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Survey reveals care constraints affecting elderly Indian nuns

Some 44 percent of 190 women religious groups do not have any care facility for elderly and infirm members
Indian Catholic nuns are seen during a religious gathering in this undated photo. A survey found the majority of the Catholic women religious congregations struggle in providing healthcare to their elderly and infirm members

Indian Catholic nuns are seen during a religious gathering in this undated photo. A survey found the majority of the Catholic women religious congregations struggle in providing healthcare to their elderly and infirm members. (Photo: Catholic Religious of India website)

Published: July 28, 2023 12:17 PM GMT
Updated: July 31, 2023 08:16 AM GMT

The majority of Catholic nuns in India struggle to provide healthcare to their elderly and infirm members because of logistical and financial challenges, says a new survey report.

Some 44 percent of 190 religious congregations do not have any care facility for elderly and infirm members, found the survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Washington DC-based research organization affiliated to the Jesuits-run Georgetown University.

CARA conducts social, scientific studies about the Catholic Church, and offers a range of research services to dioceses, parishes, religious communities and institutes.

The survey report was prepared by Sisters Thu T. Do and Mini Joseph, as well as Jesuit Father Thomas P. Gaunt, all members of CARA. Thu belongs to the congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Hanoi, while Joseph is from the Jesus, Mary and Joseph congregation.

The research study said 29 percent have one facility and 27 percent have two or more facilities owned by their congregation.

Of those owning care facilities, a majority of 85 percent said their facility "is partially equipped,”  according to the survey report released this month. Only the rest are fully equipped.

The study, commissioned by the Conference of Religious Women in India (CRWI), was carried out between April and June this year. 

The survey is based on the responses from superiors general of the congregations.

The majority of the respondents spend at least one-fourth of their income on the elderly and infirm.

Half of the responding congregations said 26–50 percent of their annual budget is spent on the care of the elderly and sick nuns.

About a quarter reported spending 25 percent or less of their annual budget.

Some 68 percent of congregations allocate funds from their annual budget for the care of their elderly and infirm members.

About 40 percent of the religious congregations spent between 10,000 and 24,999 rupees (US$121-304) every month for taking care of their elderly and sick.

About one-third require 50,000 rupees (US$608) a month, the survey report said.

Most congregations said they face challenges in taking care of the elderly and the sick. Major ones were "healthcare challenges, financial challenges, and congregational challenges."

The most common support respondents sought was “the insurance and financial planning help. Nearly half [respondents] report this type of support,” the survey said.

Religious congregations also make various efforts to help educate their member to “age gracefully.”

Most of them (80 percent) organize workshops or ongoing formation programs on how to maintain their long-term good health physically and mentally.

About 58 percent reported providing support to prepare for a secondary ministry after retiring from their primary ministry.

Some 75 percent of the congregations meet their infrastructural needs to care for the elderly and infirm nuns, as and when the need arises by equipping the residences with accessories.

Most congregations (67 percent) educate and train young sisters to take care of the elderly and infirm members.

About 74 percent of congregations said they arrange for treatment at the nearest Catholic hospital or in a hospital run by the congregation elsewhere.

CARA programmed the survey online and CRWI sent invites to superiors general of all women religious congregations in India to complete the survey for their congregation.

After repeated follow-ups between April and June 2023, CARA received 190 completed surveys eligible for analysis, representing a response rate of 30 percent, the report said.

Most of the respondents (93 percent) were congregations of Pontifical Right, and the rest seven percent were diocesan congregations.

This report has been prepared from the Survey on Sisters’ Elderly and Infirm Care in India conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Georgetown University, Washington DC.

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2 Comments on this Story
JOHN MASCARENHAS
THE RESPONSE RATE OF 30% IS A SHAME! it is well known that women CANNOT GET ON WITH OTHER WOMEN and nuns are no exceptions! but the treatment of the younger generation nuns on their elderly nuns is SHAMEFUL! 30yrs back, i remember an elderly nun (CARMELITE SISTERS, FATIMA CONVENT, MARGAO-GOA) complaining that as she could not eat 2 big meals/day (due to indigestion), requested her mother superior(?) for 4 small meals/day, BUT WAS REFUSED! she was so undernourished and weak. it was sad to see someone who gave up her life to serve god and others, was left so UNCARED AND UNLOVED!! HOW CAN YOU LOVE/SERVE CHRIST IF YOU DO NOT LOVE/SERVE YOUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS??
ML SATYAN
I remember one incident. My wife's aunt, a nun who served in her congregation with dedication and commitment, had to go through similar experience. She was buried in the parish cemetery just outside the convent compound. But the grave was never looked after and it is in a pathetic condition. Neither in life nor after death elderly nuns get proper treatment. A bitter reality. It is indeed a matter of serious concern that CRI must look into.
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