On a recent morning, School Sister of Notre Dame Jane Thibault sat at a small desk in a classroom at Hope Academy, a charter school on St. Paul’s East Side, playing word games with a second-grader and making him feel confident as he read aloud.
The “retired” sister can be found here four days a week helping students in grades one to four in a tutoring program run by the School Sisters.
Retired sisters, brothers and religious order priests in this archdiocese and around the country often are working as much as they ever did, but as volunteers.
“The word retirement really isn’t in our vocabulary,” Sister Jane said.
The Retirement Fund for Religious collection was launched in 1988 by the Catholic bishops of the United States to address the significant lack of retirement funding for Catholic sisters, brothers, and priests in religious orders. Proceeds from the collection go to religious communities to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses for their members.
Need for funding
The crisis in retirement funding can be attributed to three primary factors: insufficient retirement savings, rising health-care costs, and declining income, according to the Office of Retirement Fund for Religious of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“For me, joining the community in the ‘50s, we always worked in parishes and were paid a small stipend. We always had the younger generations coming up and it always leveled out,” Sister Jane said. “For many years we didn’t even have Social Security until we realized we had to join that. There’s a need, like with all the other elderly people, for help with retirement. How do we cover everything?”
The 25th annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious will be taken up Dec. 8 and 9 in this archdiocese. Nearly 95 percent of donations directly support senior religious and their communities.
“I don’t see a phase in my life when I’m not committed to my call,” she said. “I feel called always to transform life around me, mainly through education.”
After joining the School Sisters in 1954, Sister Jane taught high school for more than 30 years, most recently at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley. After that she worked with mentally challenged young adults, helping them become independent. She also worked at the motherhouse in Mankato before “retiring” about five years ago.
Of the $27.4 million that was raised nationwide last year for the Retirement Fund for Religious, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis gave more than $460,000. In 2012, the Benedictine Sisters and the Order of St. Clare in the archdiocese received financial assistance from the appeal.
Religious who serve or have served in the archdiocese but whose communities are based elsewhere may also benefit from the appeal. The many School Sisters of Notre Dame that serve in the archdiocese benefit, even though after a consolidation of provinces the order is now based in St. Louis, Mo. The order, which has 1,149 members, received $676,523 last year, according to Sister Midge Breiter, coordinator of the Office of Retirement Fund for Religious of the archdiocese.
Despite the unparalleled generosity to the collection, religious communities continue to face significant challenges in meeting the high costs of care. Last year’s distributions amounted to approximately $907 per eligible religious. Yet the average annual cost of care for a senior religious stands at $37,200 per person, while skilled care can exceed $56,000. In 2011 alone, the total cost of care for women and men religious was over $1.1 billion.