Pauline Sister Mary Joan Baldino put the traditional retirement age of 65 in her rearview a long time ago, back in the last decade of the 20th century. She turned 65 in 1994, yet at 89 years young, she takes her regular shift every day at Pauline Books & Media in Crestwood.
Similarly, Loretto Sister Barbara Roche, 71, retired in spring 2013 as president of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves, but came out of retirement that fall to serve as interim president at Marian Middle School, which she helped found in 1999 with the mandate of “Educating Girls for Life.” She’s never re-retired.
Sisters Mary Joan and Barbara are similar to other women and men religious, as well as diocesan clergy, who don’t always quite “retire” in the way most of us know. Retirement age is usually 75, but many keep joyously serving into their 80s and 90s, often re-energized to be ministering without the distractions of administering. Mobility and health concerns might limit them to a ministry of prayer and presence at skilled nursing centers, but even then they still volunteer as they’re able, ministering to each other while using God-given gifts to knit, sew, play music and more.
The “Retirement Fund for Religious” helps make this possible, defraying the cost of care for elderly religious. Catholics around the country contributed more than $28 million in 2017 for retired religious woman and men in the annual collection benefiting the fund, which is the weekend of Nov. 3-4 this year in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Catholic St. Louisans contributed $350,000, but the National Religious Retirement Office, which administers the fund, sent back more than $1.5 million to communities based in St. Louis to help care for elderly religious, who served for years on small stipends mainly for living expenses.
“Historically, religious sisters, brothers and priests reached retirement age with no retirement savings,” said Sister Marysia Weber, director for the archdiocesan office of Consecrated Life. The fund helps with the rising costs of health care, education for communities to care for their own elderly and more. About 94 percent of the annual collection goes directly to communities in the form of grants; only 6 percent goes to administration.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Sister Marysia said.
Sisters Mary Joan and Barbara are among 31,023 religious, including 26,007 women, older than 70 in the United States, according to 2017 statistics from the National Religious Retirement Office. An additional 12,155 religious are under 70 — 7,051 women and 5,104 men. In total, those religious represent 411 communities of women and 126 of men. The retirement office administers the collection, funding grants directly to communities for distribution.
Though firmly in retirement age, Sister Mary Joan has no plan to actually retire anytime soon.
“I thank God for every day, because you don’t know if you’ll have tomorrow,” said Sister Mary Joan, who finishes her shift at the bookstore then cleans, cooks — she specializes in Italian foods, being a native of Sardinia — and does whatever the community needs. “I find something else to do; there’s no time to stay still.”
Sister Mary Joan entered the Daughters of St. Paul in 1949, did her novitiate and made first vows in 1952 in Rome. Six months later, Blessed Father James Alberione, who founded the Daughters in 1915, missioned her to the U.S., specifically New York. She served in Boston (where she made final vows in 1957), Miami, San Antonio and Philadelphia before coming to St. Louis 10 years ago at age 80.
Unlike Sister Mary Joan, Sister Barbara is a native St. Louisan. She entered the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross in 1964, after graduating from Nerinx Hall. She made first profession in 1967, received a bachelor’s degree from Webster College in 1969, worked in Washington, D.C., and returned to St. Louis in 1972, then landed at Nerinx Hall in 1986. After 27 years, she was ready to hang ‘em up … but Marian Middle School came calling.
“I was ready for my retirement but about three weeks later, they called and asked me if I’d fill in on a temporary basis,” said Sister Barbara, whose “temporary” stay is at five years and counting. She now serves as an academic associate, working three days a week and using her God-given skills and contacts to help eighth-graders select their high schools.
As for actual retirement, that’s far into the future for Sister Mary Joan, Sister Barbara and many other women and men religious, if they retire at all.
“Like our founder always told us, ‘We’ll have time to rest in heaven,” Sister Mary Joan said, with a smile.
Lisa Johnston | firstname.lastname@example.org | twitter: @aeternusphoto
Sister Mary Joan Baldino, FSP, right, at age 89, is past the standard retirment age, but still finds time to serve at Pauline Books & Media in Crestwood. She priced rosaries with Sister Laura Brown, FSP, on Oct. 23 at the store.
What: Collection for retired religious (second collection)
When: Masses on Nov. 3-4
For more information, visit the Retirement Fund for Religious
For a video from the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit www.youtu.be/9pZ8SbpEMsE
Retirement Fund for Religious by the numbers
$28 million total national collection for the retirement fund in 2017
$310,757 collected in St. Louis in 2017
$43,913 average annual per-person cost to care for retired women and men religious; The cost of care for senior women and men religious in the United States has exceeded $1 billion annually for each of the last 10 years.
68% of women and men religious in the United States (about 31,000) are 70 years or older; by 2028, the elder religious will outnumber those under 70 3:1
23 of 547 religious communities in the United States are adequately funded for retirement.
About 94% of donations aid elder religious; the rest covers administrative costs.
Source: Retirement Fund for Religious