WASHINGTON (October 6, 2004) — U.S. Catholics donated $28,016,815 to the Retirement Fund for Religious in 2003.
The donations to the sixteenth annual appeal enabled the National Religious Retirement Office to award almost $20 million in grants to underfunded retirement programs of orders of men and women religious throughout the country.
In addition, the NRRO awarded more than $6.4 in special assistance and supplemental grants to orders with especially critical needs, such as entrance into the Social Security system and assistance with health care costs. Many orders cannot afford health insurance.
In its 16 year history, the collection, taken up in parishes every December, has drawn more than $440 million. It has distributed almost $430 million.
The collection has been the most successful annual collection in the history of the church in the United States. The first collection in 1988 drew $26,304, 299.
"The generosity of our people is gratifying," said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Catholic lay men and women have not forgotten those who sacrificed so much for them."
In this latest collection more than a million dollars was donated by people in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The 2003 collection enabled the fund to distribute this year basic grants to 541 religious institutes, representing 38,903 senior members age seventy and over. This amounts to approximately $513.38 per religious over age 70.
Bishop Gregory noted the history of the collection and said that Catholics responded as soon as they heard of the crisis and have given steadily and generously.
"Catholics learned about this need in the late '80s and took the dramatic position of standing with the orders who unstintingly serve our Church. Generous donations have made a strong statement that U.S. Catholics never will forget all that these elderly religious do for them now and did for many years before. No other Church collection has been supported as consistently and generously as this one."
Between 1993 and 2003 the percentage of women's orders in the National Religious Retirement Office database whose retirement plans were 61-100 percent funded rose from 25 to 51 percent, meaning that 51 percent of women religious in the database institutes have retirements that are 61 to 100 percent funded. The percentage of men's communities whose retirement plans were 61-100 percent funded rose from 20 to 64 percent, meaning that 64 percent of the men religious reporting have retirements that are 61-100 percent funded.
Contributions come primarily through a collection in parishes on the second weekend in Advent. The fund also has been enhanced by $1,439,470.81 in bequests and gifts received throughout the year from generous individuals and organizations.
Msgr. William P. Fay, USCCB General Secretary, said the response shows gratitude.
"Catholics and non-Catholics have been helped by religious men and women and they remember this," he said. "These religious built hospitals and schools. They thought of themselves last. Their extra funds went into their ministries, everything from pre-schools and universities to inner-city clinics and hospital systems. They have touched and continue to touch people at every level of society."
Because of the donations, the religious institutes have had additional time to individually and collaboratively plan and execute numerous strategies aimed at managing their retirement related needs. In addition, the National Religious Retirement Office, in addition to fundraising, has been able to offer hands-on assistance to institutes as they address critical financial needs.
Money is distributed to retirement funds of U.S. religious institutes according to a formula based on the ages, membership and level of retirement needs. Grants to individual orders in 2003 ranged from $1,000 to $505,397.45. Collection funds also have been used to meet emergency needs and to fund projects aimed at cost-cutting.
Church officials launched the appeal when it became obvious that funds available to U.S. religious orders for retirement were insufficient. Simultaneously, the religious communities began to cut costs and raise additional monies by selling property, converting structures to maintain them more economically and developing inter-community efforts for cost-efficient care of their elderly members.
Signs of the 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. The resulting situation precludes wage earners in religious orders today from being able to support all their retired members.
Some religious collect Social Security. The average annual Social Security payment to a retired religious is $3,874. The national average is $10,836.
The 2003 appeal was launched by the USCCB, 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, 174 of the country's 195 dioceses participate in the National Retirement Fund for Religious collection. Most that do not participate directly operate their own fund drives or had started local collections before the national appeal began.