By Archbishop Harry Flynn
Throughout the United States on the weekend of December 8-9 the Church will take up the 25th annual collection for the retired religious. I have a special fondness for all religious because I deeply appreciate the sacrifices that they have made in order to serve God’s people in our country.
My father died when I was six years of age. My older brothers were away in the military service in September of 1945. I was home alone with my widowed mother. On the day after Labor Day I woke up to begin my seventh grade at St. Columba School in Schenectady, New York. That morning is very clear in my memory. I found my mother dead. What was supposed to have been the day beginning seventh grade was a day in which funeral preparations were made for my mother’s burial. I will never forget that painful experience. However, when I went back to school on the following Monday there was a beautiful Sister of St. Joseph, Sister William Edmund. Her family name was Mary Rose Eagan. She received me warmly and shepherded me through that 7th grade. I often wonder how I would have made it without her tender caring. She demonstrated this in so many ways in asking me question about what I did after school, helping me with various projects and keeping me occupied as well as she could. She was and is in my memory of gratitude to this very day.
Then, as I went on to high school the superior of that school was a Mother Maris Stella. I remember she was principal of the high school and the grade school and superior of the convent with about 16 nuns in it. On a Friday afternoon when I would be leaving school she would call me and tell me to be at the convent on the following morning at nine. She wanted me to have a New York State Regent’s Diploma when I graduated from high school and she spent her Saturday mornings, in which she could have been involved in many other pursuits, going over former Regent’s examinations so that I would be acquainted with them when I would face the examination the following June. She was outstanding in her generosity and I think of that generosity to this day.
I’ve always been fond of religious brothers and sisters. I would be less than honest if I did not say that my experience was solely with the sisters and my heart wells up with gratitude when I think of them. I have observed the Church in the United States. It is a healthy Church. Our U.S. Church has 77 million people. I have thought, and thought often, as to where the Church would be if it were not for the women religious and the men religious. The women religious taught in schools all over our country. They ministered in hospitals. They perform the works of charity. They were the face of the Church in so many different areas as were the brothers. Where would the Church be in the United States without them?
Now we have the opportunity to help them in their need. They do not have the numbers coming into the religious life to support the elderly who need care. They worked for small stipends and any other surplus income was reinvested in community ministries. As a result they need our help now and they need it badly. It is my hope and prayer that the American Catholics will show their gratitude to these valiant Religious by being generous in this great collection.
Archbishop Harry J. Flynn is archbishop emeritus of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Editor's Note: To contribute to the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit: http://www.usccb.org/about/national-religious-retirement-office/