As the Holy Year of Mercy drew to a close Nov. 20, the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, religious around the Trenton Diocese have been praying for its lingering call to care and compassion be heard during the annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection Dec. 10-11.
That was the sentiment shared by Sister of St. Joseph Rose McDermott, delegate for religious in the diocesan Office of Clergy and Consecrated Life, in hopes this year’s retirement collection will prove a continuing comfort to the 337 senior Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests in the four counties of the Trenton Diocese.
Bringing the Year of Mercy to closure with them in mind invites us to perform a Corporal Work of Mercy, Sister Rose said. “Pastors can visit (sisters and brothers) in retirement homes,” in the Diocese, she said. “And parishioners can visit with their contributions for the aging and the ill.”
The Diocese’s retired religious, she noted, are among 33,000 men and women who dedicated their lives to serving faithful around the United States in orders whose communities lack retirement savings.
Last year, the faithful in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties reached $372,553.99, a “wonderful reflection,” she said, of “our people’s generosity.”
The Catholic bishops of the United States initiated the collection in 1988 to address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious communities. Proceeds help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses. Nearly 95 percent of the donations directly support senior religious and their communities.
The annual, parish-based appeal is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) Sister Rose pointed out. “They do an incredible job of distributing according to need.”
“The NRRO really works” with the financial officers of the religious orders, focusing, she said, on helping them with how to take care of this reserve fund. They really look into the needs.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Sister Stephanie Still, a member of the sisters of the Presentation and newly appointed NRRO executive director.
The appeal raised $30.7 million in 2015, the sixth highest total in its history. As a result, the NRRO distributed $25 million to 401 religious congregations. These funds supplement the day-to-day care of elderly religious and help their congregations implement long-range retirement strategies. Throughout the year, additional funding is allocated for congregations with the greatest needs.
In 2016, the Monastery of St. Clare in Chesterfield was among the communities receiving financial assistance made possible by the Retirement Fund for Religious. Beth Kennedy of the NRRO indicated that funding was provided for the Monastery of St. Clare for Direct Care Assistance which is a per capita distribution based on specific criteria, including level of need.
“Religious communities may apply annually for these funds which can be used to help meet such immediate costs as nursing care and medications and which can be saved for long-term retirement needs,” Kennedy stated. “The majority of proceeds from the annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection are distributed as Direct Care Assistance. Religious communities combine this funding with their own income and savings to help provide for the current and ongoing needs of senior members.”
The retirement-funding deficit is rooted in low salaries and changing demographics. Traditionally, Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests worked for small stipends. As a result, many communities lack adequate retirement savings.
At the same time, elderly religious are living longer and now outnumber younger, wage-earning religious. Among communities providing data to the NRRO, 68 percent have a median age of 70 or above. The income of those engaged in compensated ministry has long since stopped being able to keep pace with the growing cost of eldercare according to a release from the NRRO.
“Our mission is to help religious communities meet current eldercare needs while preparing for the ones to come,” said Sister Stephanie.
Sister Rose reiterated that the support of pastors and parishioners throughout the Diocese reflects not only “their generosity” but their care and concern.
In the Trenton Diocese, there are 337 men and women serving in education, health care and social services. Three are consecrated virgins and one is a member of a secular institute.[[In-content Ad]]