Religious Retirement Office
Vol. 14, No. 2
The Power of Praying the News
For religious institutes, planning for the future involves much more than providing for the needs of aging and infirm members. A central concern is ensuring that the institute's mission and charism are carried forward. Discovering individuals who share a particular way of viewing the world and serving the Lord is a challenge for any institute, but for contemplative congregations, attracting new members can be especially demanding. Nevertheless, a Carmelite community in Indianapolis, Indiana, has found a way to break down the barriers that prevent others from learning about their special vocation. And they have done so without leaving the walls of their monastery.
In 1999, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel began to look seriously at the future of their congregation. At the time, they had fifteen members, several of whom were over age 70. They recognized they could no longer rely on young women learning about religious life solely through Catholic schools and parishes. They had to be proactive.
After attending a series of workshops offered by the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Indiana, and after much community soul-searching, the Carmelites decided that their main priority must be on increasing their visibility. They agreed to dedicate the next five years to raising awareness about their contemplative way of life in an effort to attract new members. They understood that this would mean change, but as they put it, they decided, "...to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to insure the future."
The sisters' first step was to interview and hire an outside communications development director. From there, things moved quickly. Not only did their new director help them recruit and establish an advisory board, but her extensive contacts also led to an outpouring of generosity in the form of contributed services. Foremost among these services has been the ongoing work donated by the advertising firm of Young and Laramore.
Initially, the challenge for the professionals at Young and Laramore was to find a way to promote the Carmelites without compromising their contemplative way of life. To do this, they began by meeting with the sisters to learn more about their approach to religious life and their day to day activities. Through these discussions, staff members discovered the sisters' daily commitment to praying for the people and intentions they learned of through the news. They also found that despite being cloistered, the Carmelites were anything but sheltered. In addition to being prolific readers, they kept up with local, national and world events by listening to such stations as CNN and NPR.
Recognizing the sisters' dedication to praying for the world in its current state and appreciating their prayer centered approach to daily living, the staff at Young & Laramore suggested that the Carmelites create a website. This website would allow the sisters to tell the world about their unique vocation and lifestyle while continuing their ministry of prayer. The perfect name: Pray the News.
The website, which was launched March 17, 2001, is divided into two sections. The first section, Pray, provides a glimpse into the life and charism of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It also offers an invitation to those who would like to learn more about their community. The other portion of the website, The News, is dedicated to current events. Each week, six sisters write a brief perspective on a selected news story. A different issue is chosen each week, and topics have ranged from the conflict in the Middle East to the Enron scandal to the Andrea Yates case. The website also devotes special emphasis to identifying positive stories, something often lacking in the daily news.
Since its launch, the website has received over twelve million hits. Visitors to the website have come from such places as Brazil, Europe, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. The sisters and their devotion to praying for the world have been featured in numerous newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, the New York Daily News and the Indianapolis Star. This spring, the Carmelites were also profiled on NBC's Today Show. In fact, over one-third of the hits to their website have taken place since this piece aired.
While Young and Laramore offer ongoing support for the website, its day to day operations are handled primarily by the Carmelites. This is no small task, especially considering that the sisters still have responsibility for maintaining their monastery and its adjoining eighteen acres and for processing mail orders for their many publications. Their latest work, God in Ordinary Time, has become an international success.
The Carmelites, who have always been a small congregation, now have just thirteen members. Thanks to the website, however, the future looks promising. Currently, they are working with approximately ten individuals who have a serious interest in learning more about their special calling. Hopefully, one or two of these women will decide to join them. As website coordinator Sister Terese Boersig, OCD, puts it, "We're looking for a few good women."
To learn more about the Carmelites of Indianapolis, or simply to pray with them, visit: http://www.praythenews.com.
From the Director
May is designated as "Older Americans Month." According to the Administration on Aging, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
This is a time to celebrate older adults who, with their energy and ideals, willingness to sacrifice and fight for what we all value, built the great country we live in today. These dedicated individuals deserve our utmost appreciation!
Clearly you, our generous donors and collaborators make present and tangible this celebration of our older religious. At $32.7 million, the 2001 Retirement for Religious Appeal was the highest of our fourteen campaigns! This incredible generosity came in the midst of a recession and in the aftermath of the outpouring of donations for the victims of the September 11th tragedies. Your support is truly a statement of your priorities, values, and appreciation of the ongoing impact of the lives of our senior religious.
Elders such as our senior religious represent the strength of our nation and Church, even in these challenging times. Evidenced by their years of dedication, older religious provide us with wisdom, love and guidance, and witness to Gospel values. They continue to give us the energy and motivation to move forward and to help make the love of God available to every person, regardless of social standing, wealth or intellect.
I pray that each of you may know the strength that flows from these lives of prayer and commitment. May our gracious God also bless you, as only He can, for your generosity!
Sister Andr้e Fries, CPPS
3211 Fourth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Project Director for Retirement Services
If you would like to make a bequest or restricted gift to the National Religious Retirement Office, the following information should be used:
To the United States Catholic Conference Incorporated, for the exclusive purpose of assisting Roman Catholic religious orders in the United States to provide for the retirement needs of their elderly members.
Whatsoever You Do
Sister Janice Bader, CPPS
As our nation prepares for the aging of the baby-boomers, there is a growing awareness of the dearth of professionals skilled in geriatric care. A February 2002 report by the Alliance for Aging Research notes that the U.S. has only nine thousand physicians who have met the qualifying criteria for geriatrics. This number compares with an elder population of roughly thirty-five million. Moreover, less than one percent of nurses in the U.S. are certified in geriatrics. Other studies show that most nurse assistants, the front-line caregivers for many elderly, are given little training in the specialized needs of seniors. Another alarming statistic indicates that nationwide there is a ninety-four percent turnover rate among certified nurse assistants (CNA's), a situation that further complicates the struggle to provide quality care for the frail elderly.
Religious institutes, throughout their history, have often led the way in addressing emerging needs in society. Perhaps this is another chance for religious to be at the forefront of much-needed change. Religious institutes have a wonderful ministerial opportunity to serve as a witness to what it means to age with dignity.
This witness comes, first and foremost, from our senior religious who look forward with great hope to "going home" to meet their God. Their spiritual longing serves as a meaningful antidote to the denial of aging and death so prevalent in our culture.
Religious institutes also have an opportunity to make their retirement centers models of respectful caregiving, places that recognize and value the dignity of both the recipients and the givers of care. Those who give hands-on care play a critical role in the quality of life for the elderly. Yet we know that their training is often inadequate and that their salaries usually are not commensurate with the physical and emotional demands of their work. Can religious institutes find a way to break the cycle of inadequate training and high turnover among caregivers? What a gift this would be!
Helpful resources for caregivers:
http://www.cna-network.org National Network of Career Nursing Assistants, professional organization for CNA's. Membership information, training materials and resources.
http://thetoolbox.org Educational tools for use with caregivers, including "In My Shoes, Growing Old."
http://www.eisai.com "Caring to Help Others," a training manual for volunteer caregivers, can be downloaded free of charge. Contains an overview of the aging process and related health changes and challenges.
http://www.directcareclearinghouse.org National Clearinghouse on the Direct Care Workforce. Collects, analyzes and disseminates information about front line workers in long term care; includes information on workplace and care-giving strategies as well as data on wages, benefits and worker support.
Please send changes in congregational leadership, as well as in addresses, phone or e-mail, to NRRO c/o Jean Smith so that we can keep our records and mailing lists up to date. Thank You.
NRRO Grants and more...
Brother John T. Patzwall, FSC
On May 30th, the Management Board will meet to approve the National Religious Retirement Office's recommendation to distribute $27,000,000 as Basic Grants to 538 religious institutes of men and women. These grants are made possible by the continued generosity of contributors to the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR) collection. This will bring the total amount awarded as Basic Grants to $337,971,303. The total of all grants distributed directly to religious institutes since the national collection began in 1989 (Basic, Special Assistance, Supplemental and SING) is over $373,000,000. That figure represents ninety-seven percent of the more than $380,000,000 contributed through what has annually been the Catholic Church's most successful appeal! The generosity of the Catholic faithful is matched only by the efforts of the institutes to address their retirement needs while remaining focused on mission and ministry.
Basic Grants/Institute Survey Data
Basic Grants are awarded on the basis of relative need, which is calculated by our formula combining the national weighted average cost of care and the adjusted assets religious institutes report as available for retirement needs in their Statement of Financial Position. This year, the national weighted average cost of care amounts to $25,785, which is about eight percent more than last year's average of $23,867. One of the reasons why the cost of care is high and continues to grow is the ongoing need for greater and more expensive care as the religious population ages. For example, in 2001, the average cost per person for the 6,082 religious men and women in assisted living facilities was $28,230. It was $41,180 per person for the 5,556 reported in skilled care nursing facilities. Based on that census and those averages, it appears that religious institutes spent more than $170 million for assisted care and $228 million for skilled care in 2001 alone. It seems clear that, if eligible, more and more institutes will have to take advantage of government programs, such as Medicaid, in order to contain these costs. At present, 281 institutes report that they have members in their own Title 19 on-site licensed facility or in some other licensed facility.
The average 2001 Basic Grant is approximately $50,850 per institute or $964 per member over the age of seventy. The 695 institutes that shared their December 31, 2001 census data reported a total of 40,317 religious men and women age seventy or older. Of that number, 19,682 are actually eighty years old or older. That means that sixty-two percent of the 64,830 religious in our 2001 data survey are over seventy and thirty percent are over eighty!
The average Social Security benefit for a retired religious at 12/31/01 was $3,606, while the average US beneficiary received approximately $10,398. After deducting the Social Security benefit and the Basic Grant, religious institutes must still contribute roughly $21,215 towards the average cost of care.
Additional statistical analysis will be done during the next several months and will be shared with the institutes and newsletter readers as appropriate. Special thanks are offered to the 141 institutes that provided their statistical data but did not request a grant this year! They help us get a more complete picture of the retirement status of religious in the United States, and they make more resources available for those with greater needs.
Special Assistance Grants
The Management Board will also be approving the 2002 cycle of Special Assistance Grants when it meets on May 30th. At its meeting of May 15th, the Grant Review Board considered the record forty-three requests submitted as Special Assistance Grants. A record $995,100 had been requested, but the budget included only $600,000. After careful consideration 34 Special Assistance Grants totaling $585,800 were endorsed. These funds are to be used for feasibility studies, utilization reviews of property and buildings, consultations and professional assistance, etc., as part of the institutes retirement planning efforts. The total amount of the 271 Special Assistance Grants awarded since inception amounts to $5,320,711.
More: Scam Alert! Contemplatives New Targets for an Old Scam
Periodically all of us who sit down in front of a cathode ray tube (CRT) attached to a central processing unit (CPU) receive virus alerts. In addition to these annoyances, religious institutes must be vigilant against various scams. For the first time, to our knowledge, contemplative institutes have become targets. We would like this newsletter to serve as one means of spreading the word about deceitful practices, especially to our contemplative sisters and brothers.
Religious institutes, which by their very nature have a mission to assist the needy, are likely targets for scams. The National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes' (NATRI's) listserv has been used to identify several techniques used on religious institutes to solicit funds or financial information. According to Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, Executive Director of NATRI, in each scam the religious organization is offered money for providing some form of assistance or information, such as bank account numbers, start-up fees, or financial assistance to "tide over" a benefactor.
A large number of the scams aimed at US religious originate in Nigeria. I have received them via e-mail right here at my desk at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Frequently, they are in the form of a request to use your bank account to wire funds to the United States. Another scam with many Nigerian practitioners is the use of forged signatures taken from checks written to mission countries. The forged signature is used to request wire transfers of money from the account of a religious institute to a foreign bank. For more information on the Nigerian scams visit: http://www.bbb.org/alerts/nigerian.asp.
While not every request for financial assistance is a setup, "criminal" elements use many creative means to get financial information or money. NRRO and NATRI encourage all religious institutes to exercise good sense in identifying worthy and legitimate causes to support. If a request sounds irregular, then it deserves to be ignored (I just use my delete button) or investigated more thoroughly. Sadly, our times demand extra vigilance and defensive measures to protect our resources for retirement and ministry. Consult the NATRI newsletter for further information.
Still More: Historic Collaboration
There are seventeen Trappist abbeys of men and women in the United States. On May 16th, Sister Andr้e, Sister Janice and I met with the leaders of all these monasteries at Mepkin Abbey in Monck's Corner, SC. At the recommendation of our Grant Review Board, we offered and were subsequently extended this opportunity to listen, dialogue and cross-educate with representatives from all their American foundations. The agenda was a day of presentations and dialogue as these contemplative men and women address the issues of aging now facing them.
The first Trappist abbey to participate in NRRO programs was Holy Cross Abbey located in Berryville, Virginia. I began the dialogue with Brother Benedict Simmonds, OCSO and Abbot Robert Barnes, OCSO in 1998. Since that time, I have visited ten of the mens' abbeys.
Other families of religious institutes that would like to meet with an NRRO representative regarding retirement planning are invited to contact our office.
|Basic, SING & Special Assistance Grants awarded||June 10, 2002|
|USCCB Spring General Meeting, Dallas, TX||June 13-15, 2002|
|CMSM Assembly, Philadelphia, PA||August 7-10, 2002|
|LWCR Assembly, St. Louis, MO||August 17-21, 2002|
|NCDC, Philadelphia, PA||September 15-18, 2002|
|CMSWR Conference, Belleville, IL||September 19-22, 2002|
|GRB awards Supplemental Grants||November 6, 2002|
|NACPA, Orlando, FL||November 7-10, 2002|
|CRLM, Washington, DC||November 8, 2002|
|USCCB November General Meeting, Washington, DC||November 11-14, 2002|
|NATRI Conference, Tampa, FL||November 20-23, 2002|
|RFR National Collection||December 7-8, 2002|