Religious Retirement Office
Vol. 16, No. 3
Prayer and Progress: A Contemplative Community Completes A Major Renovation
Founded in 1790, the Carmelite Sisters of Baltimore were the first community of religious women established in the original thirteen states. Over two hundred years later, they remain a vibrant, dynamic group, wholly committed to a life of solitary and communal prayer. As a contemplative community, the Carmelites are always available to pray with or for anyone who asks. Prayer requests are received through letters, e-mails, phone calls, or in person. Their outreach ministry includes spiritual direction, personal retreats, prayer and study groups, and even lecture series on scripture, theology and the Carmelite traditions. On Sundays, they welcome an average of 130-150 people to worship with them in their public chapel.
The Baltimore Carmelites are fortunate to be growing and have had a new member join their community for each of the last six years. Currently, they have eighteen members, ranging in age from 36 to 90. The multi-generational aspect of their community means that the gifts of enthusiasm and energy offered by the younger members are balanced by the wisdom, grace and experience of the older ones. Even amidst these blessings, the Carmelites, like many religious institutes, struggled with the dual challenges of meeting the needs of elderly members while planning for the future. Among their greatest concerns was a growing inability to care for elderly and infirm sisters at their aging residence.
The Carmelite monastery is located on 27 acres in Towson, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. Although the community moved to this site in 1961, parts of their residence date back to 1927. Because of their commitment to contemplative outreach, priority was given to renovating the public spaces first. Thus the monastery's chapel and public or east wing were refurbished in the early 1990's. Their own residence, the private west wing, received only repairs and maintenance as needed. Consequently, the kitchen consisted of appliances that were dangerously outdated. The tile floor in the kitchen/dining area was severely cracked and hazardous in places, and the paint was peeling off the walls. Steep, narrow stairwells made it difficult for older sisters to move freely about the residence. Moreover, the Carmelites endured steamy Baltimore summers with no air conditioning. The lack of air conditioning in their rooms, or cells, was particularly problematic for older sisters and those with respiratory ailments. Clearly, their residence needed some attention.
In June 2002, the community began planning for what they initially thought would be a modest renovation of the kitchen and dining areas. They wanted to fix the dilapidated tile floor, take care of the peeling paint and modernize the appliances. Air conditioning would have to be added a later time. Once work on the project began though, it became apparent that any renovation would first have to address serious and pervasive deficiencies in structural, electrical and mechanical systems. The project quickly blossomed into a major renovation that, for reasons of safety, had to be undertaken immediately.
The residential wing received a complete overhaul. All the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems were refitted. Portions of the existing structure had to be torn down or rebuilt. All hazardous materials, including asbestos, were removed. The roof was replaced and insulation was put in the walls and ceilings. The dining room and kitchen were refurbished, and smoke detectors were networked through each cell. To enhance handicapped access, a small elevator was installed, and air conditioning was added to the entire west wing.
A renovation of this magnitude presents obstacles for any community, but for a contemplative group, the process can be especially challenging. On a daily basis, each member of the community is required to engage in solitary, communal and liturgical prayer, contemplative reading and study, and public outreach. So while the chapel was still accessible for group prayer, finding a place to pray or read quietly was difficult. On a practical level, they had to deal with noise and endless amounts of dust. There were days with no heat or plumbing, and meals had to be cooked in the small guest kitchen or on an outside grill.
Prayer is what sustains the Carmelites, however, so the sisters found creative ways to maintain their contemplative lifestyle. They established quiet zones in other areas of the residence where sisters could make their two hours of daily personal prayer. They continued to conduct their public prayer ministry, and they made sure the formation process for their newer members proceeded on schedule. The Carmelites were fortunate to receive support from many friends and benefactors, especially their Sunday congregation, who even delivered meals for them. Most importantly, the sisters worked together to keep a cheerful, positive attitude toward the project.
Now that the renovation is complete, the entire community feels it was well worth their sacrifices. The new kitchen is bright and airy, furnished with modern appliances, and meets necessary fire and life-safety guidelines. The dining room floor is no longer a hazard, and improved handicap access throughout the residence means that older members can participate more fully in community life. The Carmelites feel blessed that their dwelling is a safe, comfortable home for their elderly sisters, and they rest assured that their younger members will be able to practice their particular charism for years to come. The experience has drawn them closer as a community, and the renovated residence provides a place of peace and solitude where they can live out their vocation.
For the Carmelites, undertaking the renovation was truly a leap of faith. The community is grateful for the financial and moral support they received from NRRO. Sister Constance Fitzgerald, OCD, the prioress, remarked, "It is a source of enormous encouragement to the community that NRRO supported our project, not only because of our great need but also because they appreciated our efforts to create a contemporary contemplative community. They understood that the strength of its Carmelite identity and the health and vitality of its life were the fruit of fidelity to a very long and serious process of renewal. Our older members and even our six members in formation feel they are valued by NRRO. "
Remarkably the community has raised, through grants, bequests, privation donations, and their own contributions, nearly ninety percent of the roughly $1.8 million cost of the project. And while they are concerned about their ability to pay off the remaining loan, they are hopeful that, as with all things, they will find an answer through prayer.
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
(202) 541-3215, www.usccb.org/nrro
Project Director for Retirement Services
Please send changes in addresses, phone, e-mail, or congregational leadership to NRRO c/o Jean Smith so that we may keep our records and mailing lists up-to-date. Thank You.
Orare est laborare. Laborare est orare
To pray is to work. To work is to pray. This anonymous Latin phrase, most often associated with the Benedictines, is brought to life each day by contemplative women and men religious. For them, there is no divide between their prayer and their ministry. Rather, the two function as a seamless strand, linking the mundane to the divine, the daily to the endless. Yet in a world dominated by things that can be seen and touched and measured, their invisible gifts are often overlooked.
The truth, of course, is that we desperately need these men and women. We need them to pray for an end to the sorrows of our time–violence in all its forms and all its places, poverty, disease, injustice. We also need their prayers of praise and thanksgiving to celebrate the joy of our days–love, charity, kindness, laughter.
But, like other religious institutes, contemplative communities have needs too, especially when it comes to caring for elderly and infirm members. Unfortunately, their needs are sometimes like their gifts–hidden behind stone walls. As a result, NRRO has worked to inform contemplative religious institutes of the Retirement Fund for Religious and of the assistance, in the form of grants and programs, available through NRRO. In doing so, our staff has blessed and inspired by their commitment to their ministry of prayer and by the grace and peace that flows so freely within their walls. And we have been reminded time and again of the meaningful role these communities play in the life of the church.
So as we approach the national collection date for the RFR, and as we pray for the continued generosity of God's people in meeting the needs of retired religious, let us pray in a special way for those called to the unique vocation of contemplative life. After all, they are surely praying for us.
May our loving God bless you.
Sister Andrée Fries, CPPS
Best Practices Follow Up
Sister Janice Bader, CPPS
This summer we mailed a copy of Planning for Retirement and Mission: A Best Practices Study to all of the religious institutes on our mailing list, as well as to bishops, vicars for religious and others with whom we collaborate. We were gratified by the positive response to this report, and we are thrilled that religious institutes are finding it helpful.
As mentioned in the last newsletter, NRRO worked with focus groups in the spring of 2004 to determine what types of programming would most help religious institutes make practical use of the study. Thus, plans are currently underway for various programs and resources to expand upon the information given in the summary report. The following is an overview of these programs:
1) Workshops for families of religious institutes or regional groups (such as CMSWR, CMSM, LCWR, NATRI/CORT, retirement directors or a combination of these groups)
Best Practices Overview (1½ hours)
This overview will present the findings of the study and provide for interactive dialogue on their implications.
Retirement Philosophy, Policies and Procedures (3 hours)
This workshop will highlight the importance of clearly articulating a communal philosophy of aging and retirement from which policies and procedures flow. We will consider the concepts and elements included in a philosophy of aging and retirement, areas in which policies and procedures need to be developed, and processes to involve members in the articulation of both.
Communication with Members (3 hours)
The Best Practices research revealed that effective communication is essential to the core viability of religious institutes. This session will offer processes to facilitate dialogue, particularly as it relates to issues of finance and retirement.
Planning (3 hours)
The study clearly indicated that institutes that have been successful in meeting retirement needs while maintaining a focus on mission and ministry did so with much hard work and planning. The workshop will focus on planning processes adaptable to a variety of institute sizes and cultures.
If you are interested in scheduling one of these workshops in your geographic area, please contact our office. The workshops are available at no cost, but we do ask that the group provide a place to host the meeting. Any help that the group can offer in covering the travel cost of the speaker(s) is appreciated, but it is not required.
2) Listserv for Retirement Directors
The Best Practices research noted that ongoing professional development is critical for those who minister to the elders of religious institutes. A number of those involved in this ministry have expressed their desire for a way to network with their peers. In response to these requests, NRRO has created a listserv on which retirement directors and others involved in caring for senior religious can post questions or topics for discussion. Participation in the list is limited to religious and employees of religious institutes. The list is not open to vendors. If you are interested in participating in this listserv, please send your name, the name and address of your religious institute, and your e-mail address to Monica Glover at email@example.com. Upon receiving the names of interested participants, we will send further instructions about how to post items to the listserv. We ask major superiors and treasurers receiving this newsletter to share this information with the retirement directors, superiors of retirement communities, and others in their institute who might benefit from this listserv.
3) Development Education Program
The Best Practices research found that a significant number of the religious institutes involved in the final phase of the study had benefitted from a development education program funded by a grant from the Lily Endowment in the late 1980's. In light of this, we have been working with the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) to assess the interest in and need for a similar program. A survey sent to all of the major superiors on the NRRO mailing list indicated that there is interest in development training, particularly among religious institutes with few members. Therefore, NCDC and NRRO will co-sponsor a workshop that focuses on the fundamentals of development. The workshop will be given twice: April 12-14, 2005, at the Maritime Conference Center in Baltimore, MD, and May 6-8 at the Carmelite Spiritual Center in Darien, IL. The workshops will be geared toward institutes with fifty or fewer members. However, larger institutes that are in the initial phases of development efforts could also benefit from the program. We currently are compiling a list of religious institutes to invite to these workshops. If your institute would like to receive an invitation, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Grant funding is available through NRRO to assist with the cost of travel and housing for those institutes whose retirement needs are less than fifty percent funded per the NRRO grant calculation.
4) Facilities and Property
The Best Practices research demonstrated that efficient and effective use of buildings and property plays a critical role in the financial viability of religious institutes. Conversely, underutilized buildings can be a great drain on financial resources. In our work with religious institutes, we realize the challenge posed by underutilized buildings and/or buildings that are not suited to the needs of elders. Options for addressing these issues often are limited and expensive. NRRO plans to convene a focus group to study this topic further. We will share additional information with you as our planning progresses. There is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from the Best Practices research. With your help, NRRO will continue to mine the riches of this study and develop programs to share that knowledge with religious institutes. Additional copies of Planning for Retirement and Mission: A Best Practices Study are available from our office at the cost of $1.00 per copy. The report also is available on our website. Let us continue to learn from the experience shared and documented in this study.
Basic Grants Applications
Brother Hank Sammon, FMS
Basic Grant Applications will be mailed to the Major Superiors the week after Christmas. They should start to arrive during the first week of January. If you have not received your application by January 14, please contact the NRRO office and we will send another copy to your Institute.
Also, forms A, B, and C, which are used to calculate the cost of care at various centers, are available on the NRRO website. These forms have formulas built into them which makes the calculation easier. Go to: www.usccb.org/nrro and look for the section marked "forms". They are in EXCEL format.
If you would like to make a bequest or restricted gift to the National religious Retirement Office, the following language 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.
|Special Assistance & Supplemental grants awarded||December, 2004|
|RFR National Collection||December 11-12, 2004|
|Basic grant applications mailed out||December 30, 2004|
|NRRO Best Practices Workshop, CSJ/SSJ Federation, Seal Beach, CA||January 29, 2005|
|Vicars for Religious Conference, Plymouth, MI||March 10-13, 2005|
|NRRO Best Practices Workshop, CMSM Region I, Waltham,MA||March 22, 2005|
|Special Assistance grant applications due for June cycle||March 31, 2005|
|NRRO Best Practices Workshop, CORT X South, O'Fallon, MO||April 5, 2005|
|NATRI Workshop for Small Religious Institutes, Washington, DC||April 5-7, 2005|
|NRRO Best Practices Workshop, LCWR Region IV, Spokane, WA||April 8, 2005|
|NCDC/NRRO Development Education Workshop, Baltimore, MD||April 12-14, 2005|
|Supplemental grant applications due for December cycle||April 15, 2005|
|LRCR Legal Seminar, Atlanta, GA||April 21-24, 2005|
|Grant Review Board, Washington DC||April 25, 2005|
|NCDC/NRRO Development Education Workshop, Darien, IL||May 6-8, 2005|
|NATRI Orientation to Financial Management Workshop, Plymouth, MI||June 6-10, 2005|