Religious Retirement Office
Vol. 17, No. 1
The Winds of Change: A Community Plans for the Future
Like many religious institutes, the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore (now the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi) have, over the last several years, devoted tremendous time, energy, and resources towards ensuring the continued viability of their community. In so doing, they have had to consider how best to advance their congregational mission and how to address the present and future needs of their members. By being open to new possibilities and by trusting in God’s guidance, the community has been able not only to weather great change but also to address their most pressing challenges.
The first hint of these changes dates back to 1994 when the community began general discussions concerning the possibility of merging with another religious institute. In 1995, they hired a facilitator and began to explore merger in a more focused way. Their primary concern with any merger would be for it to further the ongoing vitality of their mission. After all, the Franciscans had been ministering to the poor and underserved in Baltimore, Maryland, since the late 1800's. This commitment to mission was and continues to be reflected in their ministries, which include: 1) The Franciscan Center, an emergency assistance and outreach program serving the poor and homeless; 2) St. Elizabeth School, a middle and secondary school for special needs youth; and 3) the Franciscan Youth Center, a center offering after-school and evening enrichment and recreational activities for children and youth.
In the summer of 1997, the Baltimore Franciscans attended a Federation of Franciscans meeting in Rochester, New York. Here they met three members of the Administrative Team of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During their conversations, the sisters quickly realized that not only did the two communities have a spiritual connection, rooted in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, but they also shared similar goals in terms of ministry. Both communities had programs to assist and support low-income individuals and families. And like the Franciscan Sisters, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi were committed to helping individuals with special needs. They operated organizations in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts that supported educational, vocational, and residential care programs for persons with specialized needs. This initial meeting was the beginning of a two-year conversation that eventually led to the merger of the two communities on October 4, 2001.
Although the merger was an important component of planning for the future of their congregation and its mission in Baltimore, it was only one piece of the puzzle. The community still faced the challenge of finding care for their frail and elderly members that would allow them to remain connected with their other sisters. They also had to determine the best use of their 50,000 square foot motherhouse, which was expensive to maintain and ill-equipped to meet the needs of their aging sisters.
In late 1999, Sister Ellen Carr, OSF, then a member of the governing council, was asked to coordinate the community’s efforts regarding the future of their motherhouse, St. Elizabeth Convent. One of Sister Ellen’s first tasks was to put together an advisory committee that included lay and religious with expertise in such areas as finance, planning, and law. The community also undertook the critical step of participating in a National Association of Treasurers of Religious Institutes (NATRI) consultation in order to gain a better sense of their financial position. They then worked with NRRO’s Sister Janice Bader, CPPS, to understand the different options and resources available to them.
Over the next couple of years, Sister Ellen and the advisory committee conducted detailed research and planning to determine the best utilization of the motherhouse. They explored everything from renovating to possibly even selling the building. NRRO grants helped underwrite such necessary expenses as architectural costs and consultant fees. “The Supplemental and Special Assistance grants were instrumental in helping us get this project off the ground,” said Sister Ellen.
As the project progressed, Sister Ellen and the advisory committee were careful to keep both the Baltimore sisters and the leadership of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi involved with its development. Several times they gathered feedback from the community and incorporated it into the planning process. They also received tremendous support and encouragement from the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.
By the summer of 2001, a few months prior to the merger with the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, the congregation made the decision to pursue a partnership with a non-profit developer. Their vision was to renovate a portion of the motherhouse for use by their community’s frail and elderly members and to designate the remaining space for low-income housing. To this end, the sisters partnered with two area organizations: Homes for America, a non-profit developer, and Communities of Care, an agency dedicated to assisting families in adopting multiple sibling groups. Thus, while a large portion of the motherhouse was sold to Homes for America, the sisters were able to retain ownership of their second floor chapel and of seventy-five percent of the first floor. This space would become the supportive living area.
An exhaustive renovation began in January 2003. Since the structure was well over ninety years old, extensive work was needed just to bring the building up to code in terms of fire and safety regulations. Walls were torn down, asbestos was removed, and a sprinkler system was added. In addition, new heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing, and telephone systems were installed.
Significantly, frail and elderly sisters living in the building were able to remain in their regular bedrooms and to utilize their usual dining and common areas during the renovation. When they did move, they went directly to their new supportive living space. Here they found ten private bedrooms, each with a half-bath. The bedrooms are all handicap accessible, hard-wired for smoke detectors, and equipped with an electric bed and an alert system to call for assistance. A medical aide is on duty at all times, and a registered nurse is available two days a week.
The supportive living area also features a whirlpool room with a roll-in shower, a cheerful sun room, a dining area with capacity for thirty, and a community room. Two additional bedrooms share a full bath and are available for guests. These rooms are equipped with the same features as the other bedrooms and can be easily adapted for use by the community should the need arise. The supportive living area is called Clare Court Convent.
Homes for America assumed sole responsibility for transforming the remaining 35,000 square feet of the building into one, two and four bedroom apartments. The organization worked with various government agencies to obtain the necessary funds, and they oversaw construction of what is now Clare Court Apartments.
To qualify to live in the apartments, residents must meet specific income guidelines and be fully dedicated to the idea of living in an intergenerational community. The four bedroom apartments are reserved solely for families committed to adopting multiple siblings through the Baltimore City Foster Care Program. The project’s third partner, Communities of Care, offers various support services to assist these and other adoptive families in their transition. An 8000 square foot building adjacent to Clare Court is currently being transformed into a resident community center.
At present, eleven sisters ages 49 to 84 rent apartments at Clare Court. They join their members in the supportive living area for meals in the new dining room as well as for Eucharistic liturgy in the chapel and recreation in the community room.
Funding for the $2.5 million project was secured from a variety of sources. In addition to their own contributions, the community benefited from substantial grants from both foundations and individual donors. In-kind donations, particularly in the form of legal services, were made by individuals and organizations who knew of the sisters’ ongoing work for the poor of Baltimore.
The solution has proven to be a win-win situation for all involved and is the culmination of a ten year effort to address the present and future needs of the community. Not only do elderly and frail sisters have a safe, comfortable, and handicap accessible environment, but they feel that they are, in many ways, returning to their roots. Built in 1917, St. Elizabeth Convent was originally constructed by the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore as an orphanage and housed as many as 300 African American children at one time. Today, that spirit is alive again. The boisterous voices and busy feet of the children join with the slow walks and knowing smiles of the aging sisters. And women of faith, nearing the end of their earthly journey, share their wisdom, experience, and kindness with boys and girls just beginning theirs.
Diocesan Coordinators’ Reminders
Collection monies are due in our office by March 31, 2005.
Please remember to contact your pastors in order to update your greenbar order form for RFR campaign materials, paying special attention to Bulletin Inserts and Direct Response Envelopes.
Some days just feel more “Lenten” than others. It’s miserable outside today–wet, cold, gray. Looking through my window, I see no signs of life. The trees are bare and the grass is brown. But, looking at my calendar gives me inspiration because I know that soon it will be Easter. And the new life found through Christ’s resurrection will be echoed in the blossoming spring landscape. There’ll be pansies, crocuses, daffodils, and here in Washington, D.C., buds on the Cherry Blossom Trees.
In these dreary days, prayer is my comfort, and I am sustained by the certain knowledge that winter days of reflection and preparation will only increase the joy of Easter. For our senior religious, prayer is also their greatest comfort, and preparing for their new life to come is definitely their greatest joy. I am boundlessly grateful that through the generosity of the donors to the RFR, our senior religious can be relieved of worries about their physical needs and cares and can focus on their spiritual renewal.
During this time when we reflect on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, our senior religious offer a living model of how prayer can transform our earthly pain into a deeper union with the Lord. As we prepare to celebrate the sacred Paschal Mystery, we can be assured of the ongoing prayers of our senior religious and of the power these prayers have to change winter into spring.
May Our Loving God Bless You,
Sister Andrée Fries
Please send changes in address, phone, e-mail or congregational leadership to NRRO c/o Jean Smith so that we my keep our records and mailing lists updated.
Points of Interest
Sister Janice Bader, CPPS
ListServ For Retirement Directors
- Just a reminder that NRRO has set up a ListServ for persons involved in ministry to elder religious. The ListServ is open to Directors of Aging and Retirement, pastoral care personnel, administrators of motherhouses or retirement centers, and anyone who assists religious in the transitions of elderhood. It is a vehicle for peer sharing and professional exchange. We do reserve the right to limit participation to religious and those employed by religious institutes. If you would like to be a member of the ListServ, please send your name, the name of your religious institute, and your e-mail address to NRRO’s database administrator, Monica Glover, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Reports Address Challenges in Transitioning Drug Coverage for Dual Eligibles
- Think Tank Offers Overview of Social Security
Much is being written these days about the projected deficit of the Social Security system. The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., has put together an overview explaining how Social Security operates today and discussing implications for the future. The primer is available either as a Word document or as a PowerPoint presentation with accompanying talking points. To download a free copy of Social Security Finances: A Primer, visit the NASI website at http://www.nasi.org.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has released three reports and a video on how to transition drug coverage for individuals who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare and whose drug coverage will shift from Medicaid to Medicare in January 2006. The materials are available at http://www.kff.org/medicaid.
Teaching by Example
Brother Hank Sammon, FMS
In mid-January I took a trip to upstate New York to visit a Brother friend. When I arrived at our property, he and the other brothers had not returned from school yet, so I decided to take a walk around. It was an unusual day for January, not cold, just crisp and clear. My walk eventually took me to the cemetery, and I paid a visit to the graves of two brothers who were in my profession group–Vinny, who died of cancer almost thirty years ago at the young age of 29, and Damian, who died seventeen years ago in a car accident. For whatever reason, I glanced at the grave next to Damian’s and saw the name of one of the “old monks,” as we sometimes call them, who I had lived with at the Novitiate when I was a postulant and novice many years ago.
Seeing his name brought back many memories of those men, now long dead. I thought of Louis Viator who, after some fifty years in the classroom, ran the chicken coop at the Novitiate and of Peter Anthony, the master carpenter, whose finest gift was the “new” altar he crafted after Vatican II. It now resides in the chapel of one of our houses in Massachusetts. And there was Leo Camille, who tried to teach me French and most probably realized it was hopeless from the very beginning, but nonetheless still tried.
I thought of the men I had lived with on this very property, such as John Berchman, more affectionately called “Berky.” He had spent his entire religious life in our training houses as a Prefect of either the Juniorate or Novitiate. Then there was Marie Sylvain, Berky’s shadow, and Theophile, so regular and punctual you could set your watch by him. The three of them were completely different from one another, yet in the evenings you’d find them in the living room deeply absorbed in a crossword puzzle, one trying to outdo the other. Memories!
As I walked out the cemetery back toward the cottages, it struck me how blessed I have been to have known these men. They did not see retirement as a burden or something to be feared. They embraced it, enjoyed it, and realized that it was part of life. Each of these men taught me something about growing old. I call it wisdom.
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
(202) 541-3215, www.usccb.org/nrro
Project Director for Retirement Services
If you would like to make a bequest or restricted gift to the National Religious Retirement Office, the following information should be used:
To the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Incorporated, for the exclusive purpose of assisting Roman Catholic religious orders in the United States to provide for the retirement needs of their elderly members.
|American Society for the Aging Conference, Philadelphia, PA||March 10-13, 2005|
|Vicars for Religious Assembly, Detroit, MI||March 10-12|
|Legal Seminar for Religious, Atlanta, GA||March 10-12|
|Collection Proceeds due in NRRO from Dioceses||March 31, 2005|
|Special Assistance grant applications due for June cycle||March 31, 2005|
|Supplemental grant applications due for December cycle||April 15, 2005|
|Best Practices Workshops (8)||Spring, 2005|
|NRRO/NCDC Beginning Development Efforts for Small Institutes (2)||Spring, 2005|
|RFR Campaign materials order forms due in OSV||April, 22, 2005|
|Grant Review Board, Washington DC||April 25, 2005|
|NATRI Workshop for Small Institutes, Washington, DC||May 5-7, 2005|
|Basic, Special Assistance & Supplemental Grants awarded||June, 2005|
|USCCB General Assembly, Chicago, IL||June 16-18, 2005|
|CMSM National Assembly, Scottsdale, AZ||August 3-6, 2005|
|LCWR Assembly, Anaheim, CA||Aug 19-23, 2005|