Second collection on Dec. 7-8 helps religious communities

November 26, 2013

HOUSTON — The annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be Dec. 7 to 8 in parishes around the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. 
Now in its 26th year, the collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C., and benefits more than 34,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston contributed $616,813 to this collection. In 2013, congregations of women and men religious who serve in the Archdiocese received more than $162,000 from the 2012 collection.

Additionally, women and men religious who serve or have served in the Archdiocese but whose communities are based elsewhere may benefit from the annual appeal.

“Over 650 women and men religious are located in our Archdiocese,” said Sister Heloise Cruzat, O.P., vicar for religious. “The success of this annual appeal is urgent for many groups, and the local benefit is significant.”

Sister Cruzat said the faithful’s generosity “is appreciated and honored by the grateful prayers of these religious.”

In a recent letter to pastors of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo reflected on the service of women and men religious, recalling the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (Jn 12:26).

“Through their prayer and ministries, religious can be found wherever Jesus is found — not just in Catholic parishes, schools and hospitals, but also in service to the poor, the lonely and the oppressed,” he wrote.

Cardinal DiNardo notes that many elder religious work for small stipends for extended periods of time, leaving considerable gaps in retirement savings.

“With the ever-rising cost of health care and the increase in the number of those needing care, many religious communities now struggle to provide for their senior members,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “The Retirement Fund for Religious offers vital financial assistance to help meet day-to-day needs for prescription medications, nursing care and more.”

Catholic bishops of the United States initiated the collection in 1988 to address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious communities. 

Proceeds are distributed to eligible communities to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses. Since the collection began, Catholics have contributed $698 million. 

Over 93 percent of donations directly support senior religious and their communities. 

“I am deeply grateful to the Catholics across the nation who faithfully support the Retirement Fund for Religious,” said Precious Blood Sister Janice Bader, NRRO’s executive director. “Their generosity allows our office to provide vital financial assistance to hundreds of religious communities each year.”

The 2012 appeal raised $27 million and enabled the NRRO to distribute $23 million to 440 religious communities throughout the country. 
Communities utilize these funds to bolster retirement savings and to subsidize such day-to-day expenses as prescription medications and nursing care. 

The NRRO also allocated nearly $3.6 million to assist religious communities with the greatest needs and to promote ongoing education in retirement and elder-care delivery.

Despite the generosity to the collection, numerous religious communities struggle to provide adequate care. 

In the past, Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests — known collectively as women and men religious — served for small stipends that did not include retirement benefits. 

Their sacrifices now leave their religious communities without adequate savings for retirement. 

Of 548 communities submitting data to the NRRO in 2012, only 8 percent were fully funded for retirement.

The rising cost of care compounds funding difficulties. Last year, the average annual cost of care for senior religious was more than $38,000 per person, while skilled care averaged more than $57,000. 

The total cost of care for senior women and men religious was more than $1.1 billion in 2012 alone. 

At the same time, the number of religious needing care is on the rise. In 2012, 61 percent of the religious communities providing data to the NRRO had a median age of 75 or older. 

Accompanying the higher median age is a decrease in the number of religious able to serve in compensated ministry. 

By 2023, the NRRO projects that retired religious will outnumber wage-earning religious by four to one.

“As the number of wage-earning religious drops, so does income,” Sister Bader said. “Our mission is to help religious communities prepare for the dramatic income reduction that will accompany this demographic shift.”

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