Ensuring financial sustainability is more than a job for Sister Margaret Wilhelm – it’s at the core of a calling that involves meeting today’s unpredictable ministry demands as well as tomorrow’s obligations to the Sisters who unselfishly serve the faithful throughout their lives.
Sr. Margaret, FMA, is Treasurer for the Salesian Sisters’ Province of St. Joseph, which encompasses the eastern half of North America – its schools, activity centers, camps and convents stretch across New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Louisiana in the U.S., and Montréal, Cornwall, Toronto and Surrey in Canada. More broadly, St. Joseph Province is part of the global Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, which is the largest centrally unified women’s religious congregation in the world. The Salesian Sisters are committed to the evangelization of youth through education, “deepening within them an attitude of respect for the dignity of the human person and an openness to life in all its forms.”
Modestly calling her role a “catchall” for dozens of finance-related activities, Sr. Margaret is responsible for long-term investing and cashflow management, financing the maintenance of owned facilities, planning and funding capital improvements, vehicle fleet management, handling transactions involving certain missions abroad, and many other activities. Her office is called upon for small-scale emergency funding – such as repairing roof leaks and lightning damage – and larger-scale challenges, such as financing the construction of a new high school chapel to replace one that tragically burned down last spring.
Sr. Margaret has been part of St. Joseph Province for much of her life. She is a past pupil of Mary Help of Christians Academy, a well-regarded Catholic preparatory school in the Salesian tradition that has been in service for 78 years. After studies in philosophy and theology (Don Bosco College), and degrees in math (William Peterson) and educational leadership (Seton Hall), Sr. Margaret was on staff at Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, New Jersey for 19 years, teaching religion, chairing the math department, and eventually serving as principal.
The Academy is adjacent to Sr. Margaret’s office, as is the convent in which retired Sisters are cared for by their Community. This daily proximity underscores the Province’s challenge of providing the financial resources that young women need today for successful formation as Sisters, as well as ensuring that the health care and living expenses for older Sisters can be paid both now and in the coming decades. To achieve the former goal, Sr. Margaret pursues maximum liquidity by working with banks and investing some assets in U.S. Treasury bills and similar options. That latter goal of securing retirement funds demands a more nuanced investment strategy, one that seeks long-term asset growth in a way that is consistent with the Sisters’ beliefs and commitment to improving the world in which we live.
When Sr. Margaret took on her role as Treasurer seven years ago, she reviewed the Province’s current investment portfolio to determine if it was on track with stated goals, including those related to faith-based investing. She noted that some of the faith-related screens that had been put in place to guide investing were not being honored in the existing portfolio. As a result, she conferred with Provincial leaders to engage an investment strategy that would adhere to socially responsible investment guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while also applying an investment approach that would feature active management and professional oversight.
For St. Joseph’s Province, this powerful alignment of investment strategy and ministry focus may help to sustain the good works of the Salesian Sisters, both those in service today and those just beginning their journeys.