St. Bede monks are helped by appeal for retired religious

By: By Jennifer Willems

PERU — St. Bede Academy has a professional greeter. A sign at the main entrance of the school marks the spot where he stands each morning as students arrive — and many afternoons as they leave.

At 91, Brother George Matsuoka, OSB, would be considered well past retirement age by any standard. Those standards don’t apply when you’re a member of a religious community, however.

“Our primary vocation is to the religious life, no matter what kind of active ministry we’re doing . . . and that doesn’t change a lot,” Abbot Philip Davey, OSB, of St. Bede Abbey told The Catholic Post.

“There may not be as many distractions when you’re no longer teaching or have a position like I have, where there are times you have to be gone. Those people maintain the basic rhythm of life,” he explained.

It is for people like Brother George and communities like St. Bede that the Retirement Fund for Religious was established 25 years ago.

The annual collection, which benefits men and women religious age 60 and older, will be received in parishes around the United States the weekend of Dec. 8 and 9. It is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington, D.C.

The 2011 appeal raised $27.4 million — including $134,627 from the Diocese of Peoria — and resulted in grants of $23 million to 453 religious communities. The monks of St. Bede Abbey received direct care assistance in the amount of $25,811.

Since the collection began, Catholics in the United States have donated more than $671 million to support senior religious.

Brother George isn’t the only Benedictine monk of retirement age at St. Bede who continues to serve. Abbot Philip pointed to Father Matthew Mazzuchelli, OSB, who has offered weekend assistance at St. Lawrence Parish in South Wilmington for more than 40 years.

“For some of them, he’s the priest they’ve known all their lives,” Abbot Philip said of the 81-year-old cleric. “He very much loves the people over there and they quite clearly love and appreciate him.”

So much so that in the winter parishioners will meet him in Morris and drive him to South Wilmington for the weekend and bring him back to Morris for the return trip to St. Bede.

“They love it because it gives them a chance to be with him and talk with him,” according to Abbot Philip.

He added that over the years Father Matthew has made wood toys for the parishioners at Christmas and furniture for the parish auction.

Father Arthur Schmit, OSB, 82, retired from teaching German and French at the end of the last school year, but is still active with the monastery’s bee colony and honey production. He also works with the Bedan Club, a group of male alumni who assist and raise money for St. Bede Academy.

“All of those wonderful things that people do, do a lot of good for people but in terms of the income it brings in it doesn’t come anywhere near meeting the expenses they have,” Abbot Philip said. “That’s the issue — this is a collection for religious who can verify that they have needs above what they’re able to take care of themselves.”

For more than 100 years, St. Bede Abbey was able to generate the income it needed to support both the Benedictine community and St. Bede Academy in a variety of ways, including parish work and running the farm that was on the monastery property.

Abbot Philip said that when he was a student at the academy in 1961 the tuition was about $200 and 85 percent of the teachers were monks. Those salaries came back to the abbey, allowing the monks to pay their bills and subsidize tuition at the same time.

“At the end of the year, when the final financial report came out, the abbey would take part of its surplus income and use it to cover the costs that were not covered by what the academy generated,” Abbot Philip told The Post. “So there was a sense that every student who came to St. Bede was being subsidized.”

That practice stopped in 1993, when the monastery no longer had sufficient income to subsidize the school in the same way, he said. Now St. Bede receives financial support from the parishes that “feed into” the school, just as Peoria Notre Dame or Marquette Academy in Ottawa do, among other things.

Abbot Philip said he is very grateful to the Diocese of Peoria for this support, which has allowed St. Bede Academy to remain a Benedictine private school. He also gives thanks for the Retirement Fund for Religious, which he called “an affirmation of who we are and what we do.”
He added that the collection is an important expression of what it means to be church.

“The people of God are called to take care of each other and to be concerned especially — as it says throughout Scripture — for those who are poor and in need and infirm,” he said. “It’s another way in which the church tries to teach people to acknowledge the blessings they have received from other people and that we are not alone and self-sufficient — even as a religious community.”

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