Bishop John Noonan and pastors throughout the Diocese of Orlando are encouraging parishioners to give generously to the annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection, which will be taken in most parishes during Mass Dec. 8-9. Now in its 25th year, the parish-based appeal is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C., and offers financial help for the day-to-day care of more than 34,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests nationwide. Last year, the Diocese of Orlando contributed $93,156 to the collection.
“The collection means so much to our men and women religious, as it provides for their needs during their golden years,” said Dominican Sister Rosemary Finnegan, diocesan fund coordinator and director of Faith Formation at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park.
Traditionally, men and women religious worked for small stipends that furnished only the basics of daily living. As a result, a majority of religious communities now lack adequate savings for retirement, with the men and women living on an average of approximately $4,800 annually in Social Security benefits. In addition, religious communities are financially autonomous and are solely responsible for the care and support of all members. As such, the income of younger members help support the care of their elders, but their wages are not sufficient in covering skyrocketing living and health care, especially as older religious not only outnumber their younger counterparts – an estimate of four to one by the year 2022 – but are also living longer.
According to the NRRO, costs for senior care have exceeded $1.1 billion annually during the past three years.
Closer to home, the funds benefit men and women religious who serve or have served in the diocese.
While the religious are grateful for the financial support of parishioners, Sister Finnegan said the emotional impact is more profound to them.
“So many religious, who have dedicated their lives and energies unselfishly in serving others, have told me that they are touched that the people they have taught, prayed with and served are now helping them, contributing to their support,” she said. “Our religious are humble men and women who would not ask for help themselves.”
Since 1989, nearly $563 million from the collection have been distributed for day-to-day care, while an additional $71 million has been allocated toward self-help projects, including collaborative health care facilities and comprehensive retirement planning, initiated by the religious communities. Almost 95 percent of donations from the RFR collection aid elder religious, with the remaining monies being used for administrative costs.