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Retirement Fund for Religious offers chance to ‘Share in the Care’

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

ARCHDIOCESE — Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will conduct the 22nd annual appeal for the Retirement Fund for Religious on Dec. 12-13. The collection theme is “Share in the Care.”

The collection, established by Catholic bishops in the United States in 1988, is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C., and benefits thousands of elderly women and men religious whose communities lack adequate funding for retirement.

Benedictines of Jesus Crucified sing during afternoon prayer at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross in Branford, Conn. The aging nuns are members of a religious community that, since its beginning, has welcomed women with lifelong disabilities. (CNS photo/Terry T. Steele, Catholic Transcript)

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 requiring skilled care.

Historically, older religious worked for years for small stipends that furnished only the basics of daily living, with surplus income reinvested in their ministries, such as schools and social service agencies. There were no retirement funds or pensions, and care for elderly members was provided largely by younger members. Over the last few decades, however, as the number of elderly religious has increased, the income of those engaged in compensated ministry can no longer keep pace with the growing cost of elder care.

In addition, 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 Retirement Fund for Religious provides vital support to religious institutes in meeting current and future retirement needs. In 2008 the Archdiocese of Cincinnati contributed $775,000 to the collection. The Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis, Comboni Missionaries, Poor Clare Sisters, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and Ursuline Sisters received financial assistance made possible by the Retirement Fund. In addition, religious who serve or have served in the archdiocese but whose institutes are headquartered elsewhere may also benefit from this fund.

“Because we’re a contemplative community that has devoted our lives to prayer, we don’t have a steady income, so the appeal has enabled us to establish an elder care fund that would otherwise be very difficult to do in today’s economy,” said Poor Clare Sister Dianne Short.

“The collection has been the most successful campaign in the history of the church in the United States, which is testimony to the gratitude many feel for the services they have received from religious orders,” said Precious Blood Sister Janice Bader, NRRO executive director.

“I am continually heartened by the overwhelming generosity of Catholics to this fund each year,” she added. “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 2008 collection drew more than $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.

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