For over 30 years, the Retirement Fund for Religious collection has been coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) to be held in U.S. Catholic dioceses at the discretion of the local bishop. This year, the annual appeal will be held on the weekend of December 7-8.
Benefitting some 30,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests, the Catholic bishops of the United States launched the Retirement Fund for Religious in 1988 to help address the profound lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious communities. The proceeds are distributed to eligible religious order communities to assist with retirement and healthcare expenses, and roughly 94 percent of the fund goes to aid elderly religious.
Historically, Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests—collectively known as women and men religious—engaged in ministry for little pay. Any surplus income was reinvested in their ministries, including Catholic schools and hospitals. As a result, today, hundreds of religious communities lack adequate retirement savings to care for the aging members of their communities. The demographics of most religious communities have shifted in recent years so that retired members outnumber younger ones. In 2018, 72 percent of the congregations providing data to the NRRO had a median age of 70 or older. With a higher median age comes a decline in income—due to the decreased number of wage-earning members—and a rising cost of care. The total cost of care for some 30,000 religious past age 70 now exceeds $1 billion annually.
“The sisters, brothers, and religious order priests who have dedicated their lives to the Church through their ministry in our parishes, schools and health care organizations need care in their retirement,” said Presentation Sister Stephanie Still, executive director for the NRRO. “Each year, we Catholics across the nation unite prayerfully on the weekend of the Retirement Fund for Religious collection to honor the work done by sisters, brothers, and religious order priests. We are blessed by countless supporters who share our vision of ensuring that all religious can enjoy a safe and modest retirement.”
The 2018 appeal raised $27.7 million, and 360 religious congregations from around the country received financial assistance. Congregations may use the funding for immediate expenses, such as medications or nursing care. They are also able to invest it for the future retirement and eldercare needs of their respective religious communities. In addition, proceeds from the annual appeal enable the NRRO to furnish educational and consultative resources that help congregations to improve care and plan for long-term retirement needs.