Twenty-Eight years ago the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had the foresight to anticipate the retirement needs of Congregations of Women and Men Religious who had worked for the Church in the United States since the late 18th century. Most of these congregations, whose focus had been on providing services to the Church and its pastoral, educational and health care needs, were without adequate savings or investments for the care of retired members. It was at this time that dioceses throughout the country were asked to take up an annual collection to assist these religious congregations in providing funding for the anticipated retirement needs of their members.
From the beginning of this annual appeal, the Diocese of Buffalo became one of the most generous in the nation in providing for the thousands of women and men who had ministered in the diocese and were no longer able to work because of age or health status. Although funds collected each December were sent to the National Office, between 90 and 100 percent have been returned to religious congregations serving in Western New York over these 28 years.
Most of the congregations that have received these funds are religious women. Currently there are about 700 sisters residing in the Diocese of Buffalo, many of them directly benefitting from the retirement collection. Again last year, the Diocese of Buffalo was among the top in the country with $841,000. Because of this collection, sisters' residences have been adapted to accommodate the needs of the retired members, and needed food services, housekeeping and health care assistance have been available.
Contrary to what some believe, newer and younger members of congregations are not the primary care givers of the retired members. Today, approximately 100 religious continue to work in needed ministries in the diocese, serving the poor and refugees, providing pastoral care and faith formation in parishes and health care institutions, and providing education at several levels. Even today, as in the past, some of these religious are contributing their services with little or no financial compensation.
Donations to the Religious Retirement Fund, therefore, have a twofold impact. Primarily they assist those in retirement needs, but they also allow religious to continue their mission among the people of the diocese through prayer and their much needed service, whether compensated or volunteer.
As the Year of Consecrated Life approaches its conclusion, members of religious congregations in the Diocese of Buffalo are very grateful to all who have assisted them in the past. They are hopeful that this support will continue through the Retirement Fund Collection and through other ways of assistance given by so many members of the laity in their collaboration with religious in serving God's people.