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.
"Whatever needs doing—whether it's scrubbing floors or teaching children—I'm happy to do it," says Sister John Margaret Walsh, 76. This attitude of service has been a way of life for her since she entered the Congregation of Divine Providence some 60 years ago. Just shy of 14 years old, Sister John Margaret traveled from her home in County Clare, Ireland, to Melbourne, Kentucky, to complete her schooling and begin her formation for religious life.
For 55 years, she ministered in elementary education as both a teacher and principal. Though she is technically "retired," Sister John Margaret's days remain filled with service to others. From assisting elder members in the community's infirmary to teaching knitting at a local Catholic school, Sister John Margaret enjoys staying busy and helping those in need. Woven throughout her day is prayer. She especially likes to pray on her twice-daily walks with Derby, a golden retriever the community rescued a few years back. "I get a lot of praying done on our walks," she says. "I think you should do what you can each day, and leave the rest to God."
Born on the Feast of St. Joseph, Sister Josephine Rosenkranz has always had a special devotion to Jesus's earthly father. Growing up, she offered a novena to St. Joseph at her local parish every Wednesday evening. In 1954, she entered the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Frankfort, Illinois, and was thrilled to later be given the name Josephine.
During nearly 60 years of religious life, St. Joseph has been her constant companion. "I've just had a great faith in St. Joseph ever since I was a little girl," she said. Sister Josephine ministered in elementary education for 28 years. Her devotion to teaching led a former student to nominate her for Who's Who of American Teachers, a designation she treasures to this day.
In 1987, Sister Josephine returned to the motherhouse to manage her community's accounting office. Today, she continues to work in the office part-time and also volunteers with various projects and events. In her "spare" time, she bakes 5,000 cookies, 250 quick breads, and dozens of cakes, pies, and assorted desserts for her community's annual garage sale. Last year, the bake sale alone made $4,000. St. Joseph would be proud.
Growing up in Chicago, Augustinian Brother Jerome Sysko, 70, 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 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, 81, 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.