Helping those who helped us: Dec. 12 to 13 special collection supports retired religious

December 8, 2020

The Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province benefited from the Retirement Fund for Religious collection this year. (Photo courtesy of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province)

HOUSTON — The Archdiocese will hold the Retirement Fund for Religious collection through parishes Dec. 12 to 13. The National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) coordinates this annual appeal and distributes the proceeds to assist eligible U.S. religious communities with their retirement needs. Nearly 30,000 senior sisters, brothers and religious order priests benefit, many of whom served in the Archdiocese in dozens of leadership, education and catechetical roles.

Last year, the Archdiocese donated $669,703.76 to the collection. In 2020, the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province and the Missionary Carmelites of St. Teresa received financial support made possible by the Retirement Fund for Religious.

“The generosity of U.S. Catholics enables us to continue our ministry for aging women and men religious,” said Presentation Sister Stephanie Still, the NRRO’s executive director. “We are overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Courage and fortitude

In historical times like pandemics and natural disasters, “the decades of time collapse and the courage and fortitude of our religious communities inspire us to respond in solidarity with the suffering people,” said Sister Francesca Kearns, CCVI, vicar for religious for the Archdiocese. “I love the story of the Ursuline Sister who rang the church bell all night of the 1900 Storm so that people in boats knew the direction to follow for safety. That night they rescued more than 1,500 people from the rough waters.”

In 1988, Catholic bishops of the United States initiated the Retirement Fund for Religious collection to help address the deficit in retirement funding among U.S. religious congregations. Each congregation is responsible for the care and support of its members.

Financial distributions from the collection are sent to a congregation’s central house and may be applied toward immediate expenses — such as medications or nursing care — or invested for future eldercare needs.

Historically, Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests served for little to no pay. Today, many religious communities lack sufficient retirement savings.

Rising costs

Of 531 communities who shared data with the NRRO, only 29 are adequately funded for retirement. Rising health-care costs and a growing number of senior members compound the challenge to meet retirement expenses.

The 2019 collection raised $26.2 million, and in June, the NRRO disbursed $25 million in financial assistance to 341 religious communities.

Throughout the year, additional funding is allocated for resources and services that help communities improve eldercare delivery and plan for long-term retirement needs. For example, a new online webinar offers professional guidance on adapting care protocols to address issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

Best ways of support

“During these trying times, we know the best way to support senior religious is to continue helping their communities address retirement and eldercare challenges,” said Sister Still. “Our grateful prayer is with all whose love and generosity sustain this mission.”

The COVID-19 experience has been unique to religious communities in many respects, said Sister Kearns. “In this pandemic, the vulnerable are religious who for years served the most vulnerable. Now, they are among the most vulnerable,” she said. “But they continue to serve by their diligent following of three Ws: Wash hands, wear masks and watch their distance. Many of them have made thousands of masks for essential workers. They also actively support Church ministry by their prayer, witness and wisdom. Their generosity inspires us to be grateful and generous even as they were.”

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