Collection for retired religious remembers sacrifice of local sisters
FORT WORTH — Sister Ann Bosco spends her days working with third graders at St. Rita Catholic School. It’s a job the Dominican Sister of Mary Immaculate Province loves.
“This is our charism,” she explained. “Teaching children is one way to spread the Good News. It’s discipleship.”
The religious order, with roots in Vietnam, has 10 members currently serving in the Diocese of Fort Worth as elementary and high school teachers, with another employed as director of religious education at St. Jude Parish in Mansfield. They are not unlike hundreds of other religious men and women who ventured to North Texas more than half a century ago to educate young families in the faith.
Parishioners will have the opportunity to remember the sacrifice and ministry of those early, dedicated servants during the Retirement Fund for Religious special collection on Dec. 12-13. Proceeds will help eligible U.S. religious communities meet rising health care costs and other needs that come with a growing number of senior members.
Donations can be placed in baskets marked for special collections in the church or mailed to the parish. Online contributions are accepted through a parish’s giving portal or the Diocese of Fort Worth’s link: fwdioc.org/special-collections-donate.
Last year, the diocese raised more than $263,000 for retired religious, with a portion of the funds donated to the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur and the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province.
Icons of education in Fort Worth, the Sisters of St. Mary opened the first Catholic school in the diocese, St. Ignatius Academy, in 1885, and Our Lady of Victory in 1910. The latter is still operated by the order today.
Sister Patricia Ridgley, SSMN, regional superior of her congregation’s western province, considers the special collection vital and needed.
“All those years when the sisters were teaching or involved in other ministries, they were paid very little,” she pointed out. “We had a real sense of living in poverty and serving the mission. Not that we didn’t plan, but we consciously took very little in order to give of ourselves.”
As a pastoral associate at a Dallas parish years ago, Sr. Patricia earned $400 a month. When she taught French and theology at Bishop Dunne High School, her salary was put into a common pot with the paychecks of other sisters.
Today, with fewer members and an aging population, the congregation must find ways to supplement social security income in order to cover the cost of medications, specialized health care, and other unexpected expenses.
“And that is what this collection helps us with,” Sr. Patricia explained. “The average age of a Sister of St. Mary is in the upper 70s. As people get older, their medical needs increase and some of those needs can’t be tended to in our own convent.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also has had an impact.
“All of our ministries are curtailed and that has affected us financially and in many other ways,” she added.
Houston is home to the Dominican Motherhouse and that’s where two members of the congregation, trained as nurses, care for elderly sisters. There isn’t enough money to hire outside help, according to Sr. Ann Bosco, OP.
“We consecrate our whole life to God and the Church and don’t ask for much,” she explained. “We know we don’t need material things. We need God.”
But the community’s spokesperson admits there are practical considerations. The convent budgets for food and medical care and relies on help from benefactors.
“Pray for our elderly,” Sr. Ann implored. “They dedicated their entire life and appreciate the help. And we will pray for you.”
Last year, the National Collection for Retired Religious received more donations than any other collection in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
“This speaks to the gratitude we, as Catholics, have for our senior religious who were instrumental in establishing Catholic schools, hospitals, charitable agencies, and teaching the faith,” said Renée Underwood, coordinator of special collections for the diocese.
The coronavirus pandemic increased the challenges religious orders face.
“Hundreds of religious communities, like our own Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, do not have enough savings to provide for their growing number of elder members.”
While contemplating a donation to the special collection, Sr. Patricia asks parishioners to continue the cycle of goodness.
“Remember the dedication of these women and men religious — especially the goodness poured out by the sisters on the children they taught,” she urged. “This is an opportunity to keep that circle going.”