The annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will take place Dec. 11-12 in parishes throughout the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
The appeal is conducted by the National Religious Retirement Office, which coordinates the collection and distributes proceeds to assist eligible members of religious communities across the country with their retirement needs. Since its inception by the Catholic bishops of the United States in 1988, the Retirement Fund for Religious has addressed the significant lack of retirement funding for Catholic sisters, brothers and priests in religious orders. The video above explains more about the need for assistance to retired members of local religious communities.
According to the diocesan Office for Clergy and Religious, there are more than 600 religious sisters serving in orders based in the diocese. Eighty-seven percent of the sisters are age 70 or older.
Nineteen religious brothers live in the diocese; 10 belong to orders based in the diocese. Five are Benedictines and five are from the Blessed Sacrament Congregation. Six of the 10 brothers are 70 or older.
Seventy-seven priests in the diocese belong to religious orders. Of that number, 27 are members of orders based in Cleveland and 11 are age 70 or older.
Statistics compiled by the National Religious Retirement Office show that 26,330 religious older than 70 live in the U.S. They outnumber those younger than 70 by nearly three to one. Only 5% of the religious communities providing data to the office are adequately funded for retirement and 40% have 25 or fewer members. Many of the small congregations struggle to care for elder members due to a lack of financial resources and personnel.
In 2020, the annual average cost for the care of retired religious was more than $49,000 per person and skilled care averaged $78,000 per person. Since 2009, the annual cost to support senior women and men religious has exceeded $1 billion.
Last year, the Diocese of Cleveland donated $381,061.78 to the collection. In 2021, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity and St. Andrew Abbey (Benedictine Order of Cleveland) received financial support made possible by the Retirement Fund for Religious.
“I have been devoted to St. Martin de Porres since I was a child,” she said. “His simple lifestyle inspired me.”
Born in 1926, she also was inspired and nurtured by her parents’ deep faith. “My mother was very holy,” she said. “And I remember that every day before work, my father would kneel down in the living room to say his morning prayers.”
“During the war (World War II), I had two brothers who were serving. Every night our family said a rosary for their safety and for all service men.”
Sister Ursula Marie was educated by members of what became her religious community. Her fourth-grade teacher, Sister Dominica, made a lasting impression.
After graduating from high school, Sister Ursula Marie worked at Richmond Brothers, a clothing manufacturer in Cleveland. By then, Sister Dominica was teaching in a school close to the factory, so she visited and told her she was thinking of becoming a missionary. Sister Domenica encouraged her to speak with the Ursulines’ superior and said she could serve needy children here, through teaching.
Sister Ursula Marie entered her community in September 1946 and soon began teaching, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at St. John College. “They needed teachers, so, we would go to school on Saturdays and in the summer.”
She taught for 44 years in 10 different schools in the Diocese of Cleveland. After retiring from teaching, she spent another 23 years in various forms of ministry, including providing clerical support to a sister who served as an educational consultant. For 20 years, the two were engaged in creating SciTT (Science for Today and Tomorrow) Kits, which provided elementary schools with lesson plans and related activities for science.
Although she is officially retired, Sister Ursula Marie continues to serve in various volunteer ministries. She also maintains her devotion to St. Martin de Porres. “When I entered the Ursulines, one of the sisters gave me an old statue,” she said. “My mother painted it to look like St. Martin de Porres. I’ve broken that statue a few times over the years, but I always put it back together. I call on him every evening in my prayers.”
Supporting the Retirement Fund for Religious collection this weekend will help people like Sister Ursula Marie.
“I am continually heartened by the generosity of U.S. Catholics, said Sister Stephanie Still, a member of the Sisters of the Presentation of San Francisco, California, who serves as executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office. “Even in difficult times, they find a way to give back to those who have tirelessly served our Church and our world.”
Contributions can be made at any parish in the diocese, mailed to the Office for Religious, 1404 E. Ninth St., Cleveland, Ohio 44114 (make checks payable to Diocese of Cleveland/RFR), Attention: Father Dan Schlegel, or click here to make a secure, online donation. (Note: The Diocese of Buffalo is facilitating online payments for 2021.)
Click here for more information.