Thursday, September 24, 2009


In a time of dwindling numbers of religious, it is a good thing to take a good hard look at what works at attracting and retaining new religious. The Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University based research center on behalf of the National Religious Vocation Conference surveyed 4,000 men and women who are either newly professed or in formation to find what works well and that which does not seem to be attracting and retaining new members. The results were published on the August 27, 2009 edition of Origins.

Interestingly enough there is a huge generational gap in vocations. Older candidates and younger candidates are looking and experiencing very different things. Younger candidates do not find much support from family or peers though they do report support from diocesan priests. Older candidates report more support but little from diocesan priests. Younger candidates received much of their information from the electronic world: CDs, DVDs, videos, and websites while older candidates did not.

Of high importance is the example of other members of the congregation. On a personal note, those that I have known that leave religious life, and there have been a number, have been due to negativity on the part of members of the congregation they desired to join. Of course the opposite is also true. The survey reports that by far this is the critical factor in at retaining members.

Other “best practices” for success include instilling a “culture of vocations” along with a full time vacations director, employment of new media, and offering opportunities to meet the community. But as far as getting potential candidates in the door in the first place the most successful institutions have been, “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 magestarium. All of these are especially attractive to the young people who are entering religious life today.” Origins August 27, 2009, Volume 39, number 12.

The study is of course not without some controversy. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious has concerns about who funded the research and some of the methods employed and that there is no full disclosure of information being sent to the Vatican concerning individual orders.

There are three leadership councils of religious in the United States. These are umbrella organizations under which all the many orders come together for mutual support and assistance. They are the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and the more recent Council of Major Superiors of Women. (There are some groups of religious not under any umbrella group such as some superiors of monasteries of contemplative nuns and other institutions who were also included in the survey.)

Origins suggests visiting HERE and HERE for a full report on the study at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.


Anonymous said...

At my parish we had a religious sister who worked as our Director of Religious Education. She did not wear a habit nor live with her community. She lived in an apartment near the parish but periodically did meet and pray with the other sisters in her order who also had similar life and work situations. When she had originally entered the order, they did wear habits and live within community. But all that changed in the 1960s. Observing her, I came to the conclusion that, on the surface, she looked like every other unmarried woman who worked full time. I was uninspired by her "lifestyle," despite the fact that her "job" was to work at a church. She would have done better, perhaps, to have become a member of Opus Dei, which asks some of its members to remain celebate, follow the spirituality established by the founder (St. JoseMaria Escriva), get secular jobs and try to evangelize.

Victoria said...

Wwe had a number of women who don't wear habits, don't live in community and perform social work type roles in the parish and the hospital in the parish. They are just social workers who didn't marry. Why would any young girl want this type of life.

Liz said...

as a young adult discerning religious life, i can say with certainty that my generation wants orthodoxy and wants tradition! we love the latin Mass and we want to wear habits.

and orders that are orthodox and traditional are overflowing with vocations (see: sisters of life, nashville dominicans, ann arbor dominicans)

who wants to wear a polyester vest and a pink as a habit?

Anonymous said...

Couldn't resist commenting as I catch up on older posts:

"a full time vacations director"

I feel confident most vocations would run more smoothly if we just had one of these ;-).

[I guess that explains that article in the WSJ the other week about the Vatican's travel agency . . .]