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Sister Marie Lucy
Congregational Minister for Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.

Doris Gromley
Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for Congregation

Interviewed by Lynn Adler and Jim Mayer
Producers of Faith, Hope and Capital

LA: Maybe we can start talking about how the Order first got involved with Delaware Valley.

ML: Since 1980 we had been engaged in corporate responsibility work, using our shareholder influence with corporations. In the early 80s we became aware of the alternative investment movement. We were looking for opportunities where we might be able to create an intermediary ourselves, by which we would be able to invest in community organizations. We realized that we did not have the expertise to be able to do that ourselves. Then in 1985 we learned about Delaware Valley Community Reinvestment Fund (now known as The Reinvestment Fund) which was just beginning its initiative. The goals were very compatible between DVCRF and our congregation in how we wanted to be able to use our resources to provide finances for community organizations that were doing very good things but could not obtain loans from banks.

LA: Was there a pretty unanimous feeling among your folks? Was this a great idea, or there was some resistance?

ML: We really did try to educate the members to what was happening. There was some concern at first about whether we were jeopardizing and putting our resources at risk, especially from sisters concerned about retirement. But, I really believe, especially after our initial investment, there were no repercussions and we began to invest more monies, sisters really became very happy and proud of the fact that we were able to use our resources in this manner.

DG: The congregation had determined that we would use a percentage of the revenues from our investment portfolio--these are the monies that subsidize the retirement of our sisters and also sisters who are ill or disabled. So, this was a very tricky sort of a circumstance in terms of realizing that we were dependent on that money. But, we also, in 1986, in our mission statement, stated very clearly that we were going to direct our personal and corporate resources in direct care of the poor and the oppressed. Our founder, Mother Frances, is quoted widely as saying: "As long as God keeps giving to us we will continue to give to the poor."

LA: I'm curious how your example has impacted other areas of the religious community.

ML: We were the first religious congregation to invest in Delaware Valley Community Reinvestment Fund. And, because we became the first investors, that established some degree of security for other religious congregations. So, it was not long before other congregations of men and women began to also make investments in The Reinvestment Fund. So that, to the present day, almost every religious congregation in this area is invested in DVCRF. I think that people begin to realize that this type of investment is very compatible with their values, with their mission--whether that's religious congregations or churches, synagogues, wherever that might be. When they begin to see the effects of the investment, when you actually go out and visit a site, and you see homes being built, you see a laundromat functioning in a poor area, you see concretely the evidence of what your money is doing. Then people become very excited about it, and usually they want to roll their investment over. They might want to make another investment, and they want to attract other investors into the project.

DG: I think this is true of individual investors as well as institutional investors. I know with Delaware Valley--when they had their tenth anniversary last year-- many of the individual investors, said, "Oh, my little one-thousand or five-thousand dollars can't mean anything." But, indeed, with so many individual investors just pledging that amount of money principal, usually at zero or below market interest rate, it really does add up. I believe the foundation of the entire fund is the individual investors, and that just gives you a good feeling of being connected to a larger community and your immediate family, friends, and professional associates.

ML: The initial investors in The Reinvestment Fund were individuals and religious groups, church groups. Then after others, such as banks--who initially cast a rather skeptical eye on the whole venture--when they began to see the success of the venture, began to see that indeed community organizations were credible and would repay their loans, the banks became involved. That has become a major part of the investor pool for Delaware Valley.

LA: I know, in earlier years there was a lot of money invested by church organizations and others into community projects, so this was pre-loan fund era, and a lot of money was lost. I was wondering if you could talk about the difference between what is happening now with Delaware Valley.

ML: Yes. As Doris has said, it was that intermediary that has the expertise that was missing in that piece. I know, quite a few years ago, before we ever became engaged in this type of investing, we did make an investment in a credit union. We did not have the smarts that we should have had at that time and didn't know what to ask. So it was a learning experience for us. We really lost that money that we had invested. Several years later, when we began to explore this, we knew the questions to ask, we were smarter about it, and we knew that we were not able to do it ourselves. But the Delaware Valley Community Reinvestment Fund had the expertise and the resources to be able to manage our money and do it smartly as well as to use it for a very good purpose.

DG: Many commercial banks would give anything to have the default rate of the community development loan funds. In fact, I think it's rather ironic that many of the loan funds that we are invested in, the commercial banks meet their CRA requirement by making substantial investments in the loan funds in those communities. Everybody's winning in that situation.

ML: And with The Reinvestment Fund the collaborative bank initiative now is a very important part of the whole investor pool. It was the churches and the individuals that initially became involved, but now many of the banks in the area are doing their share.

LA: You think they've been infected with a sense of mission?

ML: We often use the expression, you can do good and do well at the same time. And, I think this would apply to the banks also. Certainly it's to the advantage of banks, which want to do business in neighborhoods, even in low income neighborhoods, to be able to contribute to the building up of that neighborhood through housing, through micro-business enterprise. It's an advantage to the banks, so I think once they learn that they can do that and not suffer losses from that, they also can do good and do well at the same time.