Religious Retirement Office
Vol. 17, No. 2
Lumen Christi Award Presented to Senior Religious
I just get up every morning, see what the Lord is doing, and join him." For some sixty years of ministry, this has been the approach of seventy-eight year old Sister Ann Connolly, ASC. A missionary working in East St. Louis, Illinois, Sister Ann was the recipient of the 2004 Lumen Christi Award. The Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) is a national award honoring outstanding missionary work in the United States. The award is given by the Chicago-based Catholic Church Extension Society, an organization dedicated to sustaining and promoting missionary work in poor and remote areas of the United States. Celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary, Catholic Extension distributes roughly $16 million each year for mission-related activities, including church construction and repair, missionary salaries and religious education.
Candidates for the Lumen Christi Award are nominated by bishops of U.S. mission dioceses, and recipients are selected by a distinguished panel. Sister Ann was nominated by Atlanta Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, then Bishop of Belleville, Illinois. The 2004 panel included actor Bob Newhart, Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Mercy Sister Elena Gonzalez, president of the Mexican American Cultural Center.
Sister Ann with Tenika Flowers,
a parishioner at St. Regis Catholic Church.
Catholic Extension presented the Lumen Christi Award to Sister Ann following a Mass and dinner in her honor. Sister Ann's home diocese, the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, received a gift of $25,000, which has been given to the Sister Thea Bowman Grade School in East St. Louis. Sister Janet McCann, a member of the Adorers of the Blood Christ, the same community as Sister Ann, is the principal. The award also included a $10,000 gift to Sister Ann, which her congregation has permitted her to use to upgrade the food pantry where she spends much of her time.
"Sis Ann," as she is affectionately called, entered into ministry at just 17 years old. After completing her novitiate, Sister Ann studied nursing and then worked as a registered nurse at St. Clement's Hospital in Red Bud, Illinois. In the early 1960's, she went back to college and received a degree in occupational therapy. While she was studying, she became involved in elder care and ultimately spent fifteen years at the motherhouse caring for her community's frail and elderly sisters.
From 1980 to 1984, Sister Ann worked in pastoral care, again at St. Clement's. In 1984, she moved to East St. Louis and began ministering with Catholic Urban Programs of the Diocese of Belleville. She has been there ever since. Founded in 1973, Catholic Urban Programs furnishes a wide array of services and assistance to the poor, disadvantaged and elderly of East St. Louis. It operates several programs and facilities, such as a soup kitchen, food pantry, homeless shelter and thrift store.
In her daily work, Sister Ann reaches out to the homeless, the sick, the young, the old, the addicted and the abused. After attending 7:30 a.m. Mass, she spends up to twelve hours a day serving those most in need. She visits the sick, stocks and sorts food for the food pantry, delivers food baskets, answers telephones, organizes the collection and distribution of gifts for children and families at Christmas, and assists with funeral arrangements for those who have no one else to help.
The children of East St. Louis hold a special place in Sister Ann's heart. Several years ago, she began playing the organ for Mass at St. Regis Catholic Church. Soon she became involved with the neighborhood children. The more time she spent with them, the more she wanted to fill the gaps left by poverty and unstable family lives. So Sister Ann worked to establish an after-school and summer program. To launch the initiative, she was able to secure grants from Catholic Extension. At the time, a young woman with a background in recreation was interested in joining Sister Ann's community. Janice Lane (now Sister Jan, ASC) offered to work for a year as the volunteer director of the center. Ten years later the St. Regis Youth Program, which is part of Catholic Urban program is still going strong.
In addition to the after-school program, Sister Ann also places special emphasis on vocations and making children and youth aware of religious life. "I've been happy," says Sister Ann, "but children these days just do not have the exposure to religious life that I did when I was young. I want to make them aware of the possibilities." In addition to distributing vocation materials at the St. Regis program, Sister Ann conducts vocation activities at various diocesan events, such as The Youth Day Conference held at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville.
In her easy-going, unassuming way, Sister Ann has become a beacon of hope and comfort for the poor and underprivileged of East St. Louis. For the children, she is the Easter Bunny or the "cookie lady," often making homemade birthday cakes for children who have never had a cake of their own. For others, she is the person who helps them find necessities such as medical care, housing or employment. And she does all this with a smile and with humility.
Of her national award, Sister Ann says, "I was really surprised to receive the award. I mean, I've never done anything big–I've always been in the background." And thanks be to God that she is.
Photos: Anthony Soufflé
It is hard not to be amazed by Sister Ann. At seventy-eight and with a pacemaker, she puts in days that most people half her age could barely manage. She is truly an inspiration. And for every "Sister Ann" highlighted in our newsletter, there are countless others who continue in active ministry long after the "normal" retirement age. For these remarkable individuals, age is not an issue.
But that simply isn't the case for everyone. For many older religious, the realities of aging are quite different. Their bodies have grown weary and their memories have faded. Daily tasks are a struggle. And yet, they continue to serve God and the Church through their prayers, their faithfulness, and their constant belief that as children of God they are loved beyond measure.
Of the many gifts Pope John Paul II gave the Church, one of the most profound was simply allowing the world to see that he had grown old. His hands shook, his feet shuffled, his speech was often slurred. None of us will soon forget John Paul's last public appearance on Easter morning. And though his voice may have failed him, his spirit certainly did not. God was as manifest in John Paul's silence as he was years before in his eloquence.
Pope John Paul II was, perhaps, the supreme example for elder religious. Unafraid of showing the world his physical decline, he persevered as a living witness of God's love for human life in all its stages. So while we celebrate the accomplishments of senior religious who are seemingly ageless, we must also express our deep and humble gratitude for those who face the challenges of aging with grace and faith. Their prayers, their acceptance of their physical limitations, and, most of all, their certain knowledge of God's love remind us all that every life–those blessed with strength and vitality and those burdened by pain and frailty–
is precious to our Lord. What a wonderful gift that is!
May our loving God bless you.
Sister Andrée Fries, CPPS
SING GRANTS AVAILABLE
Supplemental Identified Needs Grants (SING) are available for religious institutes that are fifty percent or more underfunded for retirement, with preference given to those in the thirty percent range. These grants are used to support ongoing educational opportunities in financial management, elder care and development. NRRO believes that education and networking with other religious communities are a critical component of addressing retirement planning concerns. For more information or to apply for a grant, contact Sister Janice Bader, CPPS, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202)541-3215.
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.
NRRO Pilots Best Practices & Development Workshops
Sister Janice Bader, CPPS
As a follow up to the publication of Planning for Retirement and Mission: A Best Practices Study, NRRO has, over the last eighteen months, worked to identify and implement educational programming based on the study's findings. This spring, NRRO launched pilot workshops that address the three topics deemed to be the most significant for helping religious institutes meet their retirement needs. The workshops are:
- Communication With Members–Offers processes to facilitate dialogue, particularly as it relates to issues of finance and retirement.
- Strategic Planning–Focuses on planning processes adaptable to a variety of institute sizes and cultures.
- Retirement Philosophy, Policies and Procedures–Highlights the importance of clearly articulating a communal philosophy of aging and retirement from which policies and procedures can flow.
Participants at a Best Practices workshop in South Dakota.
The workshops strive to help religious institutes make practical use of the Best Practices findings. They address a variety of topics, such as Elderhood as Ministry and Communication and Retirement Realities. Case studies furnish participants with a hands-on understanding of the topics explored, and various take home materials provide resources and information for the future. Group discussion allows participants to share their experiences and concerns and to exchange information.
The workshops have been well-received, and the feedback has been both positive and informative. Participants report that they have gained a new perspective on the issues of aging and retirement and that they are eager to share what they have learned with other members of their communities. Many individuals commented on the breadth of information presented and on the commonality of experience: "I need a bit of time to integrate all that I have heard. It was interesting to note that all our communities – large and small–have many of the same experiences."
In addition to the Best Practices workshops, NRRO also co-sponsored two workshops with the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC). These workshops entitled, "Fundamentals and More: Doing Development in a Small Religious Institute," were targeted for communities with one-hundred or fewer members. Overseeing and presenting at the workshops were Sister Madeline Franze, SSJ, and Sister Mary McFadden, SSJ. Both are certified in fund raising and have served as development directors for their community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia.
Participants at a development workshop.
Prior to the workshops, Sisters Mary and Madeline contacted participants so that the learning experiences could be tailored to meet their needs. The workshops provided an overview of the many elements of fund raising as well as guidelines for organizing a development program. In addition, an NCDC mentor was assigned to work with each team of participants to help them draft a specific development plan for their community. Over the next year, this mentor will offer support and guidance as the plan created at the workshop is implemented.
In their written reviews, participants expressed satisfaction with the comprehensive nature of the workshops and their appreciation that the mentor would continue to assist them as they returned to their respective communities.
NRRO remains committed to supplying educational opportunities that enable religious institutes to put the findings of the Best Practices study into action. These programs strive to help communities to learn from one another while planning for a secure retirement.
Please send changes in address, phone, e-mail or congregational leadership to NRRO c/o Jean Smith so that we may keep our records and mailing lists updated.
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Project Director for Retirement Services
"I go with the flow and see what God is doing and know it will all be okay."
Sister Ann Connolly.