By Bruce Carlson

I graduated from Triton Jr. College in River Grove, Illinois in 1972. I received a swimming scholarship to Northeastern University in Chicago, Illinois for another two years. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I left Northeastern after the 1st year. Karen and I had just gotten married so it was time to begin working for a living. I had my first real job with Savin in June of 1973. As time moved on, I moved up in the working world with better-paying and more interesting jobs.

I worked for American Sign and Indicator, then Burroughs which became Unisys, Productivity Point, back to Unisys, and finally the Diocese of Joliet. Also mixed in was creating our own company, Carboe Consultants, Inc. Over those years of working for various employers, the one thing that I knew was getting up and going out and working. It became my way of life.

My days of getting up

My days were getting up, going somewhere, and coming home. On occasion, there would be trips to far away places, but there was still the same pattern, leave home, work at something, then come home. For roughly 50 years that was what I did. It was my lifestyle. for that matter is became how our family developed. Schedules for everyone revolved around my work. It was our main source of income. We were just like most everyday families.

All of this is to make a point which is that my work was what I did. Now don’t get me wrong, work was, for the most part, interesting and challenging. It’s what taught me about the world. The lessons learned in the working world helped to shape me into the person I am. Work was enjoyable, it gave me purpose. In the years I worked at the diocese I said, “I have the best 40+ hours, part-time job ever.” I could work as much and as long as I wanted. Note to everyone, Karen wasn’t too crazy about that idea.

Woman Draw a Light bulb in White Board

What I’m beginning to realize is how prophetic Karen’s comments were. Although we may find a great amount of purpose, satisfaction, challenges, and frustration in our working years, we do start to wear out. As I look back on to last 3 – 4 years working at the diocese. It was getting harder to get going. When I started at the diocese in 2012, I was technically a part-time employee. I didn’t have to come in at 8:00 am and be in the office until 4:30 pm.

I could work whenever I wanted

I had a laptop and could take it home and work in the evening. This was really great for working with mission partners around the world. Also since most missioners worked their day job, I could email them in the evenings. It wasn’t unusual for me to be emailing people at 1:00 am. Marlie and I would have some great messenger conversations at the same time. Marlie is in the Philippines, which is 14 hours ahead of us.

As much fun as I was having, the winds of change started to blow as we finished the year 2019. Karen’s mother’s health was beginning to decline. Karen’s knee was in need of replacement. It wasn’t right for me to lead the mission to the Philippines at the end of January. I asked one of the other mission leaders to fill in for me. As the mission team was in their final days of preparation, Karen had her knee replaced, and it was becoming clear her mother was going to need some type of home care. Oh, there was something called covid-19 showing up on the news.

Fortunately, we were able to get the mission team back home before covid-19 shut down the world. By the spring of 2020 offices were closed and people were told to work at home. For me that was no big deal, I was doing that for a long time. My challenge was what to do with missions while the world was closed. We couldn’t go on missions, but we were able to fund programs with our mission partners.

As we moved into the summer of 2020 things loosened up a bit. We kept hoping for the chance to return to missions, but international travel was not opening up so missions for 2021 were pretty much canceled. I continued to work mostly from home. The office was starting to open up a bit. We started to work a day or two in the office to maintain a sense of camaraderie. It was also announced we would be getting a new bishop. More winds of change.

A new bishop would mean changes

I knew a new bishop would mean changes. It’s just like a company getting a new CEO, they have their ideas of how things should happen. The question was when would things change and how much. 2021 was a pretty quiet year. We continued our preference of working mostly from home, but come into the office a couple times a week. It was becoming a comfortable way to work and do things. The world was slowly opening up and we were getting back to the new normal. covid-19 was becoming just another thing.

In October it was announced the diocese would be doing a full staff review of its practices. All of the staff would be interviewed and positions would be reviewed with the vision of the bishop for the future. A final report would be given in January 2022. The lull before the storm was coming to an end. I could see the travel restriction were beginning to loosen. It was looking more and more like 2022 was going to get us back to missions.

Our partners in the Philippines weren’t ready for us to return in 2022. Their covid-19 restrictions made it impossible for us to return. But the mission to Bolivia was looking good. We decided to go ahead with the mission and not be too concerned about how much we would do while we were there. It was a success just getting there and back. We had a small team, but it was a go. It was also a mission run by myself. Nancy and Felicia were not part of the planning. Nancy had become the parish administrator at Sacred Heart Mission in Pembroke. Felicia left the office in the summer of 2021.

We had two missions we were able to complete in 2022, Bolivia and Navajo. Both were completed without major issues. As we began 2022 and all the planning for the missions, the diocese began to implement the new changes. The structure of the diocesan office was going to change radically. A lot of people weren’t happy and many chose to leave. Sadly most of my office, The Office for Human Dignity, was one of the major changes. The few of us left fell into the Department of Catechesis and Evangelization.

A new director

I eventually ended up covering for the old office while they looked for a new Director for the Department of Catechesis and Evangelization. Justin came in at the end of June 2022. A young guy with a lot of energy. We got along pretty. For the rest of 2022, I was busier than I have been in years. One doesn’t mind being stretched, but there is a point where you realize that you just can’t do it. It’s not where my skills are. I sure missed Felicia and her skills.

Entering the last quarter of 2022 saw the Philippines mission in full gear. The Bolivia mission was announced and waiting for people to sign up. I started to plan for the Navajo mission in June of 2023. Each mission has its own set of details that one needs to keep straight. Jumping between three missions and trying to keep up with the request from each of the mission partners was challenging.

As 2023 started I was asking myself is it worth this much effort? My biggest concern was the safety of the missioners. Next was making sure we had all the bases covered to protect the diocese. ovid-19 changed many of the guidelines we used to follow. Travel was a bigger challenge, insurance for the medical folks made a huge jump, and our partners at the mission sites were going through their own set of changes. Leaving for the Philippines was fast approaching. I was dodging bullets. Karen and I talked and it was time to give notice.

The mission team got back on February 12th, 20 minutes after midnight. I met with Justin the following Tuesday and told him it was time to leave. His first question was how quick? We agreed on the first week of May. This would let me lead the Bolivia mission. I actually think it was Justin that first called it retirement. I suppose that’s what it became. Retirement is something you think about, but to actually say, “I’m retiring.” is a completely different story than thinking about it.

Planning a retirement lifestyle

So here I sit as we start to plan retirement. The house went up for sale and it’s time to start looking for a new place to live. I still had three months to work on missions, but to be honest, with each day that went by I felt a little more distant from missions. I’ve worked for 50 years and that’s all I knew. Get up in the morning and go to work. In the last couple of years, the covid-19 work environment may have set me up for being at home more, but I still worked. The retirement lifestyle is something new.

This is the end of the first half of the “Retirement lifestyle”. In the next article, I’ll go into the changing environment at work and home. We hope you are enjoying these articles and are willing to continue to follow along as we move through the process of selling our house, buying a new house (to become our home), and the adventures of learning about life in southern Illinois, Bruce & Karen.