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.
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,
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
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
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
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
- Jill Hamburg Coplan