Collection weekend of Dec. 7-8 aids retired men and women religious

Nov. 22, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

Since the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls founded St. Gabriel’s Hospital in 1891, they have started, managed and staffed numerous health care facilities in Minnesota and in other states in the Midwest.

Today, the tables are turning.

The sisters continue to be involved in various ministries, but many of them are aging and in need of medical care themselves.

Funding such endeavors is no easy task. Because they often worked for low salaries without benefits or pensions, they were not able to sufficiently save for their elderly years. Plus, the number of wage-earning sisters is decreasing at a time when the number of elderly sisters is increasing, creating a perfect storm in terms of ballooning health care expenses.

This is why, says Franciscan Sister Beatrice Eichten, community minister for the Franciscan sisters of Little Falls, the collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious, is so important. The effort was initiated across the country by the U.S. bishops and is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office.

“We’re very grateful,” Sister Beatrice said. “It allows us to spend a greater percentage on our ministry. If all of our funds were used up for care of our sisters, then we would not have any funding to do our ministry. It helps us balance mission and health care.”

The Franciscan sisters were awarded $73,532.06 in 2013 from the collection. The funding helped with the health care, staffing and services for sisters age 70 and older.

Last year the collection raised $27 million nationwide, helping 440 religious communities which applied for funds; funds are awarded according to a distribution formula.

St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville also received funding in 2013. The Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph and the Poor Clare Sisters of Sauk Rapids have received funding in the past.

“The funding we receive is extremely helpful to us,” said Benedictine Abbot John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey. “It allows us to care for our monks who have been dedicated workers in the church.”

St. John’s Abbey received $74,510.65 from the collection to help pay for specialized nursing care for the monks living in the health care center at the abbey. The collection also made it possible to bring in professional assistance to make recommendations on the best ways to serve the retired monks.

The National Religious Retirement Office reports the needs for funding retired religious are growing. Of the 548 communities that submitted data to their office in 2012, only eight percent were fully funded for retirement.

The total cost of care for senior women and men religious was more than $1.1 billion in 2012, according to the office. The cost is expected to grow. The office estimates that by 2023, retired religious men and women will outnumber wage-earning religious by four to one.

Envelopes for contributing to the Retired Retirement Fund for Religious are in parishioners’ packets of Sunday envelopes.

More information is available at www.retiredreligious.org.