Religious sacrificed much to serve people in this archdiocese

| Julie Pfitzinger | December 1, 2010 | 0 Comments

Sister Midge

Sister Midge Breiter, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who has coordinated the archdiocesan Retirement Fund for Religious for close to three years, recently talked with The Catholic Spirit about her ministry.

During her life as a religious, Sister Breiter has taught elementary school, worked in pastoral ministry and also served as a parish administrator. She currently works as a caregiver to the homebound in addition to her role with the RFR.

On the second or third Sunday of Advent (dependent upon the parish), a collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious will be taken throughout the archdiocese. The annual nationwide appeal is sponsored by the National Religious Retirement Office in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other national organizations of religious. Ninety-five percent of all donations go toward the retirement needs in religious communities across the country.

As parishes prepare to take up this annual collection, Sister Breiter commented on the work of the RFR, what she has learned through her involvement and why she is committed to continuing in her role.

When you became coordinator for the RFR three years ago, what did you quickly learn about the fund or the people it serves that you didn’t know previously?

From the 1930s and 1940s, up to the 1970s, the religious only received stipends, but that didn’t include a salary or any health benefits.

I also didn’t realize so many religious communities were institutionally funded. There were many parishes that participated in this funding, but many that didn’t. That was a surprise.

What additional things have you learned in the past three years?

I learned that donations to the RFR come not just from parishes, but from groups like the Council of Catholic Women, matching gifts from companies like 3M and other sources. There are also people who want to remember the religious in their wills. I’ve been asked for information about the fund from people who are doing their estate planning.

What inspires you to continue to do this work?

After 22 years of the RFR, people continue to realize it will take many years to catch up: fewer than 7 percent of the 573 religious communities are adequately funded. People continue to be so generous and that inspires me to continue.

Tell me how the RFR specifically helped a religious or community.

Many religious health care facilities are self-insured and the cost of basic necessities like prescriptions continues to go up. With the help of the RFR, some communities have been able to establish hospice care within their own facilities, so the contributions people make go directly to the care of the sisters, priests and brothers in their final days.

When the fund was first started, it was to last just 10 years, but this will be its 23rd year. What changed over that time that makes it necessary to continue the collection?

For many years, the religious re-invested the small stipends they were given into their ministries, which left them with little. Expenses continue to increase, the economy has declined and the cost of health care has caused a drain on religious communities.

Two out of three religious are now retired and by the year 2019, it is projected that religious older than age 70 will outnumber those under 70 by four to one. Fewer are joining religious communities; there aren’t many of us out here working right now.

What’s the most inspiring story you’ve heard from someone who has been a fund contributor?

There was a man who attended Catholic school in the 1960s and while he said his parents paid to send him to school, he knew of many in the school whose parents couldn’t pay. He realized there is a need to help the religious who ran these schools.

There was another woman who remembered that tuition was 50 cents per month at the Catholic school she attended in the 1950s, but some families couldn’t afford that and would bring food for the sisters instead.

Parents made sacrifices to send their children to Catholic school, but the religious communities also made sacrifices. It’s a matter of justice when it comes to taking care of the religious now.

How to help

A collection for the 2010 Retirement Fund for the Religious will take place in parishes across the archdiocese this month.

Donations can also be sent directly to the National Religious Retirement Office, 3211 4th St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20017-1194.

For more information, visit http://www.retiredreligious.org.

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