Actions Not Words

Growing Number of Retirees Hear the Call

SHCJ Attracts Retired Volunteers on a Quest for Personal Fulfillment

With improved health care, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78 years of age. Coupled with the country’s average retirement age of 62, today’s retiree can anticipate nearly two decades of rest and relaxation. But is that enough for the legions of coming-of-age Baby Boomers who have learned to define themselves by their professional accomplishments? For a growing number of young retirees, two decades is too long to idle. Among these high achievers, some are reinventing their lives by focusing on personal giving and volunteerism. According to Sister Catherine Quinn of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ), an international religious order of Roman Catholic Sisters, “It is not uncommon for the Society to be contacted by people who have reached a point in their life where their material and professional success is not enough.”

The Turning Point: When More Is Less
Sister Catherine is a spiritual advisor who counsels members of the laity, some of whom are struggling with issues of contentment and concerns about preoccupation with material things. “These are wonderful, accomplished people who are proud of their financial success and career achievements, but are conflicted about their material blessings. The desire to do for others can be overwhelming.”

Sister Catherine has been encouraging friends and SHCJ’s volunteers since 1966. The Society, founded by Cornelia Connelly in 1846, helps many people, especially women and children, develop the tools and skills needed to overcome obstacles such as poverty, illiteracy and abuse so they can live with joy and purpose. In carrying out its mission, SHCJ relies on the efforts and expertise of the laity to transform the lives of the large population it serves —whether it’s pro bono legal services at Casa Cornelia Law Center, medical assistance in Fe y Alegria, a learning center and medical center in the Dominican Republic, or instruction at the Society’s schools and centers worldwide.

Actions Not Words
Volunteers appear to be drawn to SHCJ’s simple principle, “Actions Not Words,” a powerful and compelling sentiment. Sister Catherine explained that not all of their volunteers and colleagues are Roman Catholic, but all do share a passion for helping others. Volunteerism among SHCJ volunteers is serious business and many characterize it as a vocation. Whether the zeal and commitment with which the volunteers approach their work results from an inner readiness to commit to others, or whether a taste of volunteerism creates an appetite for more good works is unclear. But, it is clear that the SHCJ volunteers are passionate about their work.

The Sisters ardently support fostering close relationships with the laity. Volunteers serve in the 14 schools and college founded by SHCJ, and are involved in social work, legal and health care programs. The Sisters realize that as the Society confronts poverty, illiteracy and abuse, to supplement the ranks of their small order, they must be amenable to including volunteers and Associates who are equally committed to the mission of SHCJ. According to Sister Catherine, “We have staff and volunteers who do not share our religious affiliation, but we all share a passion for helping others.”

The Changing Landscape of Volunteerism
Much has been written about the 2000s, the “greed decade,” where “bigger” was the byword. However, the acquisitive culture of the 2000s eventually took a toll on the moral equilibrium of some of the decade’s most avid and successful achievers. As one recent under-60 retiree with a background in mergers and acquisitions wryly stated, “I made a healthy profit for the firm and I’m looking at a reasonably comfortable future. But, I realized that that isn’t enough – I’m not entirely comfortable with myself and what I have.” He’s now searching for personal fulfillment, not through paid employment, but through volunteerism. Why not just change careers? “I have specific skills and experience that are part of the package, but I’m not looking for career growth but for the opportunity to make a contribution of a personal nature. Through volunteerism, I can explore different aspect of my personality and have the freedom to create something that’s meaningful to me and beneficial to others.”

Those who work with SHCJ volunteers are seeing this attitude more and more frequently. Sister Catherine noted that not all volunteers are refugees from the professional and corporate worlds. Volunteers also come from service-focused backgrounds. She believes that their prior service experience inspires these volunteers to continue their efforts to contribute to the good of others. Stephanie Griffin, after retiring as Head of Mayfield Junior School of the Holy Child in California, drew her inspiration for continuing service from the students who attended Mayfield and lived by the precept, “Actions Not Words.”

Testing the Waters, Taking the Plunge
Stephanie began her career in the New York City independent school system. She describes the environment as “materialistic.”

Fifteen years ago she accepted a position with SHCJ’s Mayfield Junior School. Working with students in a school that focused on service was eye opening. “These children became my example.” Fifteen years later, when Stephanie retired and returned to the East Coast, she realized that her commitment to service was so deep that she could not ignore it. “I worked all my life for a paycheck and never had the luxury of being a woman of service.” Stephanie now volunteers with SHCJ by heading up the Capital Campaign of Hope Partnership for Education, serving as a member of the Society’s Mission Advancement Advisory Board, and she is on the Board of Trustees of the Rosemont School of the Holy Child. She has consciously made time for the most important components of her life: the church, her family and service. Stephanie is one of the volunteers who was not searching for a way of life that was unfamiliar to her, but was seeking to continue the life of service that was familiar and fulfilling to her.

Why Volunteer?
Sister Catherine believes that service and volunteerism reflect God’s desire to ensure that people flourish, regardless of where they are in their lives — young, old, male, female. There is a volunteer opportunity that will satisfy anyone who has experienced the inner desire to seek these types of opportunities. Whether you are interested in using a skill that you have developed over the years, or are interested in contributing in a way that provides more than just professional satisfaction, SHCJ provides a substantial number of varied opportunities. SHCJ is a warm, caring community that focuses on developing rapport between the clergy, laity, and women religious in a way that improves the lives of others and contributes to fulfilling God’s desire that all people flourish.