Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Lifelong learning key for seniors

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published August 10, 2021

“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” ~Julia Child, chef

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn more about but didn’t get around to taking the plunge? One of my goals is to learn Spanish. With a large percentage of our parish leaders proficient in Spanish, it would be a great advantage to converse and make presentations in that language. The only thing lacking is a commitment to start.

I also learned that a colleague in the Chancery had a secret desire to learn how to tap dance. The years passed and finally in her 50’s she enrolled in a tap dance class. Not only was it fulfilling, it was a great amount of fun that introduced her to a new community of friends and experiences. As she commented, “Learning something totally new was energizing for my brain.”

Lifelong learning is one of the key activities for a healthy, vital body and brain. For many working seniors it is an essential requirement for maintaining contemporary skills in the workplace.

There is a reality that all seniors face and that is the need to use our God-given talents to expand our learning horizons and put additional purpose in our lives, practically and spiritually. The brain is a marvelous gift but as the old adage goes, “Use it or lose it!”

Learning something new, such as a new skill or hobby, can help boost your memory. Neuroscientists at the University of Texas at Dallas conducted a study that found seniors who took on a new mentally challenging hobby saw a lasting increase in their memory skills. The researchers believe that doing a new challenging activity—like learning to quilt, play an instrument, or operate a computer—strengthens numerous networks within the brain.

Gift of wisdom

Senior adults have a unique gift to offer in the church, the community, the workplace and the family. The gift is wisdom—the accumulation of life experiences blended with longevity is a gift that younger people do not yet possess. 

The department head who I report to in the Chancery shared a story about how I was selected from 11 highly qualified candidates. The last part of the interview process was the requirement to make a presentation on a key need within the church. While discussing the strengths of each candidate and the quality of the presentations, one of the highly respected committee members made a comment that tipped the scales in my favor, he said, “We can learn a lot from this candidate!” That is an example of the true value of wisdom and lifelong learning.   

My wife, a retired nurse, maintains a strong mind with two activities. She reads at least two books a week and conducts vision testing in pre-K schools for over 5,000 children each year.

I was a part-time professor of marketing and management for more than 40 years and more recently presented quarterly professional development programs for the managers and staff within the Chancery. My takeaway is that by teaching, I learned. Each class provided a new learning experience, especially those magical moments when I realized that I was a conduit of learning for my students and myself.

Some seniors have maintained a culture of learning and don’t require prodding to enroll in new learning opportunities. For instance, in the state of Georgia, seniors are welcomed into state colleges to enroll in courses, free of charge. They receive no academic credit but they leave with a wonderful experience.

Some parishes offer adult education programs for seniors; three examples are Transfiguration, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Benedict.

The new opportunity of lifelong faith formation

Another wonderful opportunity to start or expand your personal learning interests is a new online faith sharing experience. Starting in September, the Archdiocese of Atlanta is offering an eight-week study of “Let This Be the Time: Spiritual Essentials for Life’s Second Act” moderated by the author and adult educator, Sister Janet Schaeffler, OP. Participants will be invited to read, reflect on, and discuss a range of spiritual, emotional, and practical issues that arise in the maturing years. This is a great opportunity to connect with others while deepening your faith life.

The online platform is easy to use and offers lots of friendly support to guide you along the way. For more information and registration, visit

I urge you to develop a lifelong learning plan. Begin by enrolling in Sister Janet’s book review as you explore other learning opportunities.