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.
“When I think about teaching,” says Sister Benedicta Nowakowska, “I am constantly reminded that the Holy Spirit is the real teacher.” If the Holy Spirit is the teacher, then Sister Benedicta has certainly been a vessel through which to share lessons. She began her teaching career shortly after entering the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in 1947. During 34 years in the classroom, she ministered to students in elementary through high school, teaching them not just reading, writing, and arithmetic but also how to love and serve God. A unit she developed on the Holocaust, for example, taught the children compassion and the need to respect all religions, while a class project to buy a Bible for a man on Death Row demonstrated that no one is too young to be an instrument of God’s mercy.
Sister Benedicta also served in congregational leadership and administration for 15 years, including ministering for 12 years in Rome. She even met Saint John Paul II on a number of occasions. But as much as she treasures those memories, her heart has always been in the classroom. “I hope there is a teaching assignment waiting for me in heaven,” says Sister Benedicta.
At age 72, Brother Ephrem O’Bryan is as active in ministry now as he was when he entered religious life in 1961. In addition to being the subprior of his Benedictine community, he is also the public information coordinator and frequently travels to visit benefactors in support of the community’s multi-million dollar capital campaign.
Brother Ephrem is a graduate of Subiaco Academy, the community’s preparatory school. Coming to the school at the age of 14, Brother Ephrem already had an inkling that he wanted to be a monk at Subiaco. “Of course, what does a 14-year-old boy really know,” he says. “But I always had a great admiration for the monks, ever since I was in grade school, and we had Benedictines at our parish. I would see those men formally praying together, and I knew they were doing something important for the Church.”
Before moving into his current duties, Brother Ephrem ministered for some 35 years at Subiaco Academy. While teaching, he also served as a residential dean, director of the summer camp, tennis coach, and ultimately as headmaster of the school. “I always thought this work, this life, was a valuable thing to do,” he said.
Born in 1935 in New Haven, Connecticut, Sister Elizabeth Mary Knight attended a nearby high school run by the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As a teenager, she was drawn to the spirituality of the community. “The Apostle spirit is very attractive and joy-filled,” she said. Sister Elizabeth Mary would ultimately share this joy with her own students. After joining the Apostles in 1954, she went on to serve in Catholic schools from Connecticut to California, ministering for 23 years as a teacher and another 27 years as a principal.
In 2011, Sister Elizabeth Mary retired from “active” ministry, yet her days remain filled with service. Each weekday morning and afternoon, she can be found volunteering as a senior companion in an adult-day center sponsored by her community. She also leads a weekly scripture group at the center. “When you retire, you come to realize that you’ve moved on to another area of ministry,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary. “You use the things you’ve learned, and you apply them in a different way. And you keep a joyful spirit!”
“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 remains committed to serving 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.”