Latest figures show some congregations face ‘unsustainable’ future
Greg Daly, Chai Brady and Colm Fitzpatrick
The financial situation of many religious orders in Ireland is at breaking point, with some admitting that their future is financially unsustainable, an investigation by The Irish Catholic has revealed.
Overall, the majority of orders in Ireland are spending vastly more than they are raising with care for ageing members being a considerable expense. A dearth of vocations also means that many orders do not now have younger members earning income for the congregations such as from salaries as a teacher.
Spiritan Provincial Fr Martin Kelly, whose order is responsible for some of the country’s most prestigious schools including Blackrock College and St Mary’s College in Rathmines, said the situation can not continue for much longer.
“What we’re living off is shares and bank loans,” he told The Irish Catholic, explaining that with the order having spent almost six million euro more than it received between 2014 and 2017, reliance on shares and loans would not be possible for much longer. “We’re talking about a matter of years, single-figure years,” he said.
Figures published by the Charities Regulator show similar patterns across the vast majority of religious orders in Ireland, with orders typically only having higher income than expenditure figures after the sale of properties.
Fr John Hennerby, whose Augustinian province is currently in the process of selling land in Ballyboden, south Dublin, said that it can be necessary to eat into capital reserves if orders are to continue in their ministries. “At the moment there is a need to withdraw from reserves to balance the books each year,” he said, adding that such a situation is never sustainable for any organisation.
In the medium term, however, this situation is unavoidable, according to Ireland’s Franciscan Provincial, Fr Aidan McGrath. “My bottom line is it’s not sustainable in the long term, but in the medium term it’s something that has to be done,” he said, adding that today’s religious are dependent on the actions of their forerunners.
“I suppose the prudence of previous generations is now bearing fruit,” he said.
With Ireland’s Presentation Sisters having spent more than €17 million than they received between 2014 and 2017, Sr Sheila Kelleher told The Irish Catholic that the income for today’s sisters generally comes through a return on investments as well as pensions.
Explaining that healthcare costs for ageing sisters entails “considerable expenditure”, Sr Sheila said that “proceeds, if any, from disposal of property, are set aside for care of the sisters and continuation of our ministries into the future”, while running costs of communities are constantly adjusted.
The order has made a point of donating properties to house homeless and other needy people, she said, stressing that its congregational mission always must be kept to the fore. For Sr Rita Minehan of the Brigidine Sisters’ leadership team, such donations are a matter of leaving behind a legacy true to the order’s charism. “Even if we can’t be out there in the field, we would be supporting others who can, who will be, into the future,” she said.
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