Fund helps religious with retirement difficulties


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SAN DIEGO — The Diocese of San Diego will hold the Retirement Fund for Religious collection Dec. 11-12.

The parish-based appeal is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington, D.C. Proceeds help religious communities across the country to care for aging members.

Last year, the Diocese of San Diego donated $286,903.65 to the collection. In 2021, 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 (Eudists) received financial support made possible by the Retirement Fund for Religious.

Hundreds of U.S. religious communities face a large gap between the needs of their older members and the funds available to support them. Historically, Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests served for little to no pay. There were no 401(k) plans or pensions. As a result, many communities now lack adequate retirement savings.

At the same time, healthcare expenses continue to rise, and an increasing number of older religious require specialized services. The retirement office data shows that 26,330 women and men religious in the United States are older than age 70. The total cost for their care exceeds $1 billion annually.

Only 5 percent of the religious communities providing data to the office are adequately funded for retirement.

To help address this funding deficit, the U.S. Catholic bishops initiated the Retirement Fund for Religious collection in 1988. Distributions are sent to each eligible order’s central house and provide supplemental funding for necessities, such as medications and nursing care. Donations also underwrite resources that help religious communities improve eldercare and plan for long-term retirement needs.

Nationwide, the 2020 appeal raised $20.7 million, and funding was distributed to 321 U.S. religious communities, which typically do not receive diocesan funding but rather are financially autonomous and thus responsible for the support and care of all members.

Franciscan Sister Kathy Warren, who directs the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Women Religious, spearheads the collection in the diocese.

She said it is fitting that this is the first special collection held in the new liturgical year, which begins with the Advent season.

“The retired religious constitute a group of people in the Church who have made a significant contribution and whose witness value is a sign to the call to holiness extended to each of the baptized,” she said. “Their lives of service have been remarkable and nourish a vibrant life in the Church.”

She said that “it is right and just that the members of the Church today, who benefited in significant ways from the service that the religious have done,” would contribute to such a collection. And, in past years, the diocesan response has been “remarkable.”

Since the Retirement Fund for Religious collection was launched 33 years ago, the Diocese of San Diego alone has contributed more than $9.1 million.

Among the religious communities that benefit from the collection are the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, whose Province of the Immaculate Conception is based in Bonita.

Its provincial, Sister A. Rebeca Zuro, said the collection has been “a blessing” for her community, which includes almost 20 sisters over the age of 70.

The province isn’t fully funded for the retirement needs of its members, but it is working toward that goal.

“We just want to make sure that they are taken care of,” Sister Zuro said of her community’s older members.

“We need to take care of them because we are standing on their shoulders,” she added.

The province recently purchased a building about four blocks from its provincial headquarters and remodeled it to serve as an independent and assisted living residence for the community’s aged members.

Blessed Sacrament Convent, as the new residence is known, opened in August and is home to four sisters ranging in age from their early 70s to late 80s. The center has space to house seven residents.

Reflecting on the generosity of local Catholic donors to the Retirement Fund for Religious collection, Sister Zuro said, “Nothing is taken for granted.”

Sister Warren said she continues to be amazed by that generosity.

“Especially in these difficult times, it would have been understandable that the collection would reflect the struggles,” she said. “But that was not the case last year. Truly, we have people who live the Gospel, people who are generous and cheerful givers. God bless each and every one who holds the retired religious in prayer and/or makes a donation.”

According to the most recent diocesan census, there are 187 vowed religious women, both active and retired, from 34 different congregations present in the Diocese of San Diego. The diocese is also home to 85 religious order priests and brothers, representing 19 distinct religious communities.

More information about the collection is available at retiredreligious.org.

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