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Retirement Survey Report

05/12/2008: United States

In the spring of 2007, the Senior Brothers Committee surveyed all the Brothers of the U.S. province to assess how prepared Brothers are for the transition to active, healthy retirement. While the survey was not intended as a vote or sondage on retirement policy, it was very helpful and informative in shaping future retirement policy. A comparison of the responses of Brothers in each age group with the level of preparation known to characterize those who successfully transition to retirement suggests some helpful steps for the province leadership and individuals.

Many Brothers envision retiring in the same place they now live and doing the same work, though at a reduced rate. However, this may reflect the historical model of retirement rather than a more open-ended exploration of options.

That historic model may no longer be the best approach because the number of retired Brothers will exceed the number of opportunities for reduced schedules or other niches that a school can reasonably provide. More significantly, the traditional approach defines retirement as diminishment rather than as a transition to new ways of ministry (paid or unpaid) and new ways of living community life.

The province strategic plan noted the need to explore creative options for retirement. The lived experience of some Marist Brothers and other religious makes clear that good choices lead to good outcomes, while poor choices (or no choices at all) do not.

In the past, there was an expectation that every Brother would continue to work as long as he was physically able. Consequently, retirement was seen negatively – a reluctant admission that one was no longer healthy. Clinging to their school-based or other ministries often became more and more draining, leaving little psychic or physical energy for learning new skills or exploring new ministries.

Many of the survey responses seem to reflect a perception that one is either working or one is ill and in need of medical care. There is a rewarding time between those two life stages – active retirement. Preparing for a successful transition to active, healthy retirement is a process that has physical, mental, spiritual and financial aspects. This process takes time.

Successful transitions typically begin in one’s fifties, with planning and preparation. Attending workshops, reading about retirement, acquiring new skills, and discussing the possibilities with friends, a professional consultant and one’s peers are all appropriate steps in this stage.

The early sixties are a time to begin the transition itself. It is a time to reduce one’s work load to part-time paid work, not because you are unable to do full-time work, but because you need to invest some time and energy retooling, trying new ministries and exploring new places to live.

Marist Brothers value good community life, so it is important for Brothers similar in age to discuss the possibilities for living together as they transition to retirement. The early sixties is the time to gather Brothers in the same age range to plan a new community, perhaps in a new location. Climate, cost of living, opportunities for part-time ministry are among the factors to consider. The surveys surfaced a number of possibilities: North Carolina, Arizona, Texas, Florida and New Mexico among them.

By the mid to late sixties, the transition to active retirement is often complete. Active retirement means an opportunity to get involved in parish or hospital work, try one’s hand at writing, music, art or cooking, or to deepen one’s prayer in a less hurried life. Without appropriate and thoughtful planning in the earlier stages, however, retirement can devolve into idleness instead of leisure and boredom instead of creativity.

The surveys confirm that some – perhaps many – Brothers need help to prepare for a fulfilling retirement. Among the tasks that the Senior Brothers Committee and the Province leadership need to consider are:

* supporting gatherings of Brothers to discuss creative options and plan new active retirement communities.
* providing ongoing education on successful retirement for the Brothers.
* funding training for new ministries and avocations.
* hosting a province-wide assembly to discuss creative retirement planning.
* facilitating regional gatherings to provide opportunities for Brothers to assess their own preparedness for the transition to retirement.
* exploring what other congregations of religious brothers have done to provide active retirement communities distinct from infirmaries or assisted living facilities.

Richard Van Houten
John Malich
Jim Adams

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