Photo courtesy of Retired Fund for Religious

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Religious communities grapple with rising cost of caring for aging members

Skyrocketing health care costs have put many religious communities in a precarious financial position as they struggle to meet the needs of their older members. These members include several priests, sisters and brothers in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Today, the number of religious over the age of 70 outnumber younger members three to one.

A special collection to benefit the Retirement Fund for Religious will be held in parishes across the archdiocese this weekend, Dec. 10-11, to help bridge the gap between religious orders’ shrinking budgets and the need to care for their older members.

Aging religious, who worked most of their lives with little or no pay, and their communities are thankful for every contribution to the Retirement Fund for Religious.

Father Tom Cusack of the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Bellevue is grateful for the financial support but, more importantly, the intention behind that support.

“I have a great appreciation and a great sensitivity to people who help us,” Father Cusack said. “Any money given to us, whether through the archdiocese, the retirement fund, or directly to us, there’s a sacred dimension to it.”

Although Father Cusack is considered a “retired” priest, he is quick to point out that just as one never retires from being a mother or a father, he is a priest for life.

“A priest will perform his pastoral commitments, even though they would be scaled back,” Father Cusack said. “Even supposing he was paralyzed, and he couldn’t do anything, if he unites his sufferings for the sufferings of Christ and the cross because he shares in the priesthood of Christ, he still functioning as a priest.”

Mother Kathleen Hawkins of the Poor Clare Nuns community in Elkhorn is humbled by the support her community receives.

“I can’t thank those who contribute enough,” she said. “They help us out in so many ways. We are so blessed to be remembered. We pray that the Lord blesses them in so many ways for all we have been given.”

Last year, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Omaha donated $168,774.07 to the Retirement Fund for Religious, according to the National Religious Retirement Office, which coordinates the annual appeal. Nationwide, the appeal raised nearly $28.5 million in 2021.