Annual fund supports care of retired religious
November 21, 2011
ARCHDIOCESE – Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Louanna Orth may no longer be active in educational ministry, but that doesn’t mean she has stopped thinking of her students.
She now ministers as the community’s archivist, and along with the other materials in her filing cabinet, she keeps a binder with her class lists dating back to 1961. Each day that she comes into the office, Sister Louanna moves a Post-it note to a former student’s name and prays for her.
|Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Louanna Orth, who currently ministers as her religious community’s archivist, still prays daily for her former students. (Courtesy photo)|
Her faith and dedication are shared by thousands of other Sisters, brothers and religious order priests throughout the country who, while retired from active ministry, continue to serve others in whatever way they can. For many, it is through the ministry of prayer.
The 24th annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious will be taken up Dec. 10-11 in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Sponsored by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C., the appeal asks Catholics to “Share in the Care” of more than 34,000 women and men religious past age 70.
Last year, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati contributed $650,000.00 to this collection. Several area religious communities received financial assistance made possible by the national appeal. Additionally, religious who serve or have served in the archdiocese but whose communities are based elsewhere may also benefit from the Retirement Fund for Religious.
“We are continually humbled by the generosity shown this appeal,” said Sister Janice Bader, NRRO executive director and a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Mo. “Since the fund was launched in 1988, Catholics have donated $643 million to assist religious communities in caring for their elder members.”
As a result of the 2010 collection, which garnered $26.7 million, the NRRO was able to distribute $23 million to religious communities to help support the day-to-day care of senior members. An additional $2.7 million was allocated toward initiatives targeted for religious communities with the greatest needs. Ninety-three cents of every dollar aids elderly religious.
While the response to the collection is unprecedented, so is the need. In 2010 alone, the total cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1 billion dollars. Nearly 5,000 religious required skilled care. At the same time, however, religious communities strive to minimize costs. In fact, the NRRO reports that the average cost of care for religious past age 70 dropped slightly this year.
“The real challenge for many religious communities is a lack of retirement savings,” explained Sister Janice. “Most senior religious worked for years for small stipends. There were no retirement plans.”
As religious continue to age, fewer members are able to serve in compensated ministry, leading to a sharp decrease in income. By 2019 National Religious Retirement Office data projects that retired religious will outnumber wage-earning religious by nearly four to one.
For this reason, the NRRO implemented a comprehensive initiative to provide education, consultation and financial assistance to communities that are 50 percent or more underfunded for retirement. Since this program began in 2009, 55 communities, representing some 7,000 women and men religious, have initiated targeted strategies to address their funding shortfalls.
“We’re working to ensure religious communities can care for their elder members today and tomorrow,” said Sister Janice.
“As a small community, we get a little portion of the collection,” said Brother of the Poor of St. Francis Edward Kesler, community minister. “But our thinking is ‘every little bit helps,’ and considering how long people have been contributing to the fund, the little has done good things. For this we’re grateful.”
Tom Siemers, who was educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at the former Holy Angels School in O’Bryonville, has fond memories of his teachers and is a firm believer in the importance of supporting the fund. “It’s a way to thank religious for all they’ve done for us. The Sisters who taught me had a tremendous influence on my life, even though I didn’t realize it at the time,” said Siemers, a retired banker. “They gave us all a very positive outlook on life and planted the values that made us want to grow in our faith and succeed in our daily lives. I’m grateful to them for that.”
Lelia Kramer, a 1977 graduate of St. Ursula Academy, spoke of the influence of the Ursuline Sisters of Cincinnati who taught her. “The Sisters have played an instrumental role in the professional and personal successes in my life,” she said. “While they taught me in the classroom, they also taught me the importance of being open-minded, independent, faith-filled and self-confident. I am blessed today to be a wife, a mother of four and president of St. Ursula Academy because of these lessons taught to me by the Sisters.”
For more information, visit www.retiredreligious.org.