of the first Sikhs to move to Long Island in 1967 (she held prayers in

her living room before the first temple was built), Singh seized her new

mission. In the next decade, she spoke to thousands of students and adults at

community centers about the faith of Sikhs, who number about 15,000 in the

tristate area. She often carried with her the five-yard turban material and

tied it on young children's heads to familiarize them with the practice.

She was born in Rawalpindi, India, before it became part of Pakistan, and

she says the bloodshed during the division of the two countries drives her

activities even now: "The division is in my being - how religion can bring so

much pain into people's life," she says.

As a founding member of the Long Island Multi- Faith Forum (a project of

the Long Island Council of Churches), she helped run festivals at Hofstra

University in Hempstead and the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in

Brookville, and panels for workers and supervisors at banks, hospitals and

hospices. "I lived a normal life all my life, and then, God sometimes has his

own plans," says Singh, a widow with grown children. "I work more now than I

ever did in my job."

Seeing the Light at 40

There is a definite skills carryover for Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips, a

45-year-old Park Slope resident with bright blue eyes and neatly cropped gray

hair. A former conservatory student at Oberlin and a New York City social

worker before she was ordained five years ago, she thinks of her rabbinical

work as a direct outgrowth of the days when she ran an emergency food program

and educated inner-city adolescents on public health matters.

Now, she's a roving chaplain in hospices, long-term and acute-care settings

with seniors, and most recently, director of spiritual care for post-Sept. 11

disaster relief through the YMHA of the Educational Alliance.

Being a low-income social worker has turned out to be excellent preparation

for the financial challenges of being a chaplain on "the front lines, those

kinds of places where there's a great sense of urgency about what life is

about." Never married, she's always lived simply, bearing in mind that while

her income is low compared to some, she's "very, very privileged compared to

the rest of the world."

Heeding the Call - Finally

Lynette Curley-Roam, now the head of a small, breakaway Catholic worship

community in North Yaphank, began her religious training 25 years ago at a

well-known Roman Catholic institution, the Immaculate Conception Seminary in

Lloyd Harbor. She was studying alongside her husband as he prepared to become

an ordained deacon, an important church position filled by men who need not be

celibate and who continue with their non-church careers. (Wives of deacons are

customarily invited to participate in the intensive, weekend training program.)

Curley-Roam was then a 32-year-old mother of four, active in the local

parish, and the work felt right. As her children grew, she became a certified

social worker, and began running religious retreats, workplace seminars and

marriage encounter weekends. In her 40s, she established Mercy Center

Ministries, religious residences for runaway women and their babies.

Yet she wanted to do more.

"I felt I had a call," she says. "I didn't know how it would work itself


Then, her marriage ended, and she found the answer in the breakaway

Independent Catholic Movement, which has its roots in 1700s Belgium. She rose

to the position of pastor with the Emmaus Faith Community of the United

Catholic Church and last year, at the age of 56, she was ordained in Virginia

by one of the movement's bishops.

The nonprofit social service agency she still runs and a social work job

with Suffolk County provide income, since the church can't support her. But she

wouldn't do anything differently.

"The wisdom, the life experience you have, the understanding of humanity,

the frailty of all of us, our limitations - you have such better knowledge of

human nature being older," says Curley-Roam, whose second life partner died

five years ago. "As you age and have life experience, it just deepens the well

of compassion you have for humanity."

Facing the Hard Facts

The experience of overcoming money fears has become an integral part of

Robert Kuozzi's spiritual journey. An entrepreneur in Manhattan, he and a

partner founded Metroproof Inc, a New York City employment agency specializing

in legal proofreaders. With a studio apartment downtown, a country house

upstate (with apple orchard) and tropical vacations, life was sweet.

But shortly before turning 40, his interest in yoga was becoming less a

hobby and more a passion. "The 1049, the income tax statement and paycheck

looked right, but it didn't feel right. I had a sacred purpose, and I was

starting to realize what I was doing with my life didn't dovetail; it didn't

feel right."

A little over a year ago, while meditating at an ashram, he met a woman

disciple who had been practicing for 40 years. She took him aside and said:

"There's something you need to do. You have a lot of ambivalence, but don't

worry about the money. Stop waffling and do it."

By the year's end, he had taken an extended leave from his company, was

living off savings and had founded a Manhattan-based organization, Yoga For

Living Productions, to put on spiritual retreats and build a large yoga school.

No matter what their faith, these newly minted clergy seem to have a lot in

common with each other - and with other, older career-switchers.

It's often scary leaving all that security behind and "leaning on grace to

pay the bills," Kuozzi admits. So he continues to study and meditate and go on

retreats he says, "to develop the strength and inspiration not to be frenzied

about what's next."

Jill Hamburg Coplan is a freelance writer. She may be reached via e-mail at

Late-Life Clergy Don't Get In It for the Money

For many clergy who enter the profession later in life, making the decision to

fill a spiritual yearning was easier than funding the transition. And for those

who once earned six-figure salaries, it's a substantial adjustment to a life

of lesser means.

Area pastoral workers' income generally ranges from $35,700 to $57,400 before

benefits, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Senior

full-time clergy in established congregations may make substantially more and

typically receive health coverage, housing and other allowances and retirement

benefits. But benefits are rarer for part-timers, who make up nearly half of

clergy today, and they're also hard to come by in newer, smaller or breakaway


Yet through conversations with mentors, family members, former business

partners and children, these religious leaders say they've successfully ridden

out the changes. Here are some of their suggestions for making the transition

to lower-paying second careers.

Squirrel away as much money as possible before training commences. It's

possible to work part time to help fund the training years, but sooner or

later, the Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway says, religious education will require

full- time commitment. Then, savings become indispensable.

Be creative about generating income. For example: While Rabbi Sandler-Phillips

was in rabbinical school, she hired herself out as a dancer for bar mitzvah and

bat mitzvah celebrations, did calligraphy and taught music lessons. And Pastor

Marianne Tomecek of St. David's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Massapequa Park

lived off her home equity.

Take appropriate financial steps and review them regularly. Yoga devotee Robert

Kuozzi of Manhattan paid down an outstanding tax obligation and checks in

periodically with his accountant. Anne Klaeysen, leader of the Ethical Humanist

Society of Long Island in Garden City, made sure she'd established her

children's college savings funds and came to a mutual agreement with her lawyer

spouse that he would take a higher-paying job. And Rabbi Sandler-Phillips of

Park Slope, Brooklyn, charts her expenditures

on a monthly spreadsheet, which she reviews at the start of each Jewish New

Year, Rosh Hashanah, to make sure her spending is in line with her values.

Live simply. Brockway and Tomecek stopped buying clothes, realizing they had

more than enough. Several clergy said they no longer take costly vacations, eat

in trendy restaurants, travel by taxicab, redecorate their homes or buy new

cars. "The needs of a human being are not that much," says Sikh leader

Rajinderjit Kaur Singh of Glen Head. "It's the wants that make life sometimes

very difficult."

- Jill Hamburg Coplan

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