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Campaign To Support Sisters Of St. Joseph Raises $8 Million

A western-Massachusetts based religious order whose members taught generations of New Englanders in parochial schools has been saved from financial ruin.

Four years after it was revealed the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield was on a course toward bankruptcy, the 130-year-old religious community announced a public campaign had succeeded in raising $8 million to pay for its members’ retirement expenses.

Sister Joan Ryzewicz, the president of the 198-member congregation of mostly-retired teachers, said it is humbling to know so many people are concerned about their religious community.

" I don't know where we would be without them," said Ryzewicz. " As we have been there for them, we know they are there for us, and it is a wonderfully warm feeling to know that."

Members of the religious order taught in parish schools in dioceses that included Worcester, Burlington, Vermont and Providence, Rhode Island.  For decades they were paid a stipend of about $50 per month. The decline in parochial school enrollments and the closing of a majority of the parish schools left them with no financial support in retirement.

When a financial projection in 2013 said the order would go bankrupt by 2018, drastic steps were taken to cut expenses, including selling the Mount Marie motherhouse in Holyoke and its 84-bed nursing home and an appeal for help was made within the parishes.

" There was just a tremendous need and we had no other choice but to go to the community and explain our situation and raise funds.  So, the last leadership team embarked on the 'Support the Sisters' campaign," explained Ryzewicz.

Shortly after the public fundraising campaign was launched in 2015, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski announced a $1 million donation from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Ryzewicz said more than 4,000 individual gifts and pledges were made to the “Support the Sisters” campaign.

" I think the success of the campaign is attributed to the fact that through the years our sisters built strong relationships in every part of New England where they taught or whatever their ministry was, so people really came to our aid," said Ryzewicz.

Former Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, who was taught by members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, was a co-chairman of the fundraising campaign.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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