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US National Collection Helps Religious Orders Care for Their Elderly Members
November 26, 2020. Scheduled for December 12-13.

The 33rd annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be held in most U.S. Catholic parishes from December 12-13. Coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the appeal assists hundreds of religious order communities in providing for the ongoing needs of their aging Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests.

The U.S. bishops initiated the collection in 1988 to address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious orders. Distinct from retired priest collections held in respective dioceses for the care of retired diocesan priests, this annual collection benefits eligible religious orders to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses for nearly 30,000 elderly religious.

The 2019 appeal raised $26.2 million, and this past June, the NRRO distributed $25 million in financial assistance to 341 religious communities across the nation. The beneficiary religious order communities combine this funding with their own income and savings to help furnish day-to-day necessities, including medications and nursing care, and the distributions may be applied toward immediate retirement needs or invested for future eldercare expenses.

“We are humbled and incredibly grateful for the ongoing generosity of the Catholic faithful to the annual appeal,” said Sister Stephanie Still, PBVM (Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary), who serves as the NRRO’s executive director. “And we are committed to ensuring the broadest and most beneficial use of these donations.”

The retirement-funding deficit is rooted in low salaries and changing demographics. Traditionally, Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests—often known collectively as “women and men religious”—engaged in ministry for little to no pay. As a result, many of their religious communities lack adequate retirement savings. Elderly religious are also living longer and, according to NRRO data, outnumber younger, wage-earning religious by nearly three to one.

Like many other Americans, religious communities struggle with the ever-rising cost of health care. The total cost of care for religious past age 70 exceeds $1 billion annually. COVID-19 has compounded this already difficult situation.

Through the annual collection, the NRRO helps religious communities address their funding deficits. In addition to direct financial aid, donations make possible resources and services that assist communities in evaluating and preparing for long-term retirement needs.

“Our mission is sustained by the love and generosity of all who support senior religious and their communities,” said Sister Still.