Dominican Sister Maureen Cannon was seeking her place in the world when she heard God’s call to religious life. In October 1952, the 19-year-old Philadelphia native entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci community and embarked on a blessed life of serving others throughout the United States, namely in campus ministry and religious education.
Now retired, Sister Cannon continues to minister to God’s people, serving the faithful at Ascension Parish in Melbourne whenever needed. She also serves her fellow retired religious sisters and brothers as the coordinator for the Retirement Fund for Religious, a special collection to be held in the Diocese of Orlando the weekend of Dec. 6-7.
Now in its 27th year, the Retirement Fund for Religious is a parish-based appeal, coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington, D.C. Funds collected are used to offer financial help for the day-to-day care of more than 35,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers and religious-order priests nationwide. Last year, the Diocese of Orlando contributed $61,937 to the collection.
Bishop John Noonan encourages parishioners to once again give generously to the annual collection.
“Each year we remember the religious and we remember them in a very special way by taking up a collection for them,” he said. “This year is especially important because Pope Francis wants us to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life.
“We give to these religious sisters and brothers who have shaped our lives, helped us learn, grow and become who we are today,” he continued. “We are grateful for their gifts from the past, and we are joyful today for who they are and what they have done in our lives. And we thank them with our generosity.”
Traditionally, men and women religious worked for small stipends that furnished only the basics of daily living. As a result, a majority of religious communities now lack adequate savings for retirement, with the men and women living on an average of approximately $4,800 annually in Social Security benefits. Sister Cannon’s community receives $450 each month for her support.
In addition, religious communities are financially autonomous and are solely responsible for the care and support of all members. While the income of younger members help support the care of their elders, their wages are not sufficient in covering skyrocketing living and health care, especially as older religious not only outnumber their younger counterparts — an estimate of four to one by the year 2024 — but are also living longer.
In 1988, Catholic bishops in the United States initiated the collection to address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious communities. Since the collection began, the faithful have contributed $726 million with more than 93 percent of the donations directly supporting senior religious and their communities. Last year, $23 million was distributed among 424 religious communities.
Sister Cannon said that she feels blessed by the generosity of the people.
“I find it absolutely wonderful,” she said. “It is a testament to me about how the laity is really grateful to religious men and women for what we have done for them personally and what we have done for the Church.
“This is an absolutely wonderful time in my life,” she added. “I am so grateful. I want to live every moment of my life in gratitude. We can’t even fathom the abundance of our blessings. That is what I want to tune into as much as I can.”