Religious Retirement Office
Vol. 17, No. 3
Religious Communities Weather Hurricane Katrina
Most of us are still trying to grasp the images of devastation we saw through news coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Faces of desperate men, women and children fill our minds and our hearts. In our prayers we struggle to remember their many and varied needs–prayers for those that died and their loved ones that lived, prayers for those that lost everything and those trying to help them, prayers for the poor, the sick, the old, the young. And for every horrific event we saw unfold on our television screens–the danger, the death, the hunger, the pain, the helplessness–for each of these, there are countless other stories left untold.
Among these is the impact that Hurricane Katrina (and later, Hurricanes Rita and Wilma) has had on religious men and women in the Gulf region. Numerous religious communities minister in the areas struck by the hurricanes. Prior to Katrina, the Archdiocese of New Orleans listed roughly sixty-five communities living and working in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. And there are more in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Some of these religious institutes have just a handful of members serving in a particular ministry, such as teaching. Others call the Gulf Coast home, with motherhouses, congregational headquarters, and major centers of ministry located in areas hardest hit by the hurricanes.
There is, at present, no way to report on all the communities affected by the storms. But the devastation among religious congregations is as profound and widespread as it is among other segments of society. Nearly all have had some kind of damage, either from wind or flooding or both. Gone are their personal belongings, their cars, residences, and motherhouses. Properties housing congregational ministries have, in many cases, also been ruined. In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the Divine Word Missionaries (SVDs) lost their retreat house as well as their provincial headquarters.
A photo displayed on the Josephite website shows a statue of
the Blessed Mother at Our Mother of Mercy Church School in Beaumont, Texas,
still standing, despite the destruction surrounding her.
For more pictures of the impact Hurricane Katrina
had on Josephite schools and parishes, see www.josephite.com
Many of the schools and parishes operated by the Josephite Fathers and Brothers in New Orleans and Mississippi were destroyed or damaged. And the Sisters of the Holy Family of New Orleans, a community serving in the city’s now devastated ninth ward, have lost almost everything.
As for Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center (OLW), a skilled care facility built through the collaboration of sixteen congregations in and around New Orleans, the situation is mixed. Thankfully, all 138 residents were safely evacuated, and the facility itself survived the storm. Initially, residents were unable to return due to the loss of utilities and support services. However, the occupation of OLW by emergency responders has caused the temporary displacement of the residents to become more permanent.
For seven weeks during and immediately following the storm, the facility became a command center and home to more than 1500 heroic men and women. Now OLW staffers face the overwhelming task of preparing the facility to re-open, hopefully in January 2006. Besides cleaning, sanitizing and repairing the building, staffers must find a way to replace bedding, mattresses, linens, medical equipment and supplies. Like others, OLW is experiencing significant financial difficulties due to the loss of revenue and the need to use savings to meet pressing expenses.
For religious institutes, there remains great uncertainty about the future and rebuilding. Although FEMA will pay benefits to individual religious, the guidelines for dispersing federal funds to rebuild ministry properties, such as schools or medical facilities, are specific and sometimes confusing. Thankfully, there is insurance, but for many communities the estimated cost of rebuilding far exceeds the limits of their policies. Like other residents of the Gulf Coast, religious communities will have to decide if they will rebuild, or if they will move elsewhere. For now, however, they are getting through day by day.
Light in the Storm
As soon as news of the hurricane hit television screens and newspapers, calls of concern and offers of assistance began pouring in to NRRO. Sister Janice Bader, CPPS, helped to coordinate NRRO’s response. She e-mailed religious institutes in the NRRO database to identify those that could house or provide other types of assistance to communities in the Gulf. The response was heartfelt. Nearly 200 offers of help, from individual guest rooms to entire retreat centers, were made. There were even offers for assisted living and skilled care. And the response did not end with religious communities. Many members of the laity also wanted to be of service. One woman from Minnesota even said that she would move in with friends so her home could be available to religious who might need it.
Sister Janice compiled all the offers, along with the necessary contact information, and e-mailed them to religious communities in the Gulf region. Given the loss of communications caused by the hurricane, it was difficult to know if the e-mails were even being received. It remains unclear how many communities were able to take advantage of the offers of help, but the depth of generosity and concern shown for religious affected by the storm was truly moving.
Of course one of the biggest obstacles was relocating elderly and infirm religious living in nursing homes. In many cases, families of religious institutes worked together to help find both medicaid and private facilities to accommodate those in need.
In the wake of the significant care needs arising for senior religious in the Gulf region, NRRO has established an emergency grant program. The focus of the grants is to provide funding to meet the immediate needs of retired religious, such as for assisted living and skilled care. Three such grants have already been issued. If your community is in need of a grant, please contact NRRO.
We Walk By Faith
Despite their tremendous losses, religious in the region continue to put their faith in the Lord and to look, in the midst of tragedy, for God’s blessings. In a letter, Sister Chris Perrier, MSC, writes of the complete devastation to many of her community’s properties, including their congregational center. Their finance office, however, was not severely damaged, prompting Sister Chris to comment, “It (the finance office) was spared the flooding. We were able to retrieve the server, the computers and other necessary items so that I can continue working....God is good.”
And an emergency website established by the Sisters of the Holy Family encourages visitors to turn to scripture in their time of need.
"In their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril, hushed the storm to a murmur; the waves of the sea were stilled. Then they rejoiced that the sea grew calm, that God brought them to the harbor they longed for.” (Psalm 107:28-30)
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. Thanks!
Like most people, I was appalled by the misery and destruction Hurricane Katrina inflicted on the Gulf Coast. It was so hard to sit and watch. I just wanted to crawl through the television screen and help. While our office did all that we could to facilitate assistance for religious in the region, we were, like everyone else, largely powerless.
So, I prayed (and prayed and prayed), but it didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to do something, something tangible that would make a difference, that I could see and touch. I wanted to be in control. Of course, I recognize that no one can control Mother Nature, but that impulse to control–to keep in our own hands things that belong in God’s–can be powerful. We all have situations in our lives that are beyond our control. Yet instead of giving these challenges over to God, we try to manage them on our own. We need to be in charge.
In reflecting on this need, I am inspired once again by our elderly and infirm religious and their willingness to surrender their lives completely to God’s care. They understand that no matter what their physical or even mental limitations might be, they are still children of God, and thus are loved immeasurably. This knowledge enables them to let God take the reins of their lives. Senior religious also recognize that praying is doing something–something vital that connects our troubled world to the divine.
Men and women religious of the Gulf also provide a daily witness to the importance of turning our lives and futures over to God. Despite unfathomable personal loss and crisis, they continue to serve God’s people with love and fidelity and to find grace in the smallest of things. With ingenuity, dedication, and, above all, faith, they have begun to address the tremendous challenge of rebuilding their lives and ministries.
Soon, parishes across the country will participate in the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR) collection. I understand that this has been a difficult year and that the needs for disaster relief have been unprecedented. But I also know of the tremendous love and respect that our generous RFR donors have for senior religious. So I will, as always, ask God’s blessings on this year’s collection. Then, following the example of our elder religious and the brave sisters, brothers and priests in in the Gulf, I will leave it in His hands and trust in His grace.
May God bless you abundantly this advent season, and may the birth of our Savior fill your hearts with joy, love and hope.
Sister Andrée Fries, CPPS
The National Religious Retirement Office 2004 Annual Report failed to include the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady in Beloit, Wisconsin, among those religious congregations that declined a basic grant. Declining a basic grant increases the amount of funds available for religious communities with greater needs. We apologize for this oversight and express our deep gratitude for the generous and consistent support the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady have given to the RFR.
Points of Interest
Sister Janice Bader, CPPS
BenefitsCheckUpRx for Medicare
Readers may remember two websites, www.BenefitsCheckUp.com and www.BenefitsCheckUpRx.com, discussed in previous editions of the NRRO newsletter. BenefitsCheckUp offers people ages fifty-five and older a free, online service to help them identify local, state and federal programs that can assist in meeting basic living expenses (i.e, rent, heating bills, etc.) BenefitsCheckUpRx helps seniors find prescription drug savings programs.
Recently the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Access to Benefits Coalition (ABC) launched BenefitsCheckUpRx for Medicare. This Web-based service, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Administration on Aging, helps individuals on Medicare determine if signing up for the new Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage is the best choice for them. An online questionnaire helps beneficiaries determine what their individual rights and options are.
Visit www.benefitscheckup.org to learn more.
Best Practices Workshops Continue
NRRO continues to offer the Best Practices workshops developed to help religious institutes make practical use of Planning for Retirement and Mission: A Best Practices Study. These programs have already been presented to all six CMSM regions, to three CORT regions and to one LCWR region. There are three topics: Communication with Members, Strategic Planning, and Retirement Philosophy, Programs and Policies.
NRRO has been delighted to have the participation of Sister Sherryl White, CSJ, Ph.D., at a number of these presentations. Sister Sherryl is a Sister of St. Joseph of Baden, Pennsylvania. As a psychologist, she ministers to congregations of women religious throughout the United States and Canada. Her area of expertise addresses the emotional and spiritual qualities of life in light of the aging process.
Sister Sherryl White, CSJ
To schedule a workshop, contact Sister Janice.
Supplemental Identified Needs Grants (SING) continue to be available for educational opportunities in financial management, development, or elder care. The grants, which can be up to $5,000, are available for religious institutes that are fifty percent or more underfunded for retirement. Preference is given to those in the thirty percent range. NRRO believes that education and networking with other religious communities are a critical component of addressing retirement planning concerns. For application forms or additional information, contact Sister Janice.
Help for Basic Grant Application
The Basic Grant application will be mailed in early January. If any community needs help completing the form, please contact our office. NRRO has volunteer mentors who can provide on-site consultation and guidance to religious institutes in need of assistance. There is no charge for this service.
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Project Director for Retirement Services
The Staff of NRRO wishes you and your families a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year!
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.
|Grant Review Board, Washington DC||November 30, 2005|
|Special Assistance & Supplemental Grants awarded||December, 2005|
|RFR National Collection||December 10-11, 2005|
|Eligibility Forms for Basic Grants mailed||December 28, 2005|
|CRLM, Washington, DC||February 16-18, 2006|
|Eligibility Forms due back to NRRO||March 31, 2006|
|Special Assistance Applications due for June Cycle||March 31, 2006|
|Supplemental Applications due for December Cycle||April 15, 2006|