Life is not merely surviving, we need meaning and purpose

By: Graham

Being a Catholic priest I was on-call for a major hospital as well as doing a full day’s work in the parish. As things gradually got worse I found that I could no longer push myself to work 60+ hours a week and that my disability was affecting the parish.

Looking back the decision that things had to change really happened when I was called to the hospital one night. At two o’clock in the morning I staggered into the A&E unit on my walking sticks. The only thing holding me up was the wall. I often had comments from medical staff or parishioners that I looked worse than the people I was going to help.

I remember two of my friends in the parish used to run a book on how far into Mass it would be before I fell over or had to sit down.


Major changes had to be made so it was agreed that I retire from being parish priest with all the responsibilities and commitments that go with it. The decision was taken over a period with some very good advice from Prof Rodney Grahame and the team at Stanmore. It became clear that I would have to slow down massively. Luckily being a member of a religious order it was not a discussion around salaries but what I could safely do and what the limits are. I had to effectively retire in my 40s.

For a few years I did virtually no ministry at all, celebrated Mass quietly but not publicly. I did not feel happy with this as I was never designed for sitting down doing nothing but needed to find a balance between looking after my EDS and also fulfilling what I was ordained to do. First step was to look after some of the smaller services, this then increased to Sundays.

Do you need help with benefits

EDS UK is a professional member of the organisation Benefits and Work, which provides specialist guides to claiming Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Employment Support Allowance. EDS UK members can access these guides for free.

Find our more

In the last two years a new door opened which has improved things for the better. It’s a charity called Across, which works with people with disabilities and also need priests to help them as chaplains. It means effectively I can do everything that I should as a priest, only it is all disabled-friendly.

I would advise people to think out of the box. Obviously having to retire, apply for benefits and needing carers to help with basic functioning means a major transition in life, which is not easy emotionally. My advice to others facing giving up work is: keep your brain functioning, have something focussed beyond yourself; consider volunteering or working part time is OK; keep some of your dream alive; be honest with yourself: avoid isolation. And remember, life is not merely surviving, we need meaning and purpose.