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Sustaining a future for people who have served the church

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Special to The Dialog

 

Kevin Scott doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon from St. Elizabeth School, where he went to grade and high school and returned to work in 1981.

Still, the parish-based high school’s development director knows that at some point he will probably have to retire. “It’s a comfort to know that the diocesan pension plan is in place and is healthy,” Scott said. “That’s something I can depend on.”

Jeannie Fleming retired two years ago as director of religious education at St. Ann in Bethany Beach, where she had worked for 24 years. Fleming’s pension from the diocese helps her and her husband travel to visit one of their nine children who lives in Vermont, as well as with the basic needs of life and to sometimes help their children and grandchildren. Currently a daughter, Monica, and her two children live with Fleming and her husband Neil while Monica works on a nursing degree.

 Kevin Scott has worked full-time for the Diocese of Wilmington since 1975. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

Kevin Scott has worked full-time for the Diocese of Wilmington since 1975. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

The Diocese of Wilmington is in the midst of a campaign to strengthen the Lay Employee Pension Fund, as well as diocesan offices and ministries and the Trust for the Welfare and Retirement of Priests. “Sustaining Hope for the Future,” as the campaign is called, seeks a total of $28 million that includes $11.2 million for needs identified by local parishes.

The Lay Employee Pension Plan serves some 1,600 current and former diocesan employees vested under the old pension program, which was frozen in December 2011. Now the diocese and many parishes offer employees 403(b) plans.

St. Elizabeth and St. Ann are two of 33 parishes participating in Wave II of the campaign, which officially begins Sept. 20-21. Those parishes have a combined target of $16,435,000.

More than $16 million has already been pledged, including more than $3 million raised by Bishop Malooly and nearly $500,000 contributed by the priests of the diocese. The remainder came from parishes involved in Wave I of the campaign, conducted last year.

Bishop Malooly has said “Sustaining Hope for the Future” is necessary so the diocese can get “back on an even footing” following a bankruptcy settlement in September 2011. That agreement settled over 150 claims of survivors of sexual abuse by priests and claims of other creditors. Also folded into the settlement were about 100 suits brought against 29 individual parishes.

Part of that agreement called for the diocese to add $10 million to the Lay Employee Pension Plan to ensure its stability.

 

‘People are the church’

“We often talk about ‘the diocese’ as if it is a faceless entity,” Bishop Malooly said. “But real people work for the diocese, through our schools and religious education programs, parish staff, Catholic Charities and our cemetery personnel. These individuals have often sacrificed in order to serve the church and their fellow Catholics.”

Those vested in the fund include parish personnel, including those who work in parish schools, such as Scott, and those who worked in parish ministries, such as Fleming.

“Since Vatican II we have emphasized that the people are the church,” Bishop Malooly said. “These particular people, who have worked in our parishes, our schools, and our diocesan ministries, are visible examples of the people being the church through their service.”

Fleming feels “conflicted by the catastrophe that perpetuated the financial part” of the diocese’s current situation, the clergy abuse scandal. But when it comes to the pension plan, she views it as a contract the church that is the Diocese of Wilmington made with its employees. Since the church is the people, she sees a need for the people of the diocese to ensure the pension fund’s stability.

She remains involved in some diocesan efforts. She is a member of the Building Intercultural Connections team that works to improve relations between the ethnic and racial groups that comprise today’s parishes, and she traveled to Guatemala in 2012 as part of the diocese’s Solidarity program with the Diocese of San Marcos. She also continues efforts to repeal Delaware’s death penalty, based on Catholic social teaching.

Fleming began as one of two people in charge of religious education efforts at St. Ann but later it merged into one position, which she held. Besides the religious formation program for elementary school students, confirmation classes, and youth ministry, “I was responsible for education, from baptism classes for parents to adjustment for retirement classes for older people. We did it all.”

Parish life was far different when she began.

“That was before the deacons came into prominence in the diocese,” after the position of deacons was reinstituted by the Second Vatican Council, she said. “Then the deacons came and we wondered, ‘How did we ever function without them?’”

She and her husband Neil celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in May. He worked with a family business.

Scott has been a parishioner at St. Elizabeth since 1958, when his family moved from the area around the Cathedral of St. Peter to near Maryland Avenue. He went through elementary and high school at the parish, then studied communications at the University of Delaware. While in college he started working part-time in the diocesan communications office under its former director, Gene Donnelly.

He became a full-time employee after graduating from UD in 1975, and worked in communications until joining the staff at St. Elizabeth High in 1981. Now he is about five years away from retirement age but has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“I would like to continue working as long as I’m healthy and as long as I’m useful to St. Elizabeth,” said Scott, who is single. “I know that no matter what my intentions might be, God might have other plans for me.”

Scott, whose brother Vinnie was a longtime coach and instructor at St. Mark’s High School, became synonymous with St. Elizabeth High School, handling communication and public relations as well as serving for a while as alumni relations director in addition to his development work. He also has been involved with theatrical productions at the high school and often sang at weddings in the parish church.

 

Family peace of mind

“The great thing about St. Elizabeth is that it’s family,” Scott said. “It gives you a sense of belonging to a family and being important to other people, being appreciated by other people and being needed by other people. Those are all things that I think help people develop peace of mind.”

The pension plan helped provide peace of mind to his mother when he began working for the diocese, even though retirement “was the last thing on my mind” as a young man starting his new job.

“She thought it was wonderful that I was working for the church,” he said. She was happy when she learned about the pension plan.

“One of the things she was always concerned about for all three of her children was not only our present but our future,” Scott said. “I think it gave her peace of mind in my case, knowing that the diocese would take care of me in retirement. It meant a lot to her.”

“Sustaining Hope for the Future” will help ensure Mrs. Scott’s peace of mind.

 

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Q & A: The Lay Employee Pension Plan

 

Who is eligible to receive pensions under the Lay Employee Pension Plan?

More than 1,600 current and former employees are “vested,” or eligible to receive benefits from this pension plan. Some were involved in diocesan offices and ministries that support the ministry provided by our parishes. But the bulk of those covered by the plan worked in our parishes and in schools supported by those parishes.

Why does the diocese need money to fund this plan?

When the diocese declared bankruptcy, a group of employees retained their own legal counsel as a means to ensure protection of their earned pension benefits. The bankruptcy settlement included an agreement that reaffirmed the obligation of the diocese to pay all pension benefits through the end of the year the diocese emerged from bankruptcy. Those contributions peak at $5 million each in 2016 and 2017.

Are all employees covered by the plan?

No. The Lay Employee Pension Plan was frozen in December 2011. Only those who were vested from when it began as a retirement plan for Catholic school teachers in 1966 until the time it was frozen are eligible for the specified benefits. Now, the diocese and many parishes offer employees 403(b) plans.

Were funds from the Lay Employee Pension Plan used in the sexual child abuse settlements?

No. The Lay Employee Pension Plan has its own trust fund and was not endangered by the bankruptcy process. The lay employees’ pension trust and several other trust funds also designated for specified purposes — school tuition assistance, for example —could not be used for the clergy sexual abuse settlements. Likewise, the diocese has established a trust fund for “Sharing Hope for the Future,” which will restrict its expenditures only to initiatives specified in the campaign.

Some parishioners are not offered a pension through their employment in the private sector. Why should they support the diocesan employees’ pension plan?

Diocesan employees have traditionally worked for a lesser salary than they would receive in the for-profit business sector. The parish secretaries, maintenance workers, schoolteachers, religious educators and administrators are faith-filled lay employees who worked in service to the church. Supporting the campaign will help the diocese keep its promise of retirement benefits to parish and diocesan staff members in the Lay Employee Pension Plan.

 

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Quick facts:

• 260 people receive retirement benefits at present

• 1,361 people are “vested,” or eligible to receive benefits in the future

• Diocese and many parishes now offer employees a 403(b) plan