WASHINGTON, D.C. — The annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be held in most U.S. Catholic parishes Dec. 11-12.
Coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, the collection helps hundreds of religious communities care for their aging members.
“I am deeply grateful to Catholics across the nation who faithfully support the Retirement Fund for Religious,” said Sister Stephanie Still, a Sister of the Presentation of San Francisco, who is executive director of the retirement office.
“Their generosity allows our office to provide vital financial assistance to hundreds of religious communities each year,” she said in a statement.
The U.S. bishops initiated the collection in 1988 to address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious orders.
Distinct from collections that dioceses hold for their retired diocesan priests, this nationwide effort benefits U.S. religious orders. Known collectively as “women and men religious,” most senior Catholic sisters and brothers and priests in religious orders served for low wages in such ministries as Catholic schools, parishes and social services.
Today, hundreds of religious orders face a critical shortage in retirement savings.
Of 531 communities that provided data to the National Religious Retirement Office, “only 27 are adequately funded for retirement,” according to data posted at retiredreligious.org, the office’s website.
“Currently, the average annual cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 is over $49,000 per person,” the site said. “Skilled care is roughly $78,000. The total cost of care for senior women and men religious in the United States has exceeded $1 billion annually for each of the last 13 years.”
During the early and mid-20th centuries, the U.S. Catholic Church “experienced a surge in vocations to religious life, with numbers peaking in the mid-1960s,” the site said. “Care for elderly members was provided largely by younger ones. Over time, however, the number of vocations decreased while lifespans increased.
“The result is far fewer younger members available to support the retirement and elder care needs of senior members. Currently, 71 percent of the religious communities providing data to the NRRO have a median age of 70 or older.”
Retired religious outnumber younger, wage-earning members by roughly three to one.
Since the collection was launched, U.S. Catholics have donated a total of $919 million, according to the national office. The 2020 appeal raised $20.7 million, and financial assistance was disbursed to 321 eligible religious communities across the nation.
A news release on this year’s collection said the communities that receive funding from the appeal combine this with their own income and savings to help meet elder care costs.
“Collection proceeds also underwrite educational and consultative initiatives that help communities improve care delivery and plan for long-term retirement expenses,” the release said.
“Our mission is to help religious communities provide for the ongoing needs of their senior members,” said Still. “We remain grateful for all those who support these efforts.”