May 30, 2015

CHANGE: Aging nuns, their orders no longer able to provide care, get care at Jewish nursing home.

Rooney and 57 other sisters, ages 73 to 98, have since adjusted nicely to their new accommodations and neighbors, becoming an active part of classes and continuing their ministry with good deeds like holding the hands of dying patients on the hospice floor.

“This is home now,” said 83-year-old Sister Grace Henke. “When we first came, we were fish out of water.”

It’s an unusual situation that reflects a reality of the nation’s Catholic nuns in the 21st century: Fewer young women are devoting their lives to religious orders, and those who are already nuns are aging and facing escalating health care needs.

There are now more sisters over age 90 than under age 60, said Mary Gautier, a researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The center’s 2009 study found that 80 percent of the nuns in the country were over 60.

“Their model of caring for their older sisters is no longer sustainable,” said Robin Eggert, president of the Realm consulting group, which has worked with several nuns’ orders to find solutions.

Of course, there’s a downside: “I miss the bacon.”

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