Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Study: Recruits to Catholic religious orders more diverse

Just 1 percent of leadership conference religious orders have more than 10 women in the process of joining, the survey released today found. Of the orders in the smaller, more conservative umbrella group, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, 28 percent reported having 10 or more candidates.

Recruits to the conservative group also tend to be considerably younger.

Odds are rising that in the coming years, the priest at the neighborhood parish will have roots in Mexico or Vietnam and the sister working at the local health clinic will be dressed in a habit.

The newest and next generation of priests, brothers, sisters and nuns who belong to Roman Catholic religious orders in the U.S. are more ethnically diverse and tradition-bound than their predecessors, according to a new portrait of Catholic religious life released today.

The underlying numbers remain dire. Most religious orders in the U.S. suffer from aging membership, diminishing numbers and few if any new candidates, according to the study conducted by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate for the National Religious Vocation Conference.

The report confirmed what many have speculated: The few orders that are attracting and retaining younger members are more traditional. That generally means fidelity to the church and members who live together, take part in daily devotions together and explicitly choose religious orders that require habits.

The familiar white and black habit of nuns teaching elementary school or the robes worn by some fathers and brothers were shed by many orders as remnants of clericalism in the past 40 or 50 years, but a younger generation sees them as tangible displays of their faith and symbols of fidelity to church and community.

"This younger generation is seeking an identity, a religious identity as well as a Catholic identity," said Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the Chicago-based National Religious Vocation Conference, a professional organization of Catholic religious vocation directors. "Symbolism, images and ritual is all very important to this generation, and they want to give witness to their faith."

The study focused on members of religious orders — such as the Jesuits and Franciscans — and did not cover diocesan priests, who outnumber religious order priests in the U.S. 2-to-1.

The study identified at least 2,630 men and women in the early stages of joining an order. The growing ethnic diversity of that group reflects shifts in immigration patterns in the U.S.:

Of those now in training to join an order, about 58 percent are white, 21 percent are Hispanic, 14 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 6 percent are African or African-American, the study found. That stands in contrast to the current 94 percent white ethnic makeup of religious orders.

Overall, finding recruits remains a struggle. Thirty-four percent of women's orders and 22 percent of men's orders surveyed had no candidates. Almost half the orders that do have someone on the early path toward his or her vows have no more than one or two in the pipeline.

The orders continue to gray at a fast rate, as well. The median age is now in the mid 70s for women's orders and the late 60s for men. Men have more younger members and fewer very old members.

Bednarczyk drew positives from the fact that 43 percent of those in the early stages of joining an order are under 30 and part of the millennial generation.

"Younger people are re-looking at religious life as a viable life option," he said. "It does speak of a future."

The survey comes as the priesthood continues to recover from the clergy sexual abuse crisis and Catholic sisters in the U.S. face intense Vatican scrutiny.

One study, an apostolic visitation, is examining everything from finances to "soundness of doctrine" at women's religious orders. Another narrower "doctrinal assessment" is looking at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the more liberal of two umbrella groups of women's religious orders in the U.S.

Just 1 percent of leadership conference religious orders have more than 10 women in the process of joining, the survey released today found. Of the orders in the smaller, more conservative umbrella group, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, 28 percent reported having 10 or more candidates.

Recruits to the conservative group also tend to be considerably younger.

The two conferences weren't far off from each other on another measure: 32 percent of orders in the liberal group and 26 percent of those in the conservative one have zero candidates in early formation.

Unlike earlier generations, new members of orders are drawn to religious life primarily by a sense of call and desire for prayer and spiritual growth and less so out of a desire to do ministry, the survey found. Ministry can involve anything from serving in a parish to being a doctor or lawyer.

"It isn't that ministry isn't important" to younger candidates, said Sister Mary Bendyna, the principal author of the study. "Volunteering, social work, working for the poor — they can do that elsewhere." Pioneer Press


Here is Georgetown University's CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) study that they did for the "National Religious Vocation Conference."
The National Religious Vocation Conference began in 1988 as a combination of the National Conference of Religious Vocation Directors (NCRVD) and the National Sisters Vocation Conference (NSVC). Today the NRVC has an annual membership of over 1300 women and men, most of whom are vocation ministers for religious congregations. The organization is divided into 14 regions plus international members. The National Board consists of eight to twelve representatives and the NRVC Executive Director. The CARA study is found HERE.

CARA is a national, non-profit, Georgetown University affiliated research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: There most current publication are found HERE.

The NY Times article on the most recent study. It does not make it clear at the beginning that the study was confined only to religious orders. Diocesan priests were not studied.

  • Membership of Religious Orders in the U.S.
    shows that they are getting more diverse

    Current Members

    Members in


    White 94% 58%

    Hispanic 3% 21%

    Asian/P.I. 2% 14%

    Black 1% 6%

    Other 0% 1%

  • Items of particular interest

  • • According to the survey of new members, the average age of entrance is 30 for men
    (median 27) and 32 for women (median 29). However, there is a ten-year gap in average
    and median entrance age between women in LCWR institutes and women in CMSWR
    institutes. According to the survey of religious institutes, more than half of the women in
    initial formation in LCWR institutes (56 percent) are age 40 and older, compared to 15
    percent in CMSWR institutes.
  • • Younger respondents are more likely than older respondents to say they were attracted to
    religious life by a desire to be more committed to the Church and to their particular
    institute by its fidelity to the Church. Many also report that their decision to enter their
    institute was influenced by its practice regarding a religious habit. Significant
    generational gaps, especially between the Millennial Generation (born in 1982 or later)
    and the Vatican II Generation (born between 1943 and 1960), are evident throughout the
    study on questions involving the Church and the habit. Differences between the two
    generations also extend to questions about community life as well as styles and types of
  • Most Rewarding and Satisfying Aspects of Religious Life

    • When asked what they find most rewarding or satisfying about religious life, new
    members offered a range of comments about various aspects of religious life. The most
    frequent responses were about the communal dimension of religious life. Some mention
    living, praying, and working together while others focus more on the sense of common
    purpose and being part of something larger than themselves. The frequency of mentions
    of community life suggests that this is a particularly important aspect of religious life to
    most new members.

    • Many new members also identify some aspect of the spiritual dimension of religious life,
    such as the sense of following God’s call, deepening their relationship with God and with
    Christ, and/or personal and communal prayer, as providing the greatest sense of reward
    or satisfaction. In their responses, many new members specifically mention daily
    Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration, the Divine Office, Marian devotion, and other
    devotional practices as especially meaningful to them.

    • Some new members cite the service or outreach dimension of religious life as most
    rewarding or satisfying for them. Many of these respondents mention ministry, service,
    or the apostolate while others comment on being a witness to God for others. The fact
    that comments about ministry, service, or the apostolate are less frequent than those about
    community and spirituality suggest that these may be less salient to new members.
    Challenges in and for Religious Life Today

    • In response to questions about what they find most challenging about religious life, new
    members identified a range of issues and concerns. Some of these are perennial issues in
    religious life: the challenges of living in community, overcoming personal weaknesses,
    faithfully living the vows, and balancing personal, communal, and ministerial

    • Some of the challenges identified by new members are more unique to this particular
    time in the history of religious life in the United States: aging and diminishment in their
    religious institutes, age and experience differences among new members as well as
    between new and older members in community, the lack of peers in religious life and in
    their religious institutes, and differences in theology and ecclesiology, often across
    generational lines. Some see the polarization within the Church and within religious life
    as the greatest challenge.

    Hope for the Future

    • Although many of the participants in the focus groups and interviews expressed concerns
    about the future of religious life and the future of their religious institutes, most remain
    hopeful. Most acknowledge that the numbers in religious life may continue to decline
    and that their religious institutes may be different in the future. Nonetheless, they believe
    religious life will persevere and that the Spirit can and will move in that diminishment.
    Some already see signs of hope, especially in a younger generation that they believe is
    bringing a new energy and optimism to religious life.

    • Findings from the qualitative research also suggest that new members are especially
    attracted to religious institutes that themselves are clear and confident about their identity
    and hopeful about their future. Some new members are disheartened by the apathy,
    pessimism, and fatalism they see in some of the members of their institutes.

    Best Practices in Vocation Ministry

    • The findings from the study suggest a number of “best practices” for vocation promotion.
    These include instilling a “culture of vocations” and involving membership and
    leadership in concerted vocation promotion efforts; having a full-time vocation director
    who is supported by a team and resources; using new media, especially websites and
    other online presence; offering discernment programs and other opportunities for
    potential candidates to meet members and learn about the institute; and targeting college
    students and young adults as well as elementary and high school students to expose them
    to the possibility of religious life and inform them about the institute.

    • Although these practices can have a positive impact on attracting and retaining new
    members, the research suggests that it is the example of members and the characteristics
    of the institute that have the most influence on the decision to enter a particular institute.
    The most successful institutes in terms of attracting and retaining new members at this
    time are those that follow a more traditional style of religious life in which members live
    together in community and participate in daily Eucharist, pray the Divine Office, and
    engage in devotional practices together. They also wear a religious habit, work together
    in common apostolates, and are explicit about their fidelity to the Church and the
    teachings of the Magisterium. All of these characteristics are especially attractive to the
    young people who are entering religious life today.

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