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Catholic Orders Aging but Growing More Diverse

posted by mconsoli

A new study of Catholic religious orders shows that their dwindling ranks are predominantly white and aging, but some groups are drawing interest from more diverse seekers.
The new members particularly seem drawn to the conservative communities that live a communal life, celebrate the Eucharist each day, and don traditional religious habits, according to the study.
Conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) for the National Religious Vocation Conference, the study found that about 58 percent of the members-in-training are white, compared to 94 percent of full members.
The vast majority of full members are over 60, including three-quarters of men and nine in ten women. Most of those not in their 60s are at least 50 years old.
The study comes as the Vatican is conducting two investigations of U.S. nuns. One aims to study the “quality of life” of all orders of women religious. The other is probing the fidelity of an umbrella group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, to church teaching.
Religious communities are struggling to gain new members — about half of those studied have no more than one or two in initial formation — and potential members often pursue this spiritual path with little encouragement from family, friends, and even priests.
“They face many challenges and are making a choice that family and friends don’t understand, but they are embracing their call with faith and enthusiasm,” said Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of CARA and principal author of the study.
The center hoped to find “best practices” through the study that might encourage future interest in religious communities.
The study identified almost 4,000 people who were either in initial formation or had professed final vows since 1993. Responses from religious communities represented 62,250 men and women religious, or more than 80 percent of all women and men religious in the country.
Other findings about new members included:
— More than nine in 10 were employed full-time.
— The average age of entrance is 30 for men, 32 for women.
— More than two-thirds first considered religious life by age 21.
— Almost three-quarters (73 percent) attended a Catholic school.
— Seven percent have been married and 5 percent have children.
By Adelle M. Banks
c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.



  • nnmns

    “The new members particularly seem drawn to the conservative communities that live a communal life, celebrate the Eucharist each day, and don traditional religious habits, according to the study.”
    Somebody should do a study on their mental balance.

  • pagansister

    There was an article somewhere else on B’net about this.
    The Catholic orders are aging? No surprise. In this day and age, why would a man decide he wanted to have absolutely no sex for his entire life, so he’d become a priest? Let Them Marry, and there might be more recruits. And how many women want to marry an institution?? (or an invisible man, JC?). 30 and 32 years when the join a group? At least they’re older than 17 or 18 when they’ve just finished high school, and have had a chance to live longer in the world, so they can make perhaps a better, more well informed decision. 7% have been married and have kids…some have grandkids (know about one). At least if you’ve been married and given birth, one can relate to the average RC and perhaps give better advice. Priests giving marriage counciling seems to me to be a joke.

  • nnmns

    A bad joke. But in some cases not as bad as the Pope giving marriage counseling.

  • Nate W

    There’s no chance of letting those in monastic orders marry, pagansister. Celibacy in the orders and celibacy in the priesthood are not the same issue–the monks and nuns have always been celibate from the beginning, and it’s an essential part of the monastic lifestyle, which is about total dedication to contemplation, prayer, and work. Having a husband/wife and kids and living the typical American lifestyle has no place in that.
    The priesthood is a different matter. The Catholic Church (at least its Western Rite) essentially demands that all priests also live as monks, and celibacy is a consequence of that. In the Eastern churches (the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholics, etc.), all bishops have to be monks, but priests don’t have to be and don’t have to take vows of celibacy. Western Rite Catholics would probably do well to move more towards this model, but as I said, that’s a separate matter from monastic celibacy. The monks and nuns are celibate in all the traditions, and that’s not going to change, and shouldn’t change.

  • Tom

    This is one of the pitfalls of clergy having offspring; but then again ‘progressives’ will only use the example to bash celibacy among Catholic clurgy (the repressive policy forced him to commit infidelity and father children out of wedlock).
    If memory serves me correctly, abuse among children of married clergy ‘inheriting’ Church possessions may have been one of the reasons cited for the mandatory celibacy policy to begin with.  Nate, your history may be more keen than mine on this.
    Regarding mental balance, I’m starting to wonder about people making snide remarks about institutional clergy over and over again in these comboxes for years on end.  No slinkies or yarn balls left over from childhood for you to play with?

  • nnmns

    That would be me, Tom. But let’s face it wanting to “live a communal life, celebrate the Eucharist each day, and don traditional religious habits” seems a little quirky.

  • Tom

    I felt as though I was called to be a priest at one point in my life. I experienced many spiritual ecstacies; way more intense than human love. Admittedly the call to celibacy prior to the experience seemed like a foreign concept to me, one I couldn’t even begin to grasp, but I digress.

  • Nate W

    I think you’re right, Tom. There were a lot of pragmatic concerns behind priestly celibacy in the early days, and I do believe that preventing hereditary clerical dynasties was one of the major ones.

  • Nate W

    For some people, nnmns, the desire to go waste your life in some ultimately meaningless career that forces you to move away from your family and put off marriage and kids until later and later in life, eat out every day, and wear designer clothes seems a little quirky. But we’re not questioning the sanity of the millions of people who choose that life.

  • nnmns

    Nate I wouldn’t care for that life either but I suspect you get pulled into it in small steps; it’s not necessarily something you grow up wanting to do. But I could be wrong about that.
    Anyway if you think it’s nuts why don’t you suggest someone should do a study on their mental balance. It’s a free country any you can do that. But don’t expect anyone to run out and conduct your study either.

  • Nate W

    I don’t suggest that someone do that study because I’m not the kind of person to question other people’s mental balance just because they think differently from the way I do, value different things than I do, or choose different lifestyles than I do. People are just different. That doesn’t suggest they have mental problems.

  • nnmns

    I won’t argue this one any more; you’ve half way convinced me.

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