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Sister Andree Fries, 65; oversaw retirement funds for nuns, priests, brothers

July 30, 2007|Patricia Sullivan | Washington Post

Sister Andree Fries, who oversaw the retirement collection for thousands of nuns, priests, brothers and other members of Catholic religious orders, died July 14 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore of pneumonia after knee surgery last month. She was 65.

Fries had led the National Religious Retirement Office since 2000, after two years as project director and four years as associate director of the Tri-Conference Retirement Office.

Fries received a master's degree in business administration from Southern Illinois University in 1972 and twice served as superior general of her order, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood.

"She had great business sense, religious sense and common sense," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

In the Catholic Church, stipends from working members of each order support the order's retirees. But since the 1960s, fewer people have entered religious life, so the amount available to retirees has fallen.

"We used to have a whole lot of young nuns, and we'd be out there working, and we'd send money home to take care of a few older nuns," Fries told Reuters news service in 2001.

"Now we have an inverted pyramid. We have a very small group of women working and a larger group needing care."

Since the 1970s, religious institutes have been able to buy credits to make their members eligible for Social Security, but the low-income wage history of most nuns, priests and others results in benefits about one-third that of other U.S. workers.

"I think the common perception is that the church takes care of us

In 1988, several years after the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article about nuns on food stamps, several foundations, the bishops conference and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men established the National Religious Retirement Office.

A voluntary collection taken each December in churches across the nation helps address the financial needs of more than 37,000 retired religious members. It raises about $30 million each year toward a shortfall of $7 billion, according to the retirement office's website.

Fries, born Sharon Ann Fries in Quincy, Ill., entered the convent of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, based in O'Fallon, Mo., at 18. She took her final vows in 1967.

After graduating from Quincy College in her hometown, she taught school in St. Louis and Quincy but was drawn to administration.

Fries became director of financial planning for her order and later was general councilor. The order sent her to graduate school to earn an MBA, a rare degree for nuns of that era. She was the order's superior general from 1980 to 1986 and 1992 to 1998.

Fries was one of three elected U.S. representatives to the International Union of Superiors General in Rome. She also was appointed deputy to the general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops to deal with the bishops' response to sexual abuse issues in the church.

Her survivors include two sisters.

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