By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

In a trend that mirrors society, religious communities face tremendous challenges in elder care and retirement that have been magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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The National Retirement Fund for Religious collection, Dec. 12 – Dec. 13, will help replenish diminished funds available for retired religious.  Photo provided by the National Religious Retirement Office 


Through the national Retirement Fund for Religious collection scheduled the weekend of Dec. 12 -Dec. 13, Catholics can be present for those who have given a lifetime of service to the church in their time of need.  

The church enjoyed a surge in vocations in the 1960s but the life span of that generation has increased, while the number of new vocations has decreased. Religious order priests, brothers and sisters traditionally received small stipends that barely met the needs of their day. 

They put any surplus funds toward ministries and education of younger members. With fewer vocations the funds that come through their compensated ministry, which helps fund eldercare, has diminished. 

Brother Paul Montero SC said “as a former provincial of the New Orleans Province of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, I am keenly aware of the importance of the annual Religious Retirement Fund collection.  

“Congregations of teaching brothers such as ours are welcoming fewer and fewer new members. At the same time, our number of elderly and infirm members – men who dedicated their lives in service to others – is increasing while wage-earning brothers are fewer in number. The costs to repair or replace structures damaged by recent hurricanes in the south have been significant. Therefore, grants from the Retirement Fund play an important part in the lives of our brothers.”  The estimated annual cost for care for a religious past the age of 70 in the United States is $47,000, and it rises to $72,000 for skilled care. During the past 12 years, the total annual cost has exceeded a staggering $1 billion. 

Donations to the Retirement Fund for Religious are put to work in many different ways, according to the National Religious Retirement Office.  

Roughly 95 percent of the NRRO office budget aides senior religious, according to the office.  

The RFR benefits nearly 30,000 elderly sisters, brothers and religious order priests. The RFR underwrites financial assistance, consultation and education that help the ongoing needs of aging members of the religious communities.  

Sister Adele Lambert CSJ said the NRF is a good way for lay people to participate in the life of the church by supporting those who has been lifelines in various ministries. 

 “It raises an awareness of the needs of sisters, and (religious order) priests and brothers. We no longer do public ministry, but we still do minister,” said Sister Adele.  

Sister Joan LaPlace CSJ serves as liaison for men and women religious for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. She entered religious life in 1960 and has spent half of her religious life in Baton Rouge.  

“It’s a great place to serve,” said Sister Joan, who urges people to support men and women who have dedicated their lives to the church.  

“It’s through the generosity and gratitude of people who were served (by them),” Sister Joan said.  

People can donate through their church parishes, by visiting retired, or by mailing a donation to Retirement Fund for Religious, National Religious Retirement Office, P.O. Box 96988, Washington, DC 20090-6988.