Through Retirement Fund, Catholics show gratitude for religious men and women

| November 6, 2018 | 0 Comments
Retirement Fund for Religious

Sister Lynore Girmscheid, right, archdiocesan coordinator of the Retirement Fund for Religious, talks about the fund during an interview Oct. 24. At left is Sister Midge Breiter, former coordinator. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

The religious sisters who have recently overseen the Retirement Fund for Religious have a notable trait in common: They’re past the standard retirement age.

School Sister of Notre Dame Midge Breiter, 81, had the role for nine years before she stepped into different part-time work. Another member of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Catholic Center staff took the helm for last year’s campaign, but now Sister Lynore Girmscheid, 72 and also a School Sister, has the reins.

Their ages and work are indicative of professed religious’ lives: Many never really retire.

“We’re always on mission,” Sister Lynore said.

The annual local collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious helps religious communities with the medical costs of caring for elderly members. In 2018, the national fund distributed $25 million to 360 communities. Since 1983, it’s granted $803 million for the direct care of elderly religious. The Retirement Fund for Religious also offers retirement planning consultation and education programs for religious communities. The 2018 collection will take place nationwide in most parishes Dec. 8-9.

The fund is necessary for several reasons, Sister Midge explained. First, religious men and women historically received stipends without benefits instead of salaries for their work. Before 1972, they also weren’t part of the Social Security system. The result has been, for many communities, insufficient savings or investments to fund older members’ health care needs.

Second, retired religious are expected by 2028 to outnumber wage-earning religious by more than three to one, according to National Religious Retirement Office, which oversees the fund.

Third, religious men and women, like many Americans, are facing rising health care costs, and they’re living longer. “It’s a financial burden on religious communities to have their sisters getting sick,” Sister Midge said.

Last year, contributions to the fund from the archdiocese totaled more than $745,000, but $263,438 — including a bequest of $141,569 — was received after the NRRO deadline, so those funds will be considered part of the archdiocese’s 2018 contributions.

However, the $482,269 contribution from the archdiocese listed in the Retirement Fund for Religious’ 2017 annual report is the seventh largest amount from contributing dioceses. It has consistently been in the top 10 among contributing dioceses. Meanwhile, it’s the 22nd most populous diocese in the United States.

That puts the archdiocese’s generosity into perspective, said Catherine Turner, an executive assistant to the archbishop who oversaw the 2017 campaign.

“That just tells me the love people have for the sisters and brothers that have taught them,” said Turner, who said her own affection for the religious sisters who taught her as a girl motivated her efforts as the temporary fund coordinator. “They raised us.”

In the archdiocese, the fund’s local coordinator works under the Delegate for Religious Life, currently Sister Carolyn Puccio, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. When she speaks about the fund, she finds that people can relate to the rising cost of health care. She compares caring for older members of a religious community to caring for an elderly family member. “I’ve said, ‘You know what it’s like to have an elderly relative that you’re caring for and who has special medical needs, and how difficult it is to get the care that you would want for someone that you love,’” she said.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame are among religious communities who receive grants from the fund, but it covers only a portion of their cost for medical care. The annual cost of care for all retired religious across the United States is an estimated $1 billion, according to the NRRO.

A St. Paul native, sister for 52 years and longtime music and liturgical minister, Sister Lynore worked six years in development for her community, which prepared her for her new role as the fund’s local coordinator.

She wants to promote the fund’s resources for retirement planning, so communities that aren’t yet applying for retirement fund assistance can be better prepared to support the needs of their older members. Communities cannot be financially viable if most of their funds go to members’ health care, she said.

Religious men and women “have been a part of my life, so I want to be part of this contribution as well,” she said.

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