WASHINGTON (April 28, 1997) -- People nationwide donated more than $26 million to support aging religious sisters, brothers and priests during the most recent Retirement Fund for Religious Collection.
The collection, based on money collected in 1996, totaled $26,362,125, reaching the second highest level in the history of the collection, which was first taken up in 1988. The largest annual retirement collection was reported two years ago, when donations reached $26.8 million. The appeal which was reported on last year drew $25.5 million and was the third highest.
"This is heartening for men and women religious and, indeed, for the entire Church," said Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). "It reflects well on people's sense of regard for the religious who give their lives in service to the Church and on the generous nature of our people themselves. I know of no other collection in our Church which has been supported as consistently and generously as this one."
Bishop Pilla, who heads the Diocese of Cleveland, praised Sister of St. Joseph Janet Roesener, Executive Director of the National Religious Retirement Office, which oversees the collection, for her good stewardship. The top three years of the collection have occurred during her tenure, which began in 1993 and ends in June.
"Sister Janet has been an extraordinary manager and has coordinated a national campaign with little fanfare," he said. "Because of her remarkable efficiency, almost every cent of the money people donate to the retirement collection goes directly to the religious in need."
Less than four percent of the money donated has been used to promote and operate the collection for the religious in the United States, who have a $7.9 billion unfunded retirement liability. The fact that more than 96 percent of what is collected goes right to the religious makes it one of the most cost effective and efficient fund-raising operations anywhere.
Almost all of the money is gathered from an annual collection taken up in parishes during the second week-end of Advent. Other money is donated directly to the fund's Washington office.
Sister Roesener credited the network of diocesan coordinators who organize local collection efforts and arrange for religious to speak at Masses, one of the key reasons for the collection's success.
"The coordinators are enthusiastic and tireless," she said. "There's no way we could work efficiently without them. They, in turn, credit bishops and pastors who bring awareness of the need to their people and diocesan communications efforts which give the campaign visibility."
"When bishops and pastors invite religious to address their congregations from the pulpit," she added, "people in the pew see who they're helping This collection would not be able to do what it does were it not for such wholehearted support."
Sister Roesener announced the collection figures April 25. Reports showed that the collection was up in about 87 of the dioceses, "a real tribute," she said, "to the gratitude of the people who have seen religious operate schools, hospitals and social services centers for decades."
Msgr. Dennis M. Schnurr, NCCB General Secretary, said the Retirement Fund for Religious is the most successful fundraising effort in the Church in the United States.
"Many Catholics and non-Catholics have been helped by religious men and women and they remember this," Msgr. Schnurr said. "These religious built hospitals and schools instead of bank accounts. Any extra funds they had went into their ministries, everything from pre-schools and universities to inner-city clinics and hospital systems. The work of religious has touched people at every level of society."
To date, the appeal has collected over $225 million to offset retirement needs of religious throughout the country. Money is distributed to retirement funds of U.S. religious institutes according to a formula based on the ages, the number of members and the level of retirement needs of an institute. Grants to individual orders have ranged from $600,000 to $300.
Collection funds also have been used to meet emergency needs of religious orders and to fund projects aimed at cost-cutting strategies.
Church officials launched the appeal in 1988 when it became obvious that funds designated by U.S. religious orders for retirement were insufficient. Simultaneously, the religious communities embarked on efforts to cut costs and raise additional monies by selling property, converting existing structures to maintain them more economically and developing joint, inter-community efforts for cost-efficient care of their elderly members.
Signs of the religious retirement crisis began to show in the early 1970s as health care costs skyrocketed and demographics of religious orders shifted, leaving more older than younger members in orders nationwide. The resulting situation has precluded wage earners in religious orders today from being able to support all their retired members.
Some religious collect Social Security. However, since members of religious orders were only allowed into the nation's Social Security system in the 1970s, they could not accrue significant benefits. The average annual Social Security payment to a retired religious is $3,300.
The latest appeal was launched in late 1996 by the NCCB, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. The organizations sponsor the National Religious Retirement Office in Washington to aid religious orders in dealing with retirement issues.
Nationwide, 167 of the country's 193 dioceses participate in the Retirement Fund for Religious collection. Those which do not participate operate their own fund drives or had started local collections before the national appeal began.