The Sisters of St. Francis in Philadelphia received a grant to purchase a stair lift chair. The Sisters of the Order of St. Basil in Jenkintown got a grant to replace exterior doors. The Sisters of Mercy in Merion received a grant for adoptive technology for the elderly. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters in Immaculata received a grant for mechanical lifts.
These are just four of the 77 grants made nationwide in 2018 by SOAR! (Support Our Aging Religious), which was founded in 1986.
The grants, which at this time total about $1.2 million annually, are designed to assist religious congregations with the immediate needs of their elderly sisters.
“I’ve been with SOAR for nine years,” said Sister Kathleen Lunsmann, president of the Washington, D.C.-based organization and herself a member of the Sisters, Servants of the immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton.
“The sisters are getting older every day and they need help every day,” she said. “For every sister under 60, there are four sisters over 60. The average age of those helped by SOAR! is 83.
“We appeal to people who love the sisters that taught them, or they met in hospitals or convents. They may not have an affiliation with sisters in a particular community, but they really want to help sisters live their final years with dignity. Buildings built for novices years ago are now being used for elderly nuns. We want to help them stay together.”
It is no secret that the number of Catholic women religious saw a rapid decline from a peak of more than 181,000 in 1965 to 43,000 in 2017, according to National Religious Retirement Office statistics. That number will continue to fall because more than three-quarters of the nuns in the United States are now over the age of 70.
Today, because of societal changes, not many young women are choosing to enter the convent. The same holds for male religious of course, but the greater challenge is with women religious.
Historically, when religious vocations were plentiful, elderly sisters in retirement were supported through a portion of the earnings of the younger sisters of their congregation working in schools, hospitals and institutions. Unlike diocesan priests, the care of elderly religious does not rely on mandatory financial assessment of the parishes, which among other items finances care for the retired priests.
The religious congregations themselves never anticipated the dramatic decline in new vocations in more recent times which has caused a severe decline in the number of working sisters.
Religious sisters of course took the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They took these vows very seriously, and in the past so did the bishops and pastors who contracted their services. Consequently, the stipend the sisters received for their labors might have taken care of immediate needs but were hardly enough to establish an adequate retirement endowment for the future.
To help compensate for that in 1988, two years after SOAR! was founded, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops instituted an annual December collection for retired religious and in the first year distributed $20,625,512 to the women’s congregations.
Since then contributions to the collection have increased only minimally in most years. But contributions were down in 2017 and they have not kept pace with inflation. The 2017 distribution to the women’s congregation was $18,738,984. To have kept pace with inflation over the past 30 years it would have needed $44,931,000.
While it was not always the case historically, today retired religious are entitled to Social Security benefits. However, because their wages were so modest and their payment into the system relatively small, the average Social Security payment to a sister at this time is about $600 monthly, according to Sister Kathleen.
This contrasts to the average Social Security retirement benefit nationally of over $1,400 monthly, according to government statistics.
Of the approximately 500 religious congregations of women nationally, “only 23 are adequately funded for their retirement needs,” Sister Kathleen said. “Because there are fewer out there earning salaries it is just that much more difficult.”
Learn more about SOAR! via email at email@example.com, at the website SOAR-USA.org or call 202-529-7627.
To the contribute to the collection for retired religious women and men, contact Support Our Aging Religious, P.O. Box 96409, Washington, D.C. 20090-6409
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Mass, healing service inspire faithful at Malvern parish
NEXT: Foundation help families afford to choose Catholic schools
My heart breaks to think that these wonderful women who have served God have to worry about how they will be taken care of in their old age. The Church seems to have found an awful lot of money for sexual assault settlements. Oops, I forgot, the men still rule, and the women just serve. I wonder what the Blessed Virgin would say.
I am saddened having learned I was 2 years too old to become a sister. My life goal was to raise my children and never marry again when my husband died. Before the tragedy in 2014, I knew it was time to go to the convent to live out the rest of my life giving to those who have less than I. It hurts my heart to read the decline of novices. Being 57 yo now, my chances are nill. I am available to help in any way I can to care for our aging sisters. It would be as close to spending my time in the presence of the women who have devoted their entire lives helping, educating and caring for the infirm. Brings back memories of cleaning the convent in exchange for piano lessons.