SAN DIEGO — The annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be held Dec. 12-13 in the Diocese of San Diego.
The National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) coordinates this annual appeal and distributes the proceeds to assist eligible U.S. religious communities with their retirement needs. Nearly 30,000 senior sisters, brothers, and religious order priests benefit.
Catholics in the Diocese of San Diego contributed $242,376.58 to last year’s collection.
Four congregations with their central house in the Diocese of San Diego received funds: the Carmelite Monastery of San Diego, Prince of Peace Benedictine Abbey, the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, also known as the Eudists.
Also receiving funds were three congregations with a presence, though not a central house, in the San Diego Diocese. These included the Franciscan Friars of California, based in Oakland; the Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose central house is in Gainsville, Florida; and the Clerics Regular of St. Paul, also known as the Barnabites, headquartered in Youngstown, N.Y.
“The generosity of U.S. Catholics enables us to continue our ministry for aging women and men religious,” said Presentation Sister Stephanie Still, the NRRO’s executive director. “We are overwhelmed with gratitude.”
In 1988, the Catholic bishops of the United States initiated the Retirement Fund for Religious collection to help address the deficit in retirement funding among U.S. religious congregations.
Each congregation is responsible for the care and support of its members. Financial distributions from the collection are sent to a congregation’s central house and may be applied toward immediate expenses — such as medications or nursing care — or invested for future elder-care needs.
Historically, Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests served for little to no pay. Today, many religious communities lack sufficient retirement savings. Of 531 communities providing data to the NRRO, only 29 are adequately funded for retirement. Rising health-care costs and a growing number of senior members compound the chal-lenge to meet retirement expenses.
“Most religious communities do not have enough funds to care for each ailing and aging sister/brother because they worked for so little, yet they gave so much,” said Sister Lilia M. Barba, superior of the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament’s Province of the Immaculate Conception. “It is our responsibility to care for them and provide for their basic needs of health, dignity and spiritual life, so they can maintain a meaningful relationship to the mission in this stage of their life.”
Barnabite Father Joe Tabigue, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Little Italy, explained how the annual collection benefits his religious order.
“We are a small order with three communities in North America,” said Father Tabigue. “Forty percent of our province’s members are over 80 and 60 percent are over 75, including one priest still ministering at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish. The collection assists us in providing for the needs of our retired members and those who, while still ministering in some way, do not receive compensation for their ministry.”
The 2019 collection raised $26.2 million, and in June, the NRRO disbursed $25 million in financial assistance to 341 religious communities.
Throughout the year, additional funding is allocated for resources and services that help communities improve eldercare delivery and plan for long-term retirement needs.
Recounting just a few of the benefits her own community has received thanks to the collection, Sister Barba noted that the NRRO provided the sisters with software to make retirement projections and proactive decisions for the future. They also received a grant that enabled them to pay back enough quarters to enroll sisters in the Social Security program.
“God loves a cheerful giver, and those who share generously are God’s smile and pillar for those who, like me, choose to love and serve His people in this diocese and in the Church,” said Sister Barba.
To those who might donate to the upcoming collection, she said, “In this unprecedented year, when we have experienced the frailty of our humanity and the need to [have] recourse to God as the foundation of our lives, we pray that the Holy Spirit open your heart to experience the joy of giving generously, loving unconditionally, and praying unceasingly.
“You are in our prayers daily.”
For more information, visit retiredreligious.org.