Collection slated for December 5-6 -
Changing demographics of religious institutes leave retirement plans underfunded
Some can?t pay for heat, medical care, needed repairs of old buildings
WASHINGTON - The annual Retirement Fund for Religious national collection will be taken up in most U.S. parishes either the first or second weekend of December. The collection theme is ?Share in the Care.?
Now in its 22nd year, the collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington and benefits thousands of elderly women and men religious whose communities lack adequate funding for retirement.
?Funding needs are more dramatic than ever,? said Sister Janice Bader, a Sister of the Most Precious Blood of O?Fallon, Missouri, and NRRO executive director. ?We recently got a call about a religious order that could not pay its heating bill. We?ve found sisters cutting back on medical and dental care to save money. A lot are living in ?Peter Pan? housing, built as if the sisters would stay forever young. These institutions need to be made handicapped-accessible.?
She said many sisters, brothers and religious order priests have been helped by recent donations.
?I am continually heartened by the overwhelming generosity of Catholics to this fund each year,? she said. ?Even in these difficult financial times, Catholics across the nation find a way to give back to the women and men religious who sacrificed so much for our Church and our world.?
The financial crisis is rooted in low salaries and changing demographics. Traditionally, religious worked for small stipends that furnished only the basics of daily living. There were no retirement plans or pensions, and care for elderly members was provided largely by younger members. Over the last few decades, however, elderly religious have begun to outnumber younger religious, and the income of those engaged in compensated ministry can no longer keep pace with the growing cost of elder care. Moreover, the number of wage earners is projected to decrease sharply over the next 10 years, resulting in significantly less income available to support senior religious.
The 2008 collection drew over $28.2 million. Since 1988, Catholics have donated nearly $589 million to the annual appeal. Approximately 95 percent of these donations are distributed almost immediately to support the care of senior religious.
The 2008 appeal, for example, enabled the National Religious Retirement Office to distribute over $23 million to 483 religious institutes. These funds supplemented the day-to-day care of elder religious and helped religious institutes implement long-range retirement strategies. The NRRO also distributed close to $3 million in targeted financial assistance to support self-help projects, such as collaborative health care facilities, initiated by religious institutes.
The retirement crisis developed as demographics of religious institutes changed, so that now there are more elderly than younger members. The problem has been compounded by skyrocketing health care costs. Today, there are more than 35,000 women and men religious over age 70, and more than 5,500 religious require skilled care.
Historically, older religious worked for years for small stipends, with surplus income reinvested in their ministries, such as schools and social service agencies. Retirement was not a priority in the past when there were enough younger members to care for older ones.
Over the next 10 to 15 years, the number of religious age 25 to 74 is expected to decrease sharply. With this decline, the income of religious institutes will drop precipitously.
For more information, visit www.retiredreligious.org