WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. -- In 72 years as a nun, Sister Grace Marie Korn has spent uncounted hours sending prayers to God. For the next year, she will pray on Joyce Fink's behalf as part of an unusual fund-raising campaign that invites members of the public to ''adopt'' her and other sisters in her order.
A cash gift will keep donors in their adoptees' prayers for a year.
''I'm not praying for pay,'' stressed Sister Grace Marie, 91, a member of the Williamsville Franciscan Sisters whose Adopt-A-Sister program is just getting under way.
Instead, the sisters hope to develop lasting personal relationships with those who adopt them.
''It's not just 'so I add one more person in my prayers,' but a more personal type of being there for another individual,'' said Sister Marcella Nacreiner, communications director for the Buffalo-area order.
Donors can pledge any amount, and the nuns continue to pray for anyone who asks, whether or not they pay.
Adopt-A-Sister is part of a $3.7 million fund-raising effort that the 130-member Sisters of St. Francis have launched to help pay for the $12 million St. Mary of the Angels Motherhouse they moved into six months ago. The site houses the order's administrative offices, housing for active sisters and assisted living and skilled nursing space for elderly and infirm nuns.
Praying for others is nothing new to the nuns, who for generations have honored requests for intentions and accepted donations. The Adopt-A-Sister program links the practices.
''Throughout our history we have been women of prayer. We've had people calling in or stopping in to say 'please pray for my daughter who's having surgery, my son who's looking for employment,' whatever,'' said Sister Bea Leising. ''This is kind of a continuation of that.''
While the Williamsville order came up with the idea during a brainstorming session, the program is similar to one started several years ago by the Salesian Sisters of North Haledon, N.J., who have raised more than $1 million toward a new retirement home. A few other orders have similar programs, the Williamsville sisters said.
As long as donors don't mistakenly assume they are buying the grace of God or that God's favor is for sale, the program could be beneficial for everyone, said the Rev. Richard Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of ''First Things,'' a magazine about religion in public life.
''Everybody in their life of prayer has some means of selection, if you will, that's inevitable,'' he said. ''In this case, obviously they have a need and they're saying, 'Help us build this new motherhouse and we'll do what we sisters do best, we'll pray for you.' It seems to me that's a win-win situation.''
Sister Grace Marie, the first member of the order to be adopted, prays for Fink during her daily 11 a.m. visits to the Chapel of Adoration.
''All of my activities I guess maybe prohibit me from spending that many hours in prayer so it's wonderful to have that,'' said Fink, a retired public affairs director at Buffalo State College who is on the board organizing the sisters' fund appeal. She donated $500 to adopt Sister Grace Marie.
Besides, she said, her adopted sister and others like her have spent hours a day for decades in prayer. ''We figure they have a system and it's probably working so I hope it works for me,'' she said.
But the relationship goes beyond prayer, she said. ''There's a spiritual bonding where Grace Marie and I can sit and talk and she can give me a spiritual book to go read and things like that,'' Fink said, ''so there are other dimensions to it.''
The relationships can be as personal as the donors wish.
''I had someone call and say, 'I really want somebody I can come in and sit down and talk with because I'd like them to be praying for my children and I want to share that with them,''' Leising said.
Those adopting a sister are sent a picture of her with her address, phone number, birthday and a profile. Donors may choose a sister or have one assigned. While any sister can be adopted, the program is geared toward the older members of the order who have more time to devote to prayer. There is no limit to the number of times a sister can be adopted.
The nuns received about 20 inquiries in the first days of the campaign.
''There seems to be a desire on the part of the public for this type of program,'' Nacreiner said.
Added Leising, ''One woman said 'This is good. Now I can have someone beside myself praying for me.'''
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