A Debt of Gratitude: Blessing the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur
FORT WORTH — Before the Diocese of Dallas or the Diocese of Fort Worth existed, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur were already hard at work in Texas.
The SSMNs arrived in Waco by train in 1873. They immediately went about “doing a little good,” building and staffing Catholic school after school in North and Central Texas. In their 146-year history in the present-day Diocese of Fort Worth, the sisters set high standards for their Catholic schools that continue today.
In all, the sisters, who are based out of the Western Province motherhouse in Fort Worth, founded or co-founded 10 academies, the University of Dallas, and four high schools, including Nolan Catholic High School.
In addition to their service at these schools, the sisters taught, administered, and shared their many talents at dozens of Catholic parishes across North Texas. The sisters continue to be involved in education, health care, outreach to immigrants, counseling, spiritual direction, parish ministries, youth formation, and evangelization.
But their selfless and tireless serving came at a price. In the spirit of charity, the sisters performed most of their work for free or for much lower wages than lay ministers. That left the local SSMNs with little, if any income, left for retirement savings. The rising cost of health care further adds to the difficulty.
In a 2015 interview with the NTC, Sister Gabriela Martinez, provincial superior of the order’s Western Province said, “Our sisters’ educational ministry was widespread across Texas in parish schools. Many children received free schooling or scholarships. Money was not the object. Some families ‘paid’ with eggs, chickens, or whatever they had.”
In order to pay for health care, skilled nursing, and other basic necessities, the dozens of retired members of the religious community depend on the income of the handful of sisters who are currently in compensated ministry; on the auxiliary fund developed by the sisters’ friends and benefactors; on occasional donations and gifts; and on one very important collection: the National Collection for Retired Religious. In the Diocese of Fort Worth, the collection takes place Dec. 8-9 in all parishes of the diocese.
“The sisters’ tireless work, unending prayers, and deep love for others have positively impacted thousands of lives, both directly and indirectly,” said Clarice Peninger, former principal at St. Andrew Catholic School. “The sisters never asked for anything in return for their dedication. This second collection is an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to these amazing women, as well as to other retired religious throughout the nation.”
According to the Diocese of Fort Worth Advancement Foundation, last year parishioners from across the diocese donated $160,683 to this collection. Nationwide, more than $28 million was collected. Of that, $25 million was disbursed to 360 religious communities, including the SSMNs.