Sister Charlene Herinckx, SSMO: Sharing A Hand Up

Sister Charlene Herinckx, superior general of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, understands that each religious community’s retirement circumstances are unique. As a volunteer consultant for the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) Planning and Implementation Assistance program, she tries to help communities find strategies that are right for them. “There’s no cookie cutter approach,” she says. “Every community has different needs. So, I try to be where they are and connect them with what the NRRO can offer in terms of assistance.”

Funded by proceeds from the annual Retirement Fund for Religious appeal, Planning and Implementation Assistance offers comprehensive financial and consultative support to religious communities with serious retirement-funding shortages. Volunteer consultants, like Sister Charlene, specialize in three areas: finance, eldercare, and/or leadership. They assist participating communities in developing strategies to address their most difficult retirement challenges.

As superior, Sister Charlene oversees her community’s efforts to assure ongoing support for elder members, some of whom influenced her own vocation. Growing up on a farm, she attended a rural parish with a small school where she was taught by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon. Her family even provided the milk for the local convent, delivering it a few times a week. “The sisters were part of our lives forever. We got to know them very well and were comfortable around them,” she says. “They looked like someone I wanted to be.”

In 2013, Sister Charlene’s community participated in an NRRO program known as an Eldercare Consultation to help them assess their infirmary and eldercare delivery. “We were very grateful, and that process made me aware of how much can get done when communities know about the programs the NRRO offers,” she says. A couple of years later when the NRRO was looking for volunteer consultants, Sister Charlene knew that she could share her experience in community in leadership. “I’ve had plenty of practice with that,” she laughs.

Over the years, Sister Charlene served in various capacities on her community’s leadership council and is currently in her second term as the superior general. Having also served in a wide range of ministries—from teaching to vocational work—she understands the central role that leadership plays in supporting members in each stage of religious life. This experience allows her to advise leaders from other religious orders as they strive to address retirement needs while sustaining community life and ministry. “The blessing for me has been meeting religious from other congregations and seeing their sense of accomplishment when their projects come to completion,” she says.

Sister Charlene Herinckx is pictured in her community’s chapel with her 3rd and 4th grade teachers and fellow sisters. From left: Sisters Rose Mary Heineck, Ruth Etzel, and Charlene Herinckx, SSMO.