• July 30, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    This was in the July 29, 2010 issue of The Catholic Review in Baltimore. Very inspiring!

    Letters unlock doors for priest with Alzheimer’s

    By George P. Matysek Jr.

    After attempting suicide several years ago at a Cumberland penitentiary, a prisoner spent his days lying alone on the floor of his tiny cell. Staring at the ceiling and speaking few words, the man seemed lost.

    Father Milton A. Hipsley, then the pastor of St. Mary in Cumberland and a chaplain for the area’s prisons, was moved by the man’s despair. Wearing his black clerics and white collar, the priest entered the cell and lay down beside the motionless figure. He became a channel of God’s mercy.

    “Inmates are good people,” Father Hipsley remembered. “They are lonely and they’re frustrated. If you go in and show kindness to them, it’s like showing attention to the barking dog. If you pet the dog, it starts to lick your hand and become like a friend.”

    After 16 years visiting prisoners and ministering to parishioners in Allegany County, Father Hipsley faces his own kind of confinement.

    Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, the 72-year-old priest had to give up his cherished roles as a pastor and chaplain. He now lives at St. Stephen’s Green on the campus of Mercy Ridge Retirement Community in Timonium, wearing a special bracelet so that medical staff can locate him.

    Father Hipsley longs to return to his beloved Cumberland and resume his pastorate and chaplaincy. As that’s not possible, he’s found a new way to minister – a method suggested to him by Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien – one that lets him reach out to people. Its impact transforms him as much as those it serves.

    It’s a ministry of pen and paper.

    Words of hope
    Father Hipsley’s letters to The Catholic Review, numbering more than 30, are a sample of the hundreds he has written in the last two years.

    In capital letters with each word carefully underlined, printed words flow across lined pages in poetic symmetry. The paragraphs seem to form perfect box shapes, with two sentences at a time usually fitted between blue-ruled lines. A few misspelled words dot the texts.

    Using black, blue and red pens, the priest tackles the importance of praying the rosary and contemplating nature. He extols the virtues of solitude, and urges prayer and kindness.

    Sometimes he asks for stamps, so that he can dispatch more letters.

    “All of us agree,” Father Hipsley wrote in a Jan. 12 letter, “that there are many hospitals, orphaniges (sic), retirement homes, as well as many who are friendless, with no phone calls, cards of ‘hope you are well’ or ‘thinking of you.’ ”

    Don’t suppress the God-given ability to love, he begged.

    “Smile at the neighbor,” he wrote, “wish the enemy a ‘good day.’ Pray for those sick, divorced, incarcerated, homeless and confused.”

    In a Jan. 29 letter, Father Hipsley spoke of worries.

    “As the small bird chirps high above the tree branch,” he wrote, “so also prayer is a personal advantage for one who chooses to embrace it. Praying by use of the rosary is a quiet personal way of relieving stress and tasting calmness!”

    Displaying his well-known humor, Father Hipsley sometimes signs his letters as “bald headed Father Milton Hipsley” or jots down “alive and kicking.”

    Theres much more at: