Home Diocesan News RFR collection set for Nov. 25-26 Pulpit appeals Nov. 18-19
RFR collection set for Nov. 25-26 Pulpit appeals Nov. 18-19 Print E-mail
Written by Mary Ellen Pellegrini, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 17 November 2017 15:45

Twenty-nine years ago, the Catholic bishops of the United States, recognizing a critical lack of retirement funding, launched the Retirement Fund for Religious appeal.

Inadequate retirement savings, rising health care costs, and decreased income (due to fewer religious in compensated ministries) portended a dire future for elderly Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests.

“Most senior religious ministered for little to no pay and what they did receive was put back into ministry,” explained Sister Joyce Candidi, an Oblate Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, director of the diocesan Office of Vowed Religious and local coordinator of the Retirement Fund for Religious appeal.

To help ease the burden, Catholics are again being asked to share in the care of religious who have been the backbone of Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service agencies.

In most diocesan parishes, the Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be taken up the weekend of Nov. 25-26, following an appeal from the pulpit the weekend of Nov. 18-19.

“Your support allows us to continue the mission to assure all elderly religious a safe, modest retirement,” said Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sister Stephanie Still, executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), which oversees the collection and distribution of monies received from the appeal.

Since the RFR appeal’s inception, religious communities have developed retirement strategies, and awareness of the problem has increased. “Without this appeal, there would have been many religious who would not have had proper care,” Sister Joyce noted.

And because religious communities are solely responsible for the financial support and physical care of their members, their limited resources would be depleted by eldercare needs, leaving little for serving others. “The level of ministry we have today would not exist,” Sister Joyce added.

In the past two years, the RFR collection exceeded 30 million dollars nationally, the highest in the 29-year history of the collection.

That generosity “signifies the ongoing gratitude for the ministry of the religious, and tells the Church there is strong continued support for past and current ministries,” Sister Joyce said.

Thanks to donor support, the unfunded liabilities of religious congregations have significantly and progressively decreased.

“As we celebrate the progress the collection makes possible, we also acknowledge that many religious communities continue to struggle with insufficient retirement funding,” Sister Stephanie said.

The average annual Social Security benefit for a religious is $6,000, while the average lay beneficiary receives $16,000, a reflection of the lower compensation that religious received for their services.

“Religious receive a stipend not at the level of a lay person, and that’s because service to others is the nature of religious life,” Sister Joyce commented.

Those small stipends, combined with an unusual surge in vocations, enabled Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service agencies to flourish in the 1950s and ‘60s, Sister Joyce noted.

In addition to a strong moral base, education, health care and social services are three signs of a healthy country, she stressed. “Our country was always one of the first in the world because of the religious who dedicated themselves to those three areas,” she said.

Today, “you don’t have that same presence but religious are still ministering in a quiet, subdued way,” said Sister Joyce. The large number of vocations who served for so many years are now the elderly in need of care.

“It is, I think, appreciation for the service and witness of senior religious that inspires such a heartfelt response to the annual collection. At the NRRO, gratitude underlies our efforts to ensure the broadest, most beneficial use of collection proceeds,” Sister Stephanie pointed out.

Along with financial assistance, collection proceeds from the RFR appeal underwrite educational programs that guide religious communities in caring for the elderly and planning for the future. According to data from the NRRO, those efforts include webinars, consultants and a quarterly publication, “Engaging Aging,” offering practical information to enhance eldercare and improve retirement planning.

These tools “keep religious orders updated on what [help] is available so none of the orders feel abandoned,” Sister Joyce continued.

In 2016 the NRRO hosted 11 workshops engaging 500 participants. Topics included dementia care, property planning, and training for volunteer consultants. Webinars provided professional updates on eldercare trends and continuing education for care personnel.

To best utilize monies received from the campaign, religious communities are networking with one another and sharing resources such as combining health care facilities to manage costs.

Funding from the RFR appeal “provides a good quality of life for our senior religious, helps congregations use resources efficiently, and frees up younger members to continue their ministries,” Sister Joyce emphasized.

“In the end, religious communities have the same goal,” Sister Stephanie said – “to provide loving care for elder members while ensuring the works of these selfless women and men can be carried forth.”

Here’s how religious communities benefited from 2016 RFR appeal

Mary Ellen Pellegrini, Special to the Exponent

The gratitude and generosity of those in the pews brought almost 30.7 million dollars to the Retirement Fund for Religious national collection in 2016.

“Our heartfelt thanks go to all those who support elderly religious with gifts of time, treasure, advocacy, and prayer,” said Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sister Stephanie Still, executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO).

Those contributions enabled the NRRO to distribute $25 million in direct care assistance to 390 religious communities. An additional $1.1 million was allotted for planning assistance and $3.2 million for assistance in developing strategies to stabilize retirement savings and assure quality care of elderly religious.

For some communities, that assistance helped them renovate outdated headquarters to include cost-effective senior-living space.

“Religious communities combine RFR funding with their own income and savings to meet the current and future needs of senior members,” noted Sister Stephanie. Those funds help meet the day-to-day expenses such as prescription medications, nursing care, and other needs.

“The NRRO goes to great effort to equitably and fairly distribute the funds according to the resources a congregation has available, the number of elderly, [and] the number of compensated members,” said Sister Joyce Candidi, director of the diocesan Office of Vowed Religious and local coordinator of the RFR appeal.

Last year, members of the Youngstown Diocese contributed $303,399.94 to the RFR campaign – third highest among the six dioceses in Ohio. Eighteen religious congregations serving the Youngstown Diocese received direct care assistance grants totaling $2,004,176.10.

Allocations to communities of women religious whose motherhouses are located in the Youngstown Diocese totaled $67,979.11.

The Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, Canfield, received $42,334.50; the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, Canton, $5,582.72; the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Hubbard, $10,707.86; the Antonine Sisters, (Maronite Rite), North Jackson, $3,711.20 and the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Mark, Louisville, $5,642.83.

Allocations to communities of women who serve in the diocese but whose motherhouses are located elsewhere totaled $1,606,104.40.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate received $107,421.00; the Sisters of Divine Providence, $217,527.14; the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, $219,560.49; the Sisters of Notre Dame, $149,232.91; the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, $301,637.52; the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, (Byzantine Rite), $98,552.88; the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God, $29,107.60; the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin, $128,170.91 and the Sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis, $354,894.03.

Allocations to communities of men who serve in the diocese totaled $330,092.59. The Brothers of Christian Instruction received $16,786.08; the Society of St. Paul, $37,223.28; Franciscans Third Order Regular, $97,242.35; and the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, $178,840.88.

Mother Mary Gertrude Espenilla, superior of the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, Canton, said the appeal helps the cloistered community with the daily needs of its elderly sisters.

Because the community must provide for all expenses, the sisters are grateful for the RFR’s assistance with non-covered medical needs. “It’s a small amount but it still helps us,” noted Mother Mary Gertrude. Medicaid and Medicare cover doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and most prescription medications for the congregation’s two elderly sisters.

“The RFR appeal helps with over-the-counter medications, hearing aids, eyeglasses, shoes and personal needs,” the superior explained.

Through their ministry of prayer, “we keep the success of the RFR appeal in our prayer every year,” Mother Mary Gertrude added.

Father Vincent DeLucia, prior of the Youngstown community of the Dominican Fathers, said the RFR fund helps with health care expenses such as the out-of-pocket costs of monthly insurance premiums and with personal needs for elderly members.

Two of the five priests serving locally are in their mid-80s, and the monies also help provide personal care for those members when the prior has to be out of town.

“People have been very generous in responding to the retirement needs, and we’re very appreciative of these thank you’s for our ministry,” Father DeLucia said.

Sister Margaret Gorman, provincial superior of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio, said that, of the congregation’s 222 sisters aged 70 and older, 100 reside in the community’s Health Care Center.

“As the large groups of sisters who entered in the ’50s are aging, we have used RFR funds to increase staffing and programming in our assisted living,” noted Sister Margaret.

Since the RFR campaign began, the Notre Dame Sisters have also benefited from the planning workshops offered by the NRRO.

“Our health care staff and our sisters on the pastoral care team regularly participate in NRRO webinars as they strive to implement a person-centered and mission-centered model of care for our elderly religious,” Sister Margaret said. “We’re very grateful for that help.”


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