Though financial support is distributed to religious communities, gifts to the Retirement Fund for Religious have a very real impact on the day-to-day lives of individual senior religious—providing funding for necessities such as prescription medications and nursing care.
Below, meet some of the senior religious who benefit from the Retirement Fund for Religious. Click on a photo to read their stories.
Despite being born in 1929 at the beginning of the Great Depression, or perhaps because of it, Sister Suzanne Brazauskas feels that having a positive attitude is key to living a long, healthy life. Indeed, a positive attitude, combined with a prayerful trust in God, has allowed Sister Suzanne to participate in a wide range of ministries during her 60-plus years as a Sister of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut.
After professing final vows in 1957, Sister Suzanne spent 22 years ministering in a hospital, first as a nurse and, later, as a nursing administrator. Sister Suzanne, who holds master's degrees in nursing administration and in pastoral care and spirituality, also served for five years as a certified hospital chaplain and for many years as a spiritual and retreat director. Following five years as her community's provincial, she spent six years as an advocate and lobbyist for the Collaborative Center for Justice in Hartford, Connecticut. "Justice and the environment are pivotal for me" says Sister Suzanne, "but every ministry I have served in has offered me insight into how God works in our lives."
"I've made a full circle," notes Father Ron Turcich, a member of the Midwest Augustinians of Chicago, Illinois. As a child, he attended St. Rita Parish and now, at 82, finds himself once again part of the St. Rita community. During the years in between, Father Ron was ordained a priest and spent some 40 years in active ministry, first in Catholic education and administration and later in pastoral ministry. Today, he lives with both active and retired friars at the monastery at St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago. "I love it here," says Father Ron, who particularly values the community life he shares with his fellow friars. He continues to serve in part-time ministry, often celebrating Mass at nearby parishes or hearing confessions. Assistance from the Retirement Fund for Religious helped his congregation to implement a strategic plan outlining how and where senior friars will live out their retirement. The new approach has enabled the Augustinians to provide enhanced elder care while reducing overall costs.
"I'm recycled, not retired," explains Sister Rita McNally (right), 88. That's an apt description, given that her days of retirement are filled with collecting goods for the poor, tutoring, sewing clothes for children in Haiti, and visiting the homebound. Her more than 50 years of active ministry included 26 years of teaching and nearly 10 years as a missionary in Liberia. "One thing I've realized," says Sister Rita, "is that your life is greatly enriched if you can do one small thing for the poor each day. That's what keeps me going."
Sister Catherine McNally (left), Sister Rita's biological sister, is also a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambéry. Born in 1917, she entered her community in 1937 and served as an educator during some 60 years of active ministry. An expert seamstress, she now spends her days sewing dresses designed especially for new mothers in Haiti. Over the years, Sister Catherine has sewn hundreds of these dresses, which are delivered by members of her community during an annual mission trip. Ask Sister Catherine her tips for living a long, healthy life, and she will answer, "Say your prayers, eat well, exercise, and thank God for each day."
Growing up, Sister Daniel Marie McCabe remembers her mother reminding her to trust God in all things. During 66 years of religious life, she has done just that.
Sister Daniel Marie entered her religious community in 1946, one year after receiving her nursing degree. Early on, she held various supervisory nursing positions. In 1959, shortly after receiving a master's degree in hospital administration, she became an assistant hospital administrator. Four years later, she was appointed the administrator of St. Joseph Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut, a position she held for 31 years. In 1985, she was named the hospital's president and chief executive officer. "The title changed," Sister Daniel Marie recalls, laughing, "but the job stayed the same."
After retiring from the hospital in 1994, Sister Daniel Marie remained active in various community ministries, including serving for nine years as an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor. Today, she often reflects on the words of Psalm 62, feeling they echo the faith her mother instilled in her all those years ago. "Trust God at all times, my people. Pour out your hearts to God our refuge (Ps 62:9)."
Growing up in Chicago, Augustinian Brother Jerome Sysko, 69, was taught by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. They had a great impact on his vocation. "They really lived up to their name and modeled the Holy Family," recalls Brother Jerome. "They were reverent and had a welcoming, loving spirit." Years later, Brother Jerome found that same feeling of family with the Augustinians and entered the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel in 1961.
From novice formation to campus ministry, much of Brother's Jerome's nearly 40 years of ministry has involved serving the young. In 2010, however, Brother Jerome took on a new ministry: elder care. Today, he serves as the prior of the Blessed Stephen Bellesini Friary, a unique canonical community located within a retirement and skilled-care facility. Financial and consultative support from the Retirement Fund for Religious enabled his province to establish the friary and to develop a comprehensive elder-care plan. "It is a privilege to accompany our members at this stage of their lives," says Brother Jerome.
Sister Reginald Gerdes, 80, a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence of Baltimore, Maryland, has always been fascinated by history. But when the time came for her to teach, her religious community needed science teachers, not history teachers. So Sister Reginald obtained a master's degree in science and spent numerous years teaching biology at the high school and college levels. Often, she served in underprivileged areas and recalls fondly being involved with the neighborhood children. "We'd take the kids to Bible school," she says. "And when our van didn't work, we'd walk to the nearby prison, and they'd let us borrow theirs."
Sister Reginald's teaching ministry was followed by years as a principal and service in her community's development office. Yet her love for history never waned. Eventually, she became the community archivist. Today, she continues to deliver lectures on the history of her congregation, the first religious institute in the United States founded for women of African descent. A native of New Orleans, she also writes articles on the history of African American Catholics.