PROVIDENCE — Many active members of religious orders, religious sisters, brothers and priests, have served and continue to serve in the Diocese of Providence throughout its history. They have given witness in classrooms, in caring for the sick and abandoned, and in a multitude of apostolates geared to continually changing times and circumstances, explained Father John Burger, SSC, vice-director at St. Columban’s Retirement House in Bristol.
The annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection, which will be held Dec. 10-11 in most U.S. parishes, including the Diocese of Providence, gives faithful an opportunity to express their thanks to senior religious sisters, brothers and priests for their service over many decades, said Father Burger.
Now in its 29th year, the collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) and benefits nearly 33,000 elderly Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests whose religious communities lack adequate retirement funding.
“It is an opportunity to show we do not forget them or their service, particularly in their later years,” he said. “The lives of other contemplative religious’ lives of prayer also have been a spiritual resource for the whole church. [The fund] is meant to ensure a secure retirement for those who have led such generous lives. Certainly, we can do no less.”
In 2015, the appeal raised $30.7 million, the sixth highest total in its history, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As a result, the NRRO distributed $25 million to 401 religious communities across the county. Throughout the year, additional funding is allocated for religious congregations with the greatest needs. A portion of the proceeds also supports education in retirement planning and eldercare delivery.
The U.S. bishops initiated the Retirement Fund for Religious in 1988 to address the significant lack of retirement funding among religious communities in the United States. Proceeds are distributed to eligible communities to help underwrite retirement and healthcare expenses. Since the collection began, Catholics across the nation have contributed more than $785 million. Almost 95 percent of donations directly support senior religious and their communities.
Despite overwhelming generosity shown to the collection, many religious communities continue to struggle to provide for aging members. Of 550 communities submitting data to the NRRO in 2015, only 8 percent were adequately funded for retirement.
Religious communities are financially autonomous and thus responsible for the care and support of all members. Historically, Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests — known collectively as women and men religious — ministered for small stipends. As a result, many religious communities now lack adequate retirement savings. 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.
Sister Elizabeth Castro, director of the Office for Religious for the Diocese of Providence, said that giving through this campaign continues to assist those who are still serving, but need help covering day-to-day expenses such as prescription medications and nursing care, for their own daily personal needs.
“These religious have served for many years,” said Sister Castro. “Even though they are retired they are still serving in the area in the ministry of the church. They have given their lives to the people, dedicating themselves to Jesus and the church.”
Along with assisting financially, Sister Castro explained that praying for all men and women religious is also incredibly important. She added it is important to remember that many of the retired religious no longer have families and are grateful for the continued generosity of those they have served.
“The only family they have is the church. God never abandons the ones that he calls,” said Sister Castro. “All they have is us.”
More information is available at www.retiredreligious.org.