‘Nuns never retire until they expire’ – Special collection will support retired religious

The way Sister Mary McFadden sees it, “nuns never retire until they expire.”

The Sister of Notre Dame de Namur just turned 80, yet she’s as active as ever. Sister Mary recently distributed the Eucharist to 40 patients on a single morning at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. She serves as a mentor in her religious community’s formation program and offers what she calls “laughter therapy” when she visits area nursing homes.

“Now that I am numbered among that distinguished group of so-called retired women religious,” she said, “I am surprised to find that I have never been so busy in all my life!”

Parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore will take up a special retirement collection either the weekend of Dec. 4-5 or Dec. 11-12 to benefit retired religious sisters, brothers and priests like Sister Mary.

Sister Maria Luz Ortiz, a Mission Helper of the Sacred Heart who serves as Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s delegate to religious, noted that the cost of living for elderly religious exceeds $971 million annually. More than 11,000 need skilled care or assisted living.

“More than 37,000 Catholic sisters, brothers and priests who are members of religious communities are past the age of 70,” Sister Maria said. “These women and men religious lived frugally and accepted little compensation for their ministry. They have spent their lives serving our church and world.”

Christian Brother Kevin Strong, former president of Calvert Hall College High School in Towson and Cardinal Gibbons School in Baltimore, remembered that when he first started teaching in 1954 his salary for the entire year was $1,000, plus a $3 Christmas bonus. Having taken a vow of poverty, what the brothers earned went to the community.

“We’ve been blessed in this archdiocese with a great number of men and women who entered religious life,” said Brother Kevin, who was educated by Ursuline Sisters and Christian Brothers in Cumberland. “We need to appreciate what a great gift they were to us. They were the instruments of strengthening our faith.”

Even though he undergoes regular dialysis, the 79-year-old brother remains active. He works with 35 freshmen and sophomores at Calvert Hall who have learning disabilities.

“It’s very healthy for me,” Brother Kevin. “I need it as much as the kids need me.”

Conventual Franciscan Father Berard Dudek, a former pastor of St. Casimir and St. Stanislaus in Baltimore, said he has been encouraged by the people who have responded to his ministry. In his retirement, he assists at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale. Supporting the special collection is a way to give back to the religious who have made a difference in the lives of many, he said.

“I think it supports the religious orders that are without funds to continue their ministry to the elderly members,” said Father Dudek, an 83-year-old former high school teacher and principal.

The annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington. Since 1988, Catholics in the United States have donated $617 million to the initiative. Nearly 95 cents of every dollar is used to aid senior religious.

Despite the overwhelming generosity, fewer than 7 percent of the 573 communities submitting data to the NRRO in 2009 were fully refunded for retirement.

Last year’s collection raised more than $28.1 million, more than $23 million of which was given out in financial assistance to 477 communities, representing more than 45,000 women and men religious. Additional funding was allocated to initiatives targeted for religious institutes with the greatest needs.

Sister Mary McFadden, a former pastoral associate of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ilchester and Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus and a former director of the Ilchester Conference Center, spent dozens of years speaking on behalf of retired religious. Religious communities are trying to provide care for retired members with “great love and affection,” she said.

“Now we call upon the generosity of others to help us,” Sister Mary said.

Visit retiredreligious.org for more information.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.