Catholic Order of Foresters cultivates futures, families through life insurance, fraternity

Annette Aldrich and Tom Collins, both of the Catholic Order of Foresters' Smulders Court No. 1101, stand next to a statue of St. Linus at St. Linus Parish in Dearborn Heights. The Catholic Order of Foresters is a fraternal benefit life insurance society that promotes charity, socialization and caring for one’s family’s financial needs in a Catholic context. (Photos by Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Lesser-known Catholic fraternal organization has been around since 1883, providing financial services to members

DEARBORN HEIGHTS — Tom Collins has been selling life insurance for 50 years.

It’s a good job. He sits down with families, plans their financial future and discusses what needs to be done in the event of a breadwinner's passing. What do they want to leave behind? What causes do they want to support, and what’s the best way to manage the treasures God has given them?

But after a while, Collins wanted something more, something beyond all the paperwork and planning that went with his profession.

“It was sterile, as far as calling on clients with a fully array of services, but it was all about looking at life insurance from the commercial end,” Collins told Detroit Catholic.

It was 25 years ago when Collins found an ad in The Michigan Catholic, the print predecessor to Detroit Catholic, for the Catholic Order of Foresters, a Catholic fraternal benefit life insurance society that’s been around since 1883, helping Catholic men and women secure their financial futures and cultivate a community of fraternity, charity and socialization.

“I saw the Foresters, and they answered all of my goals. As a Catholic insurance company, we help our members achieve financial security,” said Collins, a member of St. Linus Parish in Dearborn Heights who is part of the Smulders Court No. 1101. “The Foresters are a community that, by way of fraternal outreach, spiritual, social and community service, seeks to help its members in all areas of planning, and that completeness drove me into it.”

The Catholic Order of Foresters began in Naperville, Ill., in 1883 as a fraternal benefit life insurance society. Members paid into policies and annuities that were then dispersed to help households when the primary breadwinner of the family passed away.

Since then, the organization has evolved to insure Catholic families and singles of all ages, with more than 100,000 members nationwide across 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Tom Collins
Collins found the Catholic Order of Foresters through an ad in The Michigan Catholic newspaper, joining an organization that began in 1883 to help families when the primary breadwinner of the house could no longer earn a wage.

The Foresters are specifically a life insurance group, so members must have a policy to become a member, unlike the Knights of Columbus, which is a men's fraternal organization but whose members don’t need to be part of the group’s life insurance program.

“Even though we are a membership organization, for someone to join COF, they would have a life insurance policy or annuity with us,” said Katlyn Pischel, manager of member and agency engagement at the Catholic of Foresters' national office. “There are no membership fees or dues one can pay to become a member.”

Pischel said although members must be Catholic, many Foresters have been lifetime members.

“There is no minimum age for us," Pischel said. "You can be male or female. A lot of members have a policy their grandparents got for them, and now they are having children, so as soon as that child is born, they are meeting with their agents to get a policy on their child. So there are a lot of family values in COF as well.”

Beyond encouraging families to plan for the future and be good stewards of their resources, the Catholic Order of Foresters promotes values-based investing, making sure the policies and funds associated with COF accounts are in line with Catholic values.

“You are dealing with a company that not only understands the Catholic faith, but they themselves and their members participate in (the practice of the faith),” said Ronnie Thompson, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth and Catholic Order of Foresters agent.

Ronnie Thompson
Ronnie Thompson of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth joined the Catholic Order of Foresters because of its values-based investing and the spiritual enrichment that comes from helping families make long-term plans that promote and abide by their Catholic faith. (Courtesy photo)

Just as a forester is tasked with caring for trees and shrubbery in a forest, a Forester in the Catholic Order of Foresters cares for families' long-term well-being, which is a tremendous responsibility, Thompson said.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I’m in awe over the heaviness of what they are charging me to do,” Thompson said. “The trust it takes after a few meetings, to effectively hand over your livelihood and your future to someone who is effectively a stranger — I take this very seriously.”

Beyond its life insurance benefits, the Catholic Order of Foresters takes up various charitable causes throughout the year, partnering with agencies such as Grand Rapids-based God’s Kitchen, Covenant House, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, and the Ronald McDonald House.

The Foresters have more than 7,000 members in Michigan, with three "courts" (local councils) in Lansing and two in the Detroit area. The organization hosts national conferences, mostly in the Midwest, and schedules regular social events.

Annette Aldrich, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, grew up at St. Linus and become a member of the Catholic Order of Foresters in 1958, when her parents signed up the whole family. Today, Aldrich's two children are members.

"I signed up my children when they were babies; there are a lot of generation-to-generation families in the Foresters,” Aldrich said, who serves as the chief ranger of the Smulders Court, executive officer of the group, and treasurer for the state of Michigan.

Collins and Aldrich with Fr. Patrick Stoffer, OFM Conv., pastor of St. Linus Parish. Collins joined the Catholic Order of Foresters because he wanted to sell life insurance products that had a Catholic focus to them, while Aldrich joined as an infant, with her parents buying a policy for her.

“As a single mom, we’ve been to Foresters conventions in Green Bay, Omaha, St. Paul — places I could have never taken my kids. We go bowling, go golfing as a group," Aldrich said. "You take a family of people to the movies and it costs $100 these days. The Foresters all pitch in, and most events are free; it’s a great way to socialize.”

From community events to life insurance, the Catholic Order of Foresters is about cultivating community, Collins said, ensuring each member of the organization can grow as people, and as Catholics, to meet their potential.

“I’ve worked with commercial companies, and they are fine,” Collins said. “But we have a chance to meet with clients at the parish, the school or their living room, and really connect with them. Each client or potential client has a different story to tell, and through our work in the parishes, our connection with community events, we understand their stories.

Adds Collins, "In my almost 25 years with the Foresters, I’ve never had a bad day.”


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