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Retirement Fund for Religious Collection Serves Important Need

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The Diocese of Raleigh joins Catholics throughout the country in supporting the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR). This weekend, December 8-9, 2012, a special collection will be conducted for retirement funding for Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests.

Coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), this annual appeal is taken up in December in most U.S. Catholic parishes. It provides vital support to religious communities in meeting current and future retirement needs. Since its founding in 1988, the RFR has distributed more than $671 million to religious communities. Last year the Diocese of Raleigh contributed $204,134.52 to the collection.     

“It’s important for many reasons. One is to have the face of religious in front of people so they know we’re here in service. And, secondly, because our numbers are dwindling and the ages of religious are escalating … the need is great,” said Sister Anne Heath, Diocesan RFR coordinator. “It’s a great time for us to remember those people who have been important in our lives if we’ve ever had the experience of having a sister, priest or brother in our life.” 

While Catholics’ generosity to the fund is unparalleled, religious communities face significant challenges in meeting the high costs of care. Last year’s distributions amounted to $907 per eligible religious person. Yet the average annual cost of care for a senior religious stands at $37,200 per person, while skilled care can exceed $56,000.

The NRRO attributes the crisis to three primary factors: insufficient retirement savings, rising health care costs and declining income. Traditionally, men and women religious worked for small stipends that furnished only the basics of daily living. As a result, a majority of religious communities now lack adequate retirement savings.  

The fund works similar to a grant where those in need apply for assistance, explained Sr. Anne. Men and women religious who serve or have served in the Diocese but whose communities are based elsewhere may benefit from the RFR. In the Diocese of Raleigh, every sister belongs to a community based elsewhere. And about half of the priests, such as Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits, are from communities outside of the Diocese, she said.

“By the year 2022, there will be one working religious to every four retired religious,” said Sr. Anne. “There’s no end to the fund just because of that, because the numbers are so high now. We’re all aging, so the numbers are crucial.”

The effects of the crisis are being felt throughout the nation. “A lot of congregations, at this point, are selling off their biggest properties, and that’s very common up north to sell off huge properties … Mother Houses, colleges … to be able, then, to support the sisters and priests,” said Sr. Anne. “So it’s a lot of grieving, it’s a lot of loss. We’ve had to lose a lot of the things, like our homes, to be able to give service and care to the women and men religious, both working and not.”