Our Mission

Eliminating the obstacle an aspirant’s student loans present to answering his vocation.

Our fund addresses a specific challenge:

 

As part of the vow of poverty, a person who enters religious life must be debt-free. Without financial assets, religious have no way to make monthly payments on any kind of loan. Most vibrant religious orders have no assets to spare for assisting their aspirants with their debts. What little they have must be allocated to feeding and housing their members. Many religious orders are mendicant and beg for their daily sustenance.

Most aspirants to religious life have no trouble clearing their personal debt: selling a car to pay off the car loan, working to pay down credit card debt. But the average student loan runs in the tens of thousands of dollars and presents a greater obstacle.

The average aspirant to religious life who has attended college faces a student loan balance of $30,000, which must be paid in just months rather than the 10 – 20 years originally intended.

As a result, an aspirant’s entrance is delayed, sometimes for many years. Consider the impoverishment to the Church in terms of years of lost consecration and sacrifice for our Lord.

 

Our response:

 

We have carefully designed our grant program to provide support to men and women who seek to answer God’s call without interfering with the proper discernment of their vocations. When a grant recipient enters his order, we take over the monthly payments of his student loans (and only his student loans). If discernment leads elsewhere, responsibility for loan payments returns to him and there is no obligation to repay us. If he perseveres, we guarantee full payment of his loans on the 5th anniversary of his final vows.

“It is a tragic irony that when the heavens are being stormed for vocations and God generously answers, that the response can be hindered by something as minor in comparison as a student loan. Yet, sadly more and more vocations are being put on hold for this very reason. That’s why vocation directors exclaim: ‘Thank God for the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations!”

Fr. Andrew-Carl Wisdom, O.P.; Promoter of Vocations  Director of the Society for Vocational Support; Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great

Our History

My wife, Katherine, and I started the original Mater Ecclesiae Debt Relief Grant Program in 2004 through a private foundation we had established three years earlier upon my retirement from America Online. Our pastor, knowing that we operated the foundation, told us about a man he knew who wanted to enter religious life.

 

The man was within six months of the upper age limit for entering his religious order and had about $40,000 in outstanding student loans, which would have to be eliminated before he could enter religious life. How was he going to repay $40,000 in six months?

 

We told our pastor that the foundation was prohibited from giving money to individuals outside of an approved grant program. At the same time, we were interested and sympathetic to the man’s plight, so we told him and the prior of the order that we would work out something to cover the debt.

 

So, we went to our lawyers and explained the problem to them. They searched for a solution and found an IRS ruling that denied a tax exemption to a similar program operated by a group of Protestants who wanted to encourage men to stay in ministry. Using this ruling, the lawyers were able to design our program to meet all of the objections the IRS had to the program that failed. We like to say that our program was designed in a collaboration between the Holy Spirit and the Internal Revenue Service.

 

Soon after we had the program designed, filed the paperwork with the IRS and received approval, we learned that the man had tried religious life for about a month and discerned that his vocation was elsewhere. It was as if we were all dressed up with nowhere to go. The foundation had a fully approved grant program, but no one that we knew needed such a grant.

 

Very soon after that, I attended a dinner given by the diocesan vocations office for seminarians and men considering the diocesan priesthood. Chatting with the young man beside me, I happened to tell him about the grant program. He told me that he knew a young woman in this very situation and asked if he could tell her about our program. She was our very first applicant, and we have grown from there.

 

We issued our first grant in the summer of 2004 to a young woman entering the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. As the word spread, we received more inquiries and applications. From 2004 through 2006 we issued thirty-one grants to young men and women entering a variety of different religious institutes and orders. Twenty-two of those grants remain effective. Eight of our grant recipients from that period have left formation, and one had a benefactor who paid her debt in full.

 

Over the summer of 2006, as we continued to receive applications, we realized that the funds for issuing grants were not unlimited. As a private foundation, we attempt to preserve the assets of the foundation like an endowment and make grants out of the income on those assets. Each grant entails a commitment to make payments over a period of ten to fifteen years. We need to make sure that the commitments we make do not exceed our ability to meet them.

 

Thus, in August of 2006, at the final meeting of the foundation’s application review board, we had ten applications to review, but the capacity to issue only five grants. That was a tough meeting!

 

That was when we, in consultation with the review board, decided to launch a new charitable organization to give the public the opportunity to share this great work with us. The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations (MEFV) was incorporated in November, 2006 and received its tax exemption from the IRS in February, 2007.

 

With help from the foundation, the MEFV continues to pay the original twenty-two grants, most of which have now reached completion.  For ten years now, we have been receiving the financial assistance of the Catholic faithful and expanding our support of vocations by issuing new grants each year.

 

As of the spring of 2017, the MEFV has issued over 150 grants and is responsible for over 100 religious being in some stage of formation or finally professed.

 

You can help us to assist these wonderful young men and women in three ways:

  1. Pray for us. First, last, and always, pray. Pray that God’s will be done in our work.
  2. Please consider making a financial contribution. Any amount, large or small will be a great help and blessing to all those who need the MEFV’s assistance to follow God’s call.
  3. If you know anyone who might be interested in this effort, tell them about us.

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