The economic crisis facing elderly religious in the United States today is the result of the following realities:
- the dramatic rise in the median age of religious due to a drop in younger members (at the end of 2013, 68% of the religious in the United States were 70 or older);
- insufficient funds to care for elderly members (many religious received modest stipends or no compensation, and there were often no community provisions for retirement); and
- the exponential rise in the cost of health care.
In the spring of 1986, a group of lay people came together to address the issue, spurred by an an article in the Wall Street Journal by John Fialka, that exposed the severity of the problem.
The article, based on the research of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), had caused an outpouring of public concern. John Fialka and FADICA’s Frank Butler saw the potential to establish a national network of donors. While they made plans, the advice of John Wheeler, a founding chairman of Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD), proved invaluable.
In the summer of 1986, in a meeting at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., Support Our Aging Religious, Inc. (SOAR!) was born.
The creation of SOAR! had a ripple effect across the country. In 1987, with assistance from FADICA, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops began the National Religious Retirement Office to alleviate financial stress for congregations.
The need to support our retired religious persists now more than ever. Today, SOAR! supports the efforts of the institutional Church, distributing grants to congregations across the country to address immediate practical needs and ensure the safety, comfort and dignity of the aging religious.