Photo by James A. McBride
Sister Melchior Lerch, a jubilarian of 75 years with the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, in the Provincialate Chapel, is greeted by preschoolers of the Blessed Edmund Center in Cherry Hill during a Thanksgiving celebration. Sister Febronia Jarosz, behind, and Sister Elizabeth Kulesa, left, share the joy with all present.
Catholics in the Diocese of Camden will have the opportunity to “Share in the Care” of senior religious by participating in the annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR), which will be held in the Diocese of Camden on the weekends of Dec. 4- 5 and 11-12.
The collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington and provides financial support for the day-to-day care of thousands of elderly Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests.
Last year, the Diocese of Camden contributed $213,007.93 to this collection. In 2010, the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy, Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, and the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus received financial assistance made possible by the RFR. Additionally, women and men religious who serve or have served in the diocese but whose institutes are headquartered elsewhere may benefit from this fund.
Since 1988, Catholics in the United States have donated $617 million to this initiative. Nearly 95 cents of every dollar is used to aid senior religious.
Despite the generosity to this fund, many religious communities continue to lack resources sufficient to support retirement and elder care. Of 573 communities submitting data to the NRRO in 2009, fewer than 7 percent were fully funded for retirement.
Traditionally, religious served for small stipends that did not include retirement benefits. Their sacrifices now leave their religious communities without adequate savings for retirement. Compounding the funding shortage are the rising cost of care and the substantial loss of income that has resulted from the declining number of religious able to serve in compensated ministry.
“As the number of wage-earning religious drops, so does income,” explains NRRO executive director Sister Janice Bader, a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri. “Census projections indicate that by 2019, religious past age 70 will outnumber those under 70 by nearly four to one. We want to do everything possible to help religious communities prepare for the dramatic income reduction that will accompany this demographic shift.”
As a result of the 2009 collection, which garnered over $28.1 million, the National Religious Retirement Office was able to distribute more than $23 million in financial assistance to 477 communities, representing more than 45,000 women and men religious. By underwriting necessities, such as prescription medication and nursing support, these funds help religious communities provide for the ongoing care of elder members. Additional funding was allocated to initiatives targeted for religious institutes with the greatest needs.
Like many other Americans, religious communities struggle with the ever-rising cost of health care. In 2009 alone, the total cost of care for nearly 35,000 women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1 billion.
“Despite the troubling statistics, many religious communities have made great strides in addressing their funding deficits,” notes Sister Bader. “Religious are humbled by the generous donations to this fund and determined to make the most out of every dollar.”
To learn more, visit www.retiredreligious.org