By Lisa Zengarini
In its 33rd year, the "Retirement Fund for Religious" collection, which is distinct from retired priest collections held in respective dioceses for the care of retired diocesan priests, is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C..
Proceeds are distributed to eligible communities to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses. It benefits nearly 30,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests.
The campaign was initiated by the US Catholic Bishops in 1988 to address the growing lack of retirement funds among religious communities in the United States.
Their funding deficits are rooted in low salaries, as women and men religious engage in ministry for little or no pay at all.
Elderly religious are also living longer and, according to NRRO data, outnumber younger, wage-earning religious by nearly three, making it more and more difficult for US religious communities to cope with rising expenses to provide adequate care for their retired members.
The total cost of care for religious past age 70 exceeds $1 billion annually. The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded this already difficult situation.
The 2019 appeal raised $26.2 million, and this past June, the NRRO distributed $25 million in financial assistance to 341 religious communities across the nation.
The beneficiary religious order communities combine this funding with their own income and savings to help furnish day-to-day necessities, including medications and nursing care, and the distributions may be applied toward immediate retirement needs or invested for future eldercare expenses.
“We are humbled and incredibly grateful for the ongoing generosity of the Catholic faithful to the annual appeal,” said Sister Stephanie Still, PBVM (Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary), who serves as the NRRO’s executive director. “And we are committed to ensuring the broadest and most beneficial use of these donations.”