Sheila Grove

NORTHWEST PA. — Communities of religious women and men, as well as diocesan priests, have served in the Diocese of Erie for nearly 200 years. They have built parishes, schools and hospitals and have served in multiple areas of social ministry that have directly or indirectly touched the lives of most residents of the 13 counties of northwest Pennsylvania of all faiths.

         Just like everyone else, they age, retire from active employment and incur medical and other living expenses. These men and women have given their lives to caring service for very low pay, and for many, it is time that they need to receive.

          In the Diocese of Erie, two funds have been established to help meet their current needs. Each works differently.

          One is familiar to Catholics as the Retirement Fund for Religious collection which is held each December. This year it will be held on the weekend of Dec. 11 - 12 in all parishes in the diocese.

          Funds donated to this collection are managed by the National Religious Retirement Office. Since 1998, this organization has aimed to lessen the gap between what religious communities can provide for direct care to their members and what is actually needed for their care. This past year, the diocese sent $150,000 to the collection through the generosity of parishioners.

          Religious communities across the U.S. vary greatly in their ability to bridge the gap. Some large communities with many younger members are self-sufficient, while other smaller communities with disproportionate numbers of retired members need more help.

          Three communities in the Diocese of Erie — the Benedictines of Erie, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Erie community of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas — are in the latter group. Because their need is greater than what is collected in the diocese, they actually received a larger share of the $25,000,000 distributed to 321 religious communities in 2020.

          Sister Nancy Fischer, SSJ, director of Religious for the Diocese of Erie, conveyed deep “gratitude for the generosity for the Fund for Religious in the past. The approximately $360,000 local communities received last year greatly benefitted the effort to care for retired sisters in the region,” she said. “It has helped to pay for basic needs, and for medical care that all elderly people need.” Online donations can be made at Retirement Fund for Religious

          In addition to the Retirement Fund for Religious, the diocese also sponsors the annual Good Shepherd Collection each May, for retired priests. Due to limited church attendance in 2020, both collections suffered. Therefore, this year, a third collection was authorized, combining the needs of both appeals in the new Religious Sisters and Diocesan Priests Appeal. Online donations will be accepted anytime at www.ErieRCD.org/RetiredSistersAndPriests.html  through Dec.31, 2021. There is also an envelope in the December issue of Faith magazine mailed to each registered household in the diocese. It, or any envelope marked with the fund name, can be placed in a parish collection basket or mailed to a parish or to Sr. Nancy Fischer, P.O Box 10397, Erie, Pa. 16514-0397.

          A teacher who always went the extra mile; the hospital chaplain who accompanied a family during the passing of a loved one; the parish priest who ministered the sacraments; the sister, brother or priest who held vigil during a crisis, a difficult pregnancy, adoption, or neighborhood youth program are just some of the men and women remembered fondly by people in the diocese.

          They were there at times they were needed. Their time of need is now.