Friday, July 28, 2006


Catholics Face Crisis Over Retired Nuns
With tens of thousands of U.S. nuns over age 70, the Roman Catholic Church is facing a massive financial shortfall for the care of retirees in religious orders -- a gap that over the long term dwarfs costs from the clergy abuse crisis.
A June survey by the church's National Religious Retirement Office, not yet released to the public, puts spending for retiree care at $926 million last year alone. That compares with a total of $499 million received over the last 18 years from annual special parish collections to aid retirees.
So..... One of the top nun myths? That the church provides for us. Same goes for men's orders as well. Diocesan priests draw a salary from their parish and then (I think) their diocese takes care of them at the end, but religious communities, both men & women, are on their own.

An additional problem with nun-retirement is that "back in the day" when there were bazillions of them running Catholic schools all over the place, they were kind of "cheap labor" ..... not exactly earning a fair salary. I don't know specifics, but I know even now there's talk in our community about wanting to be sure that our sisters are receiving a "just wage" when we get jobs. But, back in the day, there wasn't too much ability to build up extensive savings when you weren't even remotely getting paid what your work was worth. Also, we weren't putting into Social Security back then --- I think we couldn't for a long time --- so there's not as much that we're drawing off of with that.

So, there's often this thought that "Well, you work for the church, so the church must be paying you" ..... but that's not how it works. We get what we get from our salaries and donations. We've got investments and all that too, but in terms of the money that goes into the investments? Salaries and donations.

Our community is probably better off than some, but it's still tough. On the one hand, we've got a big community, so there are more salaries coming in ... but at the same time, that also means more bills to pay and more "retired" sisters to support. We're taking steps, though; our monastery infirmary is now Medicare-certified, so we receive funding help for that. Our vocation program is top-notch, so we're bringing in new members to help sustain us. We're beginning this whole new as-yet-unnamed Spirituality Ministry that will help people get to know us and know that we're still here and offering good things. We're also exploring various new ways to generate income, and that gets our creative juices flowing.

So it's cool stuff, exciting stuff. But then ..... we have cancer. Lots of it. In our "young" "healthy" sisters. Which saps not just the energy (and sometimes the life) out of those who are sick, but also from those of us who help care for them and/or are left behind. But it also pulls us together, makes us appreciate each other more, and makes us truly recognize the gift that we have in community --- there's someone to go to your appointments with you, someone to drive you to chemo, someone to help you to the bathroom when you get home. One in particular said she didn't know how she'd do it if she wasn't in community, if she was on her own.

But then we read articles like this, hear people say how religious life is dying out. And yet .... that doesn't stop us. Even folks who are considering orders where they'd be the youngest member by far --- that's not the issue. Like I was saying to one friend the other night: "At least I have 180 people who have to die out before I'm left all alone. If I were married, the odds are much more likely that I'd be left alone after a death!" The call to community involves so much more than that.

Is religious life dying out? No. Is the face of religious life changing? Yes. Are the numbers of priests and religious decreasing? Yes. But does that mean we're dying out? No. Quantity isn't everything. And while we need to plan for the future, that doesn't mean we should give up our present. We're being proactive, we're doing what we can, and we're also doing the sometimes-less-desired donor-generating. But that's asking for help, and we ask for help in a way that says: "This is who we are, and we're not giving up." Religious life throughout history has faced challenges, especially religious women, and especially here in the United States. But we're fighters. I saw that in sisters like Ethel, Terence, Elaine, Tess ..... and all the others, even the ones still fighting.

Does it stink that we're facing retirement funding issues? Yes. Is that all that different from the rest of society? Not necessarily. Does it make me want to quit and build up my own personal IRA? No. The life is about more than the money (like anyone enters this life for the money!). It'll work out. It's part of that trust/"faith" thing. "Consider the lilies of the field" and all that.

God will provide. Trite, but I gotta trust it, whether I'm in religious life or not. Does that mean I don't have to do my part? Of course not. But religious life isn't dying out. Nor are we going anywhere anytime soon.

Course, if anyone wants to throw a little tax deduction our way, I won't complain. But that wasn't the point of this post.go to main page


Blogger the tentmaker said...

Wow. I never considered the economic side of monastic life. I know only what I read in Merton, and he doesn't address the subject at all. I guess I assumed that the monastery or convent received some stipend from the Church. Although I know the monks at the Abbey of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, do all sorts of things to earn money. Several of the older monks have died recently, I just assumed they lived in community until they died and the community took care of them.

Naive, huh?

7/28/2006 8:51 PM  
Blogger revabi said...

You know I never knew how it worked, and who supported you all. Prayers for you all.

7/28/2006 9:11 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Steph, that's a wonderful post. And you preach the truth there. We're not dying out at all. In fact, in my community, the fact that we are all we have (and the newer sisters are part of this as well) means that we are more creative together more often than I think it was like in the past. We, too, are one of the fortunate communities, which means we are called to help others more too. Which, of course, we are happy to do.
Since I've been living and caring for my mother, I can tell you that I have it easy, retirement/healthcare-wise, compared to her and the other members of her "older persons" mobile home park. It's a scary world in which to get old. I, at the very least, know there will be someone, sometime, pushing my wheel chair (I trust that lillies of the field story too!)
Anyway, good mythbusting! Thanks.

7/28/2006 10:25 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

>>I, at the very least, know there will be someone, sometime, pushing my wheel chair <<

Yeah, we like to threaten those somewhat older than us that they better be nice to us, or else .....

7/28/2006 11:14 PM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Excellent post! I will be linking.

7/30/2006 11:43 PM  

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