Eldridge sisters benefit from national religious fund

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport donated more than $69,000 last December to the National Retirement Fund for Religious. Just over $28 million was collected nationwide and just over $25 million was disbursed. Almost 94 percent of the donations aid senior religious and their communities. The remainder goes to administration and promotion of the national appeal, which takes place Dec. 8-9 in parishes throughout the Davenport Diocese.

The Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Eldridge have received grants for many years, said Prioress Sister Lynn Therese Elwinger, OCD. In 2018, the community received $8,936.68. “We are very fortunate to receive these funds,” she said. The money is used for maintenance and to help cover unexpected expenses at the monastery. “It benefits our daily needs,” she noted. “We do not put the money away in savings. We need it.”

Six retired sisters older than 65 and one sister younger than 65 are in the community. One sister lives outside the area. For income, the sisters redistribute altar bread and rely on donations, investments and grants. Their charism, or gift, is prayer. “You never retire from prayer,” Sr. Elwinger said.

The Congregation of the Humility of Mary (CHM) in Davenport and the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton did not receive funding in 2018. Both did provide data to the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), said Beth Kennedy, campaign director for the Retirement Fund for Religious.

Lisa Martin, CHM director of communications, said the congregation has received funding in past years and applied for a grant for the 2018 funding cycle. The congregation has 76 sisters; 63 of them are retired. The sisters are continuing with their ministry, even without a grant this year.

Donations to the annual fund “help communities care for aging members, but they also underwrite initiatives aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the funding shortages,” said Presentation Sister Stephanie Still, executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) in Washington, D.C.

Traditionally, Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests served for little to no pay, she said. Many religious in various communities have served Catholics and non-Catholics through nursing, teaching and other jobs, Sr. Elwinger noted. “They were paid small stipends in which most of the pay went to the community. There is little to no social security income for many religious.”

Today, hundreds of orders lack sufficient retirement savings, Sr. Still said. Of 547 communities providing data to the NRRO, only 4 percent are adequately funded for retirement.

“We truly appreciate the money that so many nice people have given to this collection and the grants we have received in return. This is a big help,” Sr. Elwinger said.

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