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Rally for retired religious hits 25 fruitful years

He’ll be thinking about Sister Francis Borgia, who governed 40 students with loving command.

Or Sister Mary Gregory. That nun, a teacher of sixth grade in Lackawanna, worried about her students all the time – even after they grew up.

“She told my mother she would pray for me, after she heard I became a lawyer,” Edward C. Cosgrove said of the nun, who taught him at Our Lady of Victory elementary school.

In addition to Sister Mary Gregory, many other religious women – and many religious men, too – will be on the minds of Catholics and others in Western New York as the annual campaign to raise money for retired sisters, priests and brothers begins a new season.

The Buffalo campaign for retired religious has raised some $24 million over the 25 years of its existence, according to Cosgrove and others who promote the campaign.

The Retirement Fund for the Religious Drive is entering its 25th year in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, and so the annual drive – which began with a luncheon Friday and culminates in a fundraising weekend in Catholic parishes Dec. 8-9 – has overtones of jubilation as well as purpose.

“We’ve had so many Catholic schools in the diocese,” said Sister Jean Thompson, the diocesan vicar for religious and coordinator for the past five years for the retirement fundraising campaign. “At one time, there were 3,000 religious women working here. And they had a tremendous impact.”

In fact, out of all the Catholic dioceses in the United States, Buffalo ranks No. 2 for the amount of money raised during the 25 years of the campaign – second only to Chicago in terms of cumulative fundraising.

Buffalo raised $21.5 million over the first 24 years of the campaign, according to 2011 statistics provided by Cosgrove; Chicago raised $29.2 million.

That all works out to a lot of generous people remembering a lot of Sister Francis Borgias and Sister Mary Gregorys – and reaching into their wallets and checkbooks to benefit these senior religious, said Cosgrove.

Some 600 people attended this year’s kickoff luncheon at the Hyatt Hotel.

“It’s not a fundraiser at all – it’s a pep rally,” said Cosgrove, a former Erie County district attorney and longtime local lawyer.

“We just say, ‘Come and sit, listen to this, and get enthused, and go back into your parishes and talk about it,’ ” Cosgrove said. “And that’s why we do so well.”

Recently installed Bishop of Buffalo Richard J. Malone attended the luncheon, and so did Sister Janice Bader, executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington, D.C.

“We are really hoping that it’s going to be a year very much in keeping with the last two or three years,” Thompson said. “In the last two to three years ... it’s remained fairly constant.”

In 2011, the local campaign raised $820,000 for the local retired religious, after some administrative costs, said Thompson.

Cosgrove said that, once again, his mind will be on the religious women who influenced his early life, as he begins work on this year’s appeal.

“I was the eldest of nine children,” said Cosgrove, 78, a Lackawanna native. “My mother was always tired. I would go to the athletic field, I would go after school – those (religious) women became in a sense, auxiliaries to my mother.

“How did I get out of Lackawanna? They encouraged me.

“They encouraged me to write a good composition – in addition to scoring a touchdown on the football field.”