Retired religious men and women continue to need your help

| November 30, 2011 | 2 Comments

Benedictine Sister Monica Raway has her blood pressure taken before a physical therapy session with Merryn Felhaber of Heartland Home Care Nov. 29 at St. Paul’s Monastery in Maplewood. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Everyone at St. Paul’s Monastery is striving to keep the aging Benedictine sisters at home in the monastery’s health care center, said Sandra Carlson, monastery finance manager.

Sister Lucia Schwic­k­erath said, “Our sisters have worked for years and years for the betterment of our Catholic people and our church, and I, as a major superior, really want them to have enough comfort at the end of life so they are comfortable moving into the next world.”

Carlson said that a $19,000 grant from the National Religious Retirement Office, last year, helped pay some costs for the 11 sisters in the health care center and for the 33 other sisters who live at the mo­na­stery. Many of the sisters are no longer able to work and receive just $300 a month from Social Security.

“They were not paid directly so they don’t have a personal income history that reflects how much they worked throughout their lives,” Carlson said. “If they worked for another Catholic organization, which most of them did, it didn’t get seen as personal income, so it impacts their Social Security.”
Sister Lucia said that the Benedictine community, like most religious communities, have fewer younger sisters earning salaries, so care of the elderly is a “big financial challenge.”

Carlson said that the grants it has received — though not every year —from the Retirement Fund for Religious are appreciated.

Collection is Dec. 10-11

The annual appeal to support retired religious women and men will be collected in most parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minnea­polis and across the country during the weekend of Dec. 10-11, said Sister Midge Breiter, archdiocesan coordinator for the Retirement Fund for Religious.

People often ask why this collection, which began in 1988, has continued beyond the originally intended 10 years, she said.

The answer is that, more than 20 years later, religious communities continue to need financial assistance to take care of their aging members, she said.

The cost of medical supplies and skilled care, even when provided by a religious community, continues to increase.

In 2010 alone, the total cost of care for women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1 billion. Nearly 5,000 religious required skilled care. At the same time, however, religious communities strive to minimize costs. In fact, the National Religious Retirement Office reports that the average cost of care for religious past age 70 dropped slightly this year.

“The real challenge for many religious communities is a lack of retirement savings,” explained NRRO executive director Sister Janice Bader, a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Mo. “Most senior religious worked for years for small stipends. There were no retirement plans.”

As religious continue to age, fewer members are able to serve in compensated ministry, leading to a sharp decrease in income. By 2019, NRRO data projects that retired religious will outnumber wage-earning religious by nearly four to one.

Local religious aided

At the School Sisters of Notre Dame Monastery in Mankato, about 300 members of the community — many of whom serve or have served in the archdiocese — receive regular care for their physical needs at the monas­tery’s health care residence, said nursing director Ruth Woitas. Expenses vary for each sister, depending on whether skilled care or assisted care is needed.

Medical supplies make up the lar­gest expense, Woitas said. Although every effort is made to stay within budget each year, sometimes an item goes on sale, like two-for-one hospital beds, she said.

In the much smaller St. Clare’s Monastery of the Infant Jesus in Bloomington, the Franciscan Poor Clare Nuns don’t have enough members to care for their own elders, Sister Midge said. That community uses any grant money received from the collection to help pay for a sister’s care in a nursing home, she said.

Money from the collection is also used by the national office to present workshops for religious institutes to help them plan for the future. The workshops help communities assess their current retirement needs, allocate assets realistically and develop materials aimed at addressing retirement wisely.

Grants given

All donations made in a parish or mailed to the archdiocesan office are sent to the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington, D.C., Sister Midge said.

Religious communities apply to the national office for a grant. The amount of the grant given to a community is determined by the number of religious, income, expenses and the type of care needed, she explained.

Each community determines how that money will be spent on the medical care of its retired members.

As a result of the 2010 collection, which garnered $26.7 million, the NRRO was able to distribute $23 million to religious communities to help support the day-to-day care of senior members. An additional $2.7 million was allocated toward initiatives targeted for religious communities with the greatest needs. Ninety-three cents of every dollar aids elderly religious.

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Priests reflect on service provided by religious

“I am a product of Incarnation Catholic Grade School and De LaSalle High School in the Twin Cities, where I learned from the Sinsinawa Dominicans and the Christian Brothers. I have worked in parishes alongside many dedicated religious from various orders including the Sisters of St. Joseph, Presentations, Franciscans, Benedictines and School Sisters of Notre Dame. Our parishes have enjoyed their services over many years.  Most of the communities do not have a great number of incoming vocations to help bear the costs of those who need to retire. Be generous to these dedicated servants of the church.”
— Father Chuck Brambilla, pastor, St. Timothy, Blaine

“I have deep and abiding gratitude for religious women. During grade school, the Sisters of St. Joseph taught me an appreciation of prayer and of music that continues to sustain me today. At Church of the Ascension, the Sisters of St. Joseph played an integral role in the education of children. Today, the Visitation Sisters offer their presence and prayer in North Minneapolis and are a light of hope for me, as well as many others.  Thank you, sisters — for what you did then, for what you do now, and what you will do in the future!”
— Father Michael O’Connell, pastor, Ascension, Minneapolis

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