Early December will be the opportune time for faithful to consider the positive impact a priest, religious sister or brother made on their lives, and to respond generously with a financial gift of thanks.

Supporting the retired religious of the Diocese of Trenton and dioceses throughout the country, the annual Retirement Fund for Religious has been crucial to allowing those who dedicated their lives to forming and teaching Catholics to retire assured that their most basic needs will be met.

The fund will be collected Dec. 11-12 in parishes across the United States and will go toward health care and living accommodations – vital to these dedicated and faithful servants who have no lifetime income from which to draw Social Security nor personal savings.

St. Joseph Sister Rose McDermott, delegate for Consecrated Life for the Diocese of Trenton, stressed that religious recognize how difficult the past two years have been financially for donors, and that “any small amount is acceptable” when considering a donation to the fund.

Approximately 300 religious women and men from nearly 30 different orders are currently living and serving in the Diocese of Trenton. When members of these communities retire, they rely completely on donations from the laity, primarily through the annual fund. Last year, the Diocese of Trenton donated $147,549.20 to the collection. In 2021, the Monastery of St. Clare, Chesterfield, received financial support made possible by the Retirement Fund for Religious.

The fund began in 1988, with the efforts of a layman who witnessed religious sisters paying for groceries with food stamps. Upon conversing with them, he discovered that while they received small stipends for their ministries in teaching, social service and nursing, they had no health or retirement benefits.

Out of that concern was created the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington to help address the deficit. More than 32,000 religious nationwide now receive financial support solely for retirement through the fund – which also offers financial counselors to assist religious in planning their retirement.

“I do think [the fund in] Washington, D.C., does a very good job,” Sister Rose said of the Retirement Fund for Religious’ effort to treat financial support responsibly. “The money is not given out indiscriminately, but according to need; the religious have to open their books and show what they are setting aside for retirement … it’s very equitable and honest.”

“I am continually heartened by the generosity of U.S. Catholics,” said the NRRO’s executive director, Sister Stephanie Still, a member of the Sisters of the Presentation of San Francisco. “Even in difficult times, they find a way to give back to those who have tirelessly served our Church and our world. We are blessed by countless supporters who share our mission to ensure all religious can enjoy a safe and modest retirement.”

According to the fund’s website, only 27 of the 531 religious communities reporting data to the NRRO are adequately funded for retirement. Part of the challenge is lack of an influx of new vocations to the religious life, with retired religious severely outnumbering those in active ministry. Without adequate numbers of new religious to care for the ever-aging retired population, care has been shifted to healthcare providers, where the average cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 is over $49,000 per person, and upwards of $79,000 for skilled care.

To learn more about the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit: retiredreligious.org/

To donate, contribute to the special collection at Masses Dec. 11-21, send contributions to your parish office or mail to: Retirement Fund for Religious, P.O. Box 96988, Washington, D.C. 20090-6988.