Annual collection supports 34,000 retired sisters, brothers, priests

November 22, 2011

HOUSTON — The 24th annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious will be taken up Dec. 10 and 11 in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Sponsored by the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington, D.C., the appeal asks Catholics to share in the care of more than 34,000 women and men religious past age 70.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston contributed $557,197 to the collection. In 2011, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, Dominican Sisters of Houston, Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province and the Missionary Carmelites of St. Teresa were among those receiving financial assistance made possible by the national appeal. Additionally, religious who serve or have served in the Archdiocese but whose communities are based elsewhere also benefit from the Retirement Fund for Religious.

“We are continually humbled by the generosity shown this appeal,” said NRRO executive director Sister Janice Bader, a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon. “Since the fund was launched in 1988, Catholics have donated $643 million to assist religious communities in caring for their elder members.”

As a result of the 2010 collection, which garnered $26.7 million in the U.S., the National Religious Retirement Office was able to distribute $23 million to religious communities to help support the day-to-day care of senior members. An additional $2.7 million was allocated toward initiatives targeted for religious communities with the greatest needs. Ninety-three cents of every dollar aids elderly religious. 

While the response to the collection is unprecedented, so is the need. In 2010 alone, the total cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1 billion dollars. Nearly 5,000 religious required skilled care. At the same time, however, religious communities strive to minimize costs. In fact, the National Religious Retirement Office reported that the average cost of care for religious past age 70 dropped slightly this year. 

“The real challenge for many religious communities is a lack of retirement savings,” explained Sister Bader. “Most senior religious worked for years for small stipends. There were no retirement plans.”

As religious continue to age, fewer members are able to serve in compensated ministry, leading to a sharp decrease in income. By 2019, National Religious Retirement Office data projects that retired religious will outnumber wage-earning religious by nearly 4 to 1.

For this reason, the National Religious Retirement Office implemented a comprehensive initiative to provide education, consultation and financial assistance to communities that are 50 percent or more underfunded for retirement. Since this program began in 2009, 55 communities, representing some 7,000 women and men religious, have initiated targeted strategies to address their funding shortfalls. 
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In 1988, Catholic bishops in the United States launched the Retirement Fund for Religious to address the significant lack of retirement funding for Catholic sisters, brothers and priests in religious orders. The National Religious Retirement Office, formerly the Tri-Conference Retirement Office, was established to coordinate the annual collection and to distribute the proceeds of this collection to religious institutes in need. 
Approximately 93 percent of donations to the Retirement Fund for Religious aid senior religious.

The National Religious Retirement Office is sponsored by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. †