National Appeal Supports Elderly Catholic Sisters, Brothers and Religious Order Priests

The 31st annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be the weekend of Dec. 8-9 in the Diocese of Allentown.

Coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C., the appeal benefits 31,000 elderly Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests.

The Diocese of Allentown donated $25,409.89 to the last collection.

In 2018, the following religious congregations with central houses located in the diocese received a combined total of $302,267.86 in financial assistance made possible by the Retirement Fund for Religious: Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, Cistercian Fathers, Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart and Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood.

Additionally, the Diocese of Allentown, in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Harrisburg, also distributes funding to local religious communities to support retirement needs.

Almost 94 percent of donations aid senior religious and their communities, with the remaining funds used for administration and promotion of the national appeal.

The 2017 collection raised just over $28 million, and the NRRO disbursed $25 million to 360 religious communities for the direct care of elderly members.

Communities combine these funds with their own income and savings to help furnish necessities such as medications and nursing care. Throughout the year, additional funding is allocated for congregations with critical needs and for retirement planning and educational resources.

Religious communities apply annually for financial support from the national collection, and distributions are sent to each eligible community’s central house. Although women and men religious often minister outside their home dioceses, they may benefit from the allocations disbursed to their individual orders.

“Donations to the Retirement Fund for Religious have a far-reaching impact,” said Presentation Sister Stephanie Still, the NRRO’s executive director.

“Most important, they help communities care for aging members, but they also underwrite initiatives aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the funding shortages.”

Religious orders are financially autonomous and thus responsible for the support of all members. Traditionally, Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests – known collectively as women and men religious – served for little to no pay.

Today, hundreds of orders lack sufficient retirement savings. Of 547 communities providing data to the NRRO, only 4 percent are adequately funded for retirement.

Compounding the financial crisis are the rising cost of care and the increasing number of those needing care.

Catholic bishops of the United States initiated the national collection in 1988 to help address the deficit in retirement funding among U.S. religious communities. Since the collection was launched, U.S. Catholics have donated $844 million to the appeal, helping many communities stabilize their retirement outlook.

“We are overwhelmed by the ongoing generosity toward the annual appeal and by the love and thanksgiving for the service of our elder religious,” said Sister Still.

“Our office is committed to stewarding these funds in ways that help religious communities care for older members while continuing to serve the People of God.”

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About the Retirement Fund for Religious

Why We Ask

In 1988, Catholic bishops of the United States launched the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR) to address the significant lack of retirement funding for Catholic sisters, brothers, and priests in religious orders.

  • For most of their lives, elder religious worked for little to no pay. There were no 401(k) plans or pensions.
  • Religious communities are financially responsible for the support and care of all members. Income, earnings, and expenses are managed separately from the parish and diocesan structures of the Catholic Church.
  • The funding shortage is compounded by rising health care costs and decreased income. And, as more religious reach retirement age and leave compensated ministry, income will further decline while care needs increase.
  • By 2028, religious past age 70 are projected to outnumber religious under age 70 by more than three to one.
  • There are 31,000 religious past age 70 living in the United States. In 2017, the average annual cost for their care was more than $44,000 per person.
  • Since 2009, the annual cost to support senior women and men religious has exceeded $1 billion.
  • In 2017, 68 percent of the religious communities providing data to the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) had a median age of 70 or higher.
  • The average annual Social Security benefit for a religious is $6,453.45, while the average U.S. beneficiary receives $16,849.80.

How Donations Help

Catholics in the United States have donated more than $844 million to the RFR since the first appeal.

  • Roughly 94 percent of donations to the RFR aid elder religious, with the remainder used to administer and promote the appeal.
  • Since 1989, almost $709 million has been distributed to support the day-to-day care of elderly sisters, brothers, and religious order priests. An additional $94 million has been allocated toward self-help projects initiated by religious communities, including collaborative health care facilities.
  • In addition to direct financial assistance, proceeds from the annual appeal underwrite educational programming, services, and resources that enable religious communities to evaluate and prepare for long-term retirement needs.
  • Support from the Retirement Fund for Religious helps religious communities care for senior members while continuing important ministries to the People of God.