The Diocese of Trenton will join faithful throughout the country in supporting retired sisters, brothers and religious order priests with a collection to be held in all parishes the weekend of Dec. 9-10. The 30th annual appeal for the Retirement Fund for Religious is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office and benefits some 32,000 aging Catholic sisters, brothers and priests in religious orders across the country.
The U.S. Catholic bishops initiated the collection in 1988 to help address the deficit in retirement savings among the nation’s religious congregations. Proceeds are distributed to eligible congregations to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses. Roughly 94 percent of donations aid elderly religious.
According to data made available by the NRRO, faithful of the Diocese of Trenton last year gave $328,710.80 to the collection, which was the second highest amount collected among the five New Jersey arch/dioceses. Of that donation, $10,254 was allocated for direct support to the Monastery of St. Clare in Chesterfield.
The remainder of those funds contributed locally in 2016 was pooled with more than $30 million in donations from around the country to help 390 eligible religious communities, a number of which have long provided sisters, brothers and priests to serve in the Diocese of Trenton. The communities combine this funding with their own income and savings to meet a host of eldercare needs, including medications and nursing care.
Specifically, the funds underwrite financial assistance, educational programming and hands-on consultation that help religious communities reduce funding deficits, enhance eldercare and plan for long-term needs. Throughout the year, additional funding is allocated to provide expanded assistance to religious communities with significant retirement-funding deficits.
While support from the Retirement Fund for Religious has helped many religious communities to stabilize retirement accounts, hundreds of others continue to lack sufficient resources to fully provide for older members. Most senior religious worked for little to no pay, leaving their religious communities with inadequate retirement savings.
At the same time, religious communities are challenged by the rising cost of care. Last year, the average annual cost of care for senior religious was $42,000 per person, while skilled care averaged more than $63,000, according to NRRO data. In 2016, the total cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1.2 billion.
In a letter announcing the collection, Sister of St. Joseph Rose McDermott, diocesan delegate for religious, noted “none of our women and men religious chose to be in nursing homes after many years of active ministry. However, they recognize the contemplative dimension of their vocations, as they offer prayers for those they have served and those that now serve them.”
She added that while most individuals cannot physically visit ill and retired religious, people “can visit them in spirit through their generous monetary contributions.”
“Our people are extremely generous and have great respect for the religious,” Sister Rose said.
According to Sister Rose, there are 317 Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests currently serving in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. “They serve us in hospitals, schools, social services and parishes. Even the contemplative orders devote their whole lives to prayer for the people of the Diocese.”
“We continue to be amazed and grateful for the outpouring of support for senior religious and their communities,” said Presentation Sister Stephanie Still, the NRRO’s executive director.
“Our goal is to help religious communities meet today’s retirement needs while preparing for the ones to come—so that religious young and old can continue to serve the People of God,” said Sister Stephanie.
More information is available at www.retiredreligious.org.