The US bishops’ annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be held December 7-8 in Catholic parishes across the nation. Now in its 26th year, the collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) and benefits over 34,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests.
The U.S. bishops 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% 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 across 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% 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 over $38,000 per person, while skilled care averaged more than $57,000. The total cost of care for senior women and men religious was over $1.1 billion in 2012 alone.
At the same time, the number of religious needing care is on the rise. In 2012, 61% 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,” said Sister Bader. “Our mission is to help religious communities prepare for the dramatic income reduction that will accompany this demographic shift.”