A published author and enthusiast of world religions, Sister Mary Francis "Sister Fran" Gangloff, OSF, currently manages health insurance and government benefits for women religious in the Western New York region. Sister Fran discussed her ministry, as well as seeing firsthand the great need for the Retirement Fund for Religious, last month at her office at St. Mary of the Angels Convent in Williamsville.
Sister Fran first became interested in religious life when she was in sixth grade. She recalled how she had sisters as teachers while she was attending Our Lady Help of Christians School in Cheektowaga, and decided that was what she wanted to do. She continued on to St. Mary's High School in Lancaster, and in her senior year, she contacted the Williamsville Franciscans about joining their order.
"I joined in 1958. I've been in 58 years, almost 60," Sister Fran added. "I grew up in Depew. I was 17 when I entered the convent, and finished college. We had a junior college, St. Clare (closed in 1971), and I finished at Rosary Hill, which is now Daemen College. Then I worked for my master's at Canisius in English literature, but was assigned to teach seventh- and eighth-grade math and science."
Although writing was always Sister Fran's passion, she tried to get into a writing course at that time, but her schedule did not allow for it. She taught elementary school for a number of years, including serving as a teacher at St. Gregory the Great and assistant principal for SS. Peter and Paul, both in Williamsville. She lived in the order's motherhouse, then on Mill Street. She then entered a ministry where she could write.
"I was in these elementary schools until 1980, at which time I went to the Western New York Catholic," Sister Fran added. "I started writing for them in 1980, and in 1981, I started actually going there and working as a writer and photographer. A couple of years into that, they asked me to be the managing editor."
While teaching and serving as a principal, Sister Fran wrote articles for The Buffalo News to publish. At one point, she inquired at the Western New York Catholic, of which Msgr. David Lee was then the editor-in-chief and director of communications. "Msgr. Lee hired me, so I worked there for almost 20 years," Sister Fran added. "At the time when he was assigned to a parish, he was leaving campus ministry, and he asked if I would want to do campus ministry, so after 20 years at the paper, I went into campus ministry."
Sister Fran served as a campus minister at Erie Community College's South Campus on Sept. 11, 2001, where she helped many Yemeni students. She always had an interest in other cultures, so Sister Fran chose to put this in writing. She traveled the world and was able to collect artifacts of other cultures, which inspired her to learn more about them. They also inspired her writing to a large extent.
"I started going to Goodwill, flea markets and garage sales, collecting world artifacts," she recalled. "In doing that, I began to be curious about the religions related to the artifacts. I did a lot of reading and research. I hoped to write a book simply on world religions, but I couldn't find a publisher for it."
Since the St. Agatha rectory was no longer being used, Sister Fran moved in with the goal of serving as a writer-in-residence. She has written many books, among them "New Clouds of Witnesses," two books detailing symbolism and world religions in stained glass imagery at the St. Ambrose and Holy Family worship sites in South Buffalo, which merged with St. Agatha to form Our Lady of Charity Parish.
In 2010, Sister Fran was asked to begin service managing health benefits, which she does while living in Williamsville. "When I first came, there were about 110 sisters in the Western New York area. Now we're down to about 90," she added. "We really are in four regions now, but I'm just doing the stuff for the Western New York region. I'm the only sister doing it. In other regions, they've hired laypeople."
Of the 90 sisters whose records Sister Fran manages, only two are under the age of 65, meaning the vast majority of them are eligible for Medicare. In her current ministry, Sister Fran has witnessed firsthand the increased aging of the communities of women religious in the diocese, as well as increased costs of health care, which is where the Retirement Fund for Religious, which helps pay for their care, comes in.
"Once they turn 65, they go on Medicare. At age 62, I move most of them into receiving Social Security, which is not a very large amount, since not very much was ever paid into it," Sister Fran explained. "In addition to that, many of them also qualify for supplemental security income. I also move a lot of them into Medicaid. I would say 75 to 80 of the 90 are also on Medicaid." Sister Fran also stressed the importance of a new Catholic program in the diocese, called "Living Independently for Elders," based in Lackawanna.
"If we go that route with the sisters, Medicare and Medicaid pay for everything," she said. "In addition to these things, we also have Blue Cross/Blue Shield Excellus as a supplemental insurance for several of them. In the late 1980s, a 10-year plan was to collect money nationally, and it would be sent back to the various motherhouses in each diocese. This diocese has a lot of motherhouses, so it's spread more thinly than it would be if you had only a couple. (The retirement fund) does supplement what we have."
"All they get for a given month is around $700. If you buy your own food and stuff, you know that that doesn't go too far. The care for an ill or elderly sister is in the neighborhood of about $20,000, so there's a big gap between what's coming in, and what we need. Then we use up funds we have saved."