SOAR! honorees say women and men religious who inspired generations now need help in their retirement
Nov. 9, 2017
Receiving the highest honor from SOAR! (Support Our Aging Religious), Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said the nation’s women and men religious demonstrate “what the Catholic Church is all about” in their lives of educating the nation’s youth and caring for the poor, the sick and immigrants.
“My life has been touched by religious women and men so often,” said the archbishop emeritus of Washington, who received SOAR!’s Saint Katharine Drexel Award at the group’s Nov. 3 awards dinner at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
Cardinal McCarrick said throughout his life he has been blessed to know members of religious communities, noting that he was taught by women religious and then by Jesuit priests as he was growing up, and later as a priest and bishop, witnessed their range of services to those in need.
Now in his retirement, the cardinal lives at the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, where he said he has experienced their hospitality and goodness.
“We will never be able to thank” religious sisters, brothers and priests enough for their lives of service, Cardinal McCarrick said, noting that through their ministries they bring Christ to people and prepare them for life, to do “great things and small things” for others.
Reflecting on the vocations of women and men religious, the cardinal said, “It’s something you do if you love the Lord. This is the road you take to follow Him.”
Cardinal McCarrick said he felt “totally unworthy” to receive the group’s honor, but he said it was very meaningful to him. Later, he jokingly added, “I’m 87, so it’s now or never!”
The awards dinner was emceed by Kathleen Matthews, formerly a longtime news anchor and reporter for the ABC-TV affiliate in Washington who later worked as the chief communications officer for Marriott International. She and her husband Chris Matthews – the host of the MSNBC show Hardball and the author of a new biography of Bobby Kennedy – are longtime supporters of SOAR!, which was founded by a group of concerned laypeople in 1986 to help the nation’s religious face a mounting shortfall in retirement funds.
In introducing Cardinal McCarrick, Matthews noted his service as archbishop of Washington from 2001-06, when he founded the Redemptoris Mater Mission Seminary and helped lead a capital campaign for the archdiocese’s educational and charitable ministries, and who in his retirement has continued supporting Catholic Relief Services in its outreach to the poor around the world and has promoted interfaith dialogue and cooperation in the Middle East. She noted the cardinal was known for saying, “We are all brothers and sisters in God’s one human family.”
SOAR!’s Saint Katharine Drexel Award honors individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions to the Catholic Church, especially to America’s men and women religious. The award is named for the Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament devoted to serving Native Americans and African-Americans and was canonized a saint in 2000.
Also at the SOAR! dinner, Jane Sullivan Roberts, a partner in a Washington law firm and member of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland, received the group’s Saint Elizabeth Seton Award, named for the woman who in 1975 became the first person born in the United States to be canonized as a saint and who in the early 1800s founded a Catholic school that was the forerunner to the parochial school system in this country. The award honors people who have distinguished themselves through leadership and generosity in the Catholic community in the spirit of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who offered the invocation at the dinner, praised his predecessor, Cardinal McCarrick, as a man who used his talents in serving those in need around the world, and who by his personal example “demonstrates what priestly life is all about.”
Cardinal Wuerl also praised Roberts’ service to the Church, saying that she “gets good things done.” She has served on the board of the John Carroll Society, a group of Catholic professionals in the Washington area whose members are active in charitable outreach and spiritual programs.
Noting that as a youngster he had been taught by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, Cardinal Wuerl thanked religious communities, not only for teaching generations of students “to read and write and tell the difference between good and bad,” but also for establishing the first Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable institutions in communities across the country.
Sister Kathleen Lunsmann, an Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister who serves as president of SOAR!, thanked Catholics for their support of the group’s work.
In 2017, SOAR! provided $1.2 million in grants to 70 religious congregations across the United States, for services like updating fire alarm systems, renovating bathrooms and purchasing specialty hospital beds for aged religious.
In the Archdiocese of Washington, grants from SOAR! helped the Little Sisters of the Poor purchase a wheelchair accessible van, and helped the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity in Silver Spring, Maryland, replace fan coil units in the bedrooms of the order’s retirement residence.
“Congregations of men and women really now more than ever need our help in caring for aging members,” SOAR!’s president said, noting that after the three recent hurricanes that hit the United States and its territories, the group provided $45,000 in emergency grants to religious communities serving there.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, SOAR! provided funds to three congregations of sisters in Houston who had faced devastating flooding on their property. After Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, SOAR! sent emergency funds to the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Caguas, and after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the Poor Clare nuns in Fort Meyers Beach received a SOAR! grant to help make repairs to their roof and property.
The Washington dinner raised $300,000 for SOAR! Also at that dinner, the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus received the Rita Hofbauer Grant, named in honor of SOAR!’s founding president. The $7,000 grant funded matresses and lift chairs for the community, which is based in Reading, Pennsylvania, and has 600 sisters serving in 21 countries around the world, in education, social services, hospice work and eldercare, campus and youth ministry, prison ministry and health care.
Accepting the grant on behalf of that religious community, Sister Rosemarie Sommers, said that help has been “life-changing” for elderly sisters who “have spent their whole lives sharing God’s compassion and love and ministering to God’s people.”
After receiving the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Award, Jane Sullivan Roberts noted that two of her grandmother’s older sisters emigrated from Ireland to the United States with two brothers, with the women working as domestics and the men working on the railroad to help save their family’s farm in Ireland. Those two women later became Sisters of Charity in New York and “dedicated themselves to the service of God” after helping save the farm back home, Roberts said.
Roberts, who grew up in the Bronx, noted that she was taught by the Presentation Sisters in elementary school, and then by the Sisters of Mercy at St. Catherine Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school.
Speaking of the impact of women religious on her life, Roberts noted there were 61 children in her first grade class, all taught by a very young sister. The sisters who taught her in Catholic school taught her to pray, and how to think, said Roberts, who later was in the first co-ed freshman class at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she earned a math degree. Later she earned a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, another Jesuit institution.
“They (the sisters) taught us we could do anything,” said Roberts, who now serves as a partner and legal recruiter at the firm of Major, Lindsey & Africa in Washington.
She said the women religious also “imparted enduring truths, that God is good and loves me, and has a plan for me, and that we are all children of God, made in his image and likeness.”
Roberts noted that while her alma mater St. Catherine Academy served earlier generations of Irish immigrants, the school now serves students with family roots in more than 40 different countries.
“The Mercy Sisters are still quietly working miracles in the Bronx every day,” she said.
Reflecting on the women religious who taught her, Roberts said, “The real key to our education was the sisters’ love and sacrifice.”
Noting that those women and men religious worked for a stipend and now face growing costs for retirement and health care, she added, “We need to spread the word that now it’s our turn to help them.”
Roberts is married to John G. Roberts Jr., the Chief Justice of the United States, and they have a son and a daughter.
(For information on supporting the work of SOAR!, go online to
www.soar-usa.org or call 202-529-7627.)
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