December 8, 2006


Supporting our retired religious


You’ve heard of the well-known American saints who worked tirelessly in their devotion to education.

The group includes St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Katherine Drexel and, of course, our own St. Theodora Guérin.

While all three women founded religious orders—St. Elizabeth founded the American Sisters of Charity, St. Katherine began the Sisters of Blessed Sacrament and St. Theodora founded the Sisters of Providence of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana—their legacy includes what each did in providing Catholic education to thousands in their regions of the United States.

When discussing Catholic education, we would be remiss if we excluded St. John Neumann and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, two other American saints who were dedicated to teaching the faith.

Educating children has also been the mission of thousands of men and women religious for as long as many of us can remember.

Historically, religious, especially women religious, were best known for their contributions to education. Dating back to the 19th century when the U.S. bishops established Catholic schools in response to widespread anti-Catholicism, sisters helped shape and influence the lives of countless Americans.

Sure, their presence has dwindled in recent years, but survey Catholic elementary school students of the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s and you’ll find that many of them were taught by women and men of religious orders who helped shape those students into the individuals they are today.

While men and women religious are less visible in many Catholic schools and parishes today, they cannot be forgotten.

The 19th annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be conducted at Catholic parishes on the weekend of Dec. 9 and 10. The theme of this year’s appeal is “Share in the Care.” Coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., the appeal benefits the projected $9 billion retirement liability of the nation’s religious orders.

“Many donors speak of this appeal as a timely response to those who committed their lives to the service of others,” said Sister Andreé Fries, a Sister of the Most Precious Blood who is also executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office.

Since 1988, people of faith have been extremely generous to the appeal, but Catholics are again being asked to support this effort.


  • Escalating health care costs along with lowered return on investments have dramatically affected religious orders’ capacity to fund retirement.
  • The amount collected in the past 18 years, almost $500 million, would cover just one year’s cost for skilled nursing and assisted living for more than 11,000 elderly religious who now need this care.
  • More than 32,000 women religious and 5,200 men religious are past age 70, and their cost of living exceeds $925 million annually.
  • One out of every five religious institutes has less than 20 percent of the amount needed to care for elderly members.
  • Most elderly religious continue volunteer ministry long after they retire from compensated ministry.
  • Skilled nursing care for frail religious averages $133 per day. (The average cost for a shared room in a skilled nursing facility in the United States is $169 per day; a private room averages $192 per day.)
  • Religious retirement costs are the responsibility of the religious institute, rather than the diocese.
  • Religious receive approximately one-third of the Social Security benefits on the average U.S. beneficiary.

For those concerned about where the money goes, almost 95 percent of donations are awarded to religious institutes through grants. Administrative and promotional costs absorb less than 6 percent of the amount collected.

Thousands of women and men religious who devoted their lives to educating our families are in need. Those who are elderly may no longer be in the classroom, but they continue to remember us in their ministry of prayer.

We have an opportunity again this weekend to express our gratitude.

As this year’s appeal theme suggests, let’s do our part and “Share in the Care” of our elderly women and men religious.

— Mike Krokos

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