Retirement fund helps care for members, support ministries

| December 7, 2017 | 0 Comments
Religious retirement

Sister Kathleen Mary Kiemen is a retired sister who volunteers with the Land Stewardship Project. Her community, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, receives support from the Retirement Fund for Religious. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In the five decades Sister Kathleen Mary Kiemen has been a religious sister, her work has included teaching, parish ministry and environmental activism. For a time, she also helped fellow members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame transition successfully from working to retirement.

But, as her own life attests, a religious member’s retirement rarely means that he or she is not engaged in some initiative or service. Sister Kathleen Mary, 75, officially retired in January after years of working with the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry, the Mankato-based sisters’ environmental stewardship nonprofit. She still spends a significant amount of time volunteering with the Land Stewardship Project, which similarly focuses on farmland stewardship and sustainable agriculture. However, Sister Kathleen Mary has fewer job responsibilities than she did before her retirement, for which she is grateful.

For years, her work helped to fund the needs of older sisters in her community. Now, she’s among the sisters supported by others’ work, she noted with a smile.

According to the National Religious Retirement Office, only 41 percent of the 539 U.S. religious communities that provide data to the office report they are adequately funded for retirement.

Men and women religious historically received small stipends for their daily needs, but extra funds were channeled into ministry and education, the NRRO states on its website, As the median age of religious rose, the income generated by younger members hasn’t kept up with elderly members’ care expenses. The annual cost of care for men and women religious older than 70 is $42,344 per person, with skilled care reaching beyond $63,000 per person.

For this reason, the NRRO raises funds for the care of retired religious through the Retirement Fund for Religious, which is collecting funds this month. Last year, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province — which includes the Mankato campus — received more than $1 million from the Retirement Fund for Religious.

The province includes about 950 sisters, with 238 of them associated with the Mankato campus. The Mankato sisters’ median age is 78.

The Fund’s support is “very important, as we … have aging members, we have fewer sisters that are out receiving compensation … because of age. The benefits that we receive from the Retirement Fund have been very, very helpful,” said School Sister Rose Mary Snaza, the Mankato campus’ assistant treasurer who, at 76, still works full-time.

Last year, the NRRO received more than $30.6 million in donations, which fund direct care assistance, financial education and financial planning. Catholics from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis donated $394,779 to the national fund.

A St. Paul native, Sister Kathleen Mary lives with two other School Sisters on the campus of St. Rose of Lima in Roseville. She was taught by School Sisters at St. Francis de Sales in St. Paul through ninth grade, and then at Good Counsel Academy in Mankato, where she was an aspirant. She entered the community in 1960 and took final vows in 1967. She taught for nine years, earned a master’s in theology, and then began pastoral ministry at parishes in the New Ulm diocese before working at St. Mary in Waverly. She then served in her community’s leadership and earned a second master’s degree before working as the director of justice and outreach at St. Gerard Majella in Brooklyn Park from 1995 to 2004. In 2005, she began helping retiring sisters and leading the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry, which includes a community garden with 200 plots. She worked as the center’s director and co-director until the end of January.

From her days helping other sisters transition from working to retirement, Sister Kathleen Mary knows it can be tempting for people, consecrated religious or not, to place their personal worth in their work, not their humanity. And, so, although religious men and women often do continue to contribute to the Church and community well beyond their 60s, that’s not the reason they deserve the broader Catholic community’s support.

With the retirement fund, elderly sisters “can be cared for in their aging,” Sister Kathleen Mary said. “It helps us gain funds to support our sisters, so at the same time, we can carry out our ministries.”

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Category: Faith and Culture