Retirement Fund Collection December 8/9
Across the United States, hundreds of religious communities lack financial resources sufficient to meet the retirement and health-care needs of aging members.
Lack of funds
Of 539 communities providing data to the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), only 41 are adequately funded for retirement. Historically, Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests—known collectively as women and men religious—received small stipends that just met the needs of the day. Any surplus funds were reinvested in ministry and the education of younger members. As a result, hundreds of U.S. religious communities lack adequate retirement savings.
At the same time, the income available to support older religious is decreasing. Currently, earnings from the ministries of younger religious cover a significant portion of eldercare expenses, but the number of religious able to serve in compensated ministry is rapidly diminishing.
Like many Americans, religious communities face the monumental challenge of funding eldercare. Currently, the average annual cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 is $42,344 per person. Skilled care can reach more than $63,000. The total cost of care for senior women and men religious in the United States has exceeded $1 billion annually for each of the last nine years.
During the early and mid-twentieth centuries, the Catholic Church in the United States experienced a surge in vocations to religious life, with numbers peaking in the mid-1960s. Care for elderly members was provided largely by younger ones. Over time, however, the number of vocations decreased while lifespans increased. The result is far fewer younger members available to support the retirement and eldercare needs of senior members. In 2017, 67 percent of the religious communities providing data to the NRRO had a median age of 70 or older. (See chart. Note: Figures may not total 100% due to rounding.)
Donations at Work
The National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) coordinates the annual Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR) collection and distributes the proceeds to eligible religious communities. More than 32,000 elderly sisters, brothers, and religious order priests benefit. The RFR underwrites financial assistance, consultation, and education that help religious communities meet the immediate and ongoing needs of aging members.
Roughly 94 percent of donations directly aid senior religious and their communities. The remainder is used for administration and promotion of the nationwide appeal.
Proceeds from the annual Retirement Fund for Religious appeal enable the NRRO to distribute financial assistance to hundreds of religious communities each year.
The majority of donations—ordinarily 80 to 90 percent—are distributed as Direct Care Assistance. Direct Care Assistance is a per capita distribution based on specified 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. Additional funding is allocated throughout the year for communities with the greatest needs and for retirement education and programming.
The NRRO collaborates with an extensive network of volunteer consultants who share their time, experience, and expertise to offer practical assistance to religious communities. On-site consultations by experts in eldercare delivery, finance, and community leadership provide hands-on support in addressing funding shortages and planning for long-term retirement and eldercare needs.
The majority of consultations take place in conjunction with Planning and Implementation Assistance, a program designed for religious communities with critical deficits in retirement funding. By combining financial assistance with extensive consultative support, Planning and Implementation Assistance helps participating institutes address their most-pressing retirement challenges. Religious communities can also take advantage of Eldercare Consultations, which help congregations assess the cost and quality of eldercare delivery as well as long-term retirement needs and available funding.
Proceeds from the Retirement Fund for Religious underwrite educational opportunities that are designed to enhance eldercare and promote comprehensive retirement planning. Resources include workshops, publications, and a quarterly webinar series co-sponsored by the Avila Institute of Gerontology. Qualifying religious communities may also apply for Management and Continuing Education Assistance, which offers funding for the acquisition of basic management tools and for ongoing education in eldercare, financial management, or fund-raising.