CARA Reports on Religious Life Confirm Tradition

On February 2 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops released a report on Religious life. The study was conducted by the very reputable Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

The Bishops’ report is interesting and informative for what it says, but also has puzzling omissions in the topics covered, which seem to amount to ignoring the “elephant in the room.”  The “elephant” is the rather obvious fact that religious communities that preserve traditional elements such as the habit, common prayer, communal life, focused apostolates and strong affirmation of Church teaching, are doing well in comparison to orders that do not. Indeed some are doing quite well.

That data regarding the strength of tradition is covered in an earlier 2009 CARA report commissioned by the The National Religious Vocations Conference (NRVC). Strangely the bishop’s report did not seem to want to go near the topic of tradition. Hence I would like to look at some data from both the 2011 report and the 2009.

Let’s start with the 2011 Bishop’s Report. The Full report is HERE. The numbers are from CARA and refer to sisters who made their Solemn Vows in 2010. The comments are just my own.

  1. Scope – 311 Superiors responded to the survey and this represents 63% of Religious Congregations in the USA
  2. Most lay fallow – It is striking that the report indicates that 84% of Religious Communities had no one profess solemn vows in 2010.  13% had one woman profess solemn vows and only 3% had between 2 and 9 women profess solemn vows. While this is only a picture of one year it shows that a large number of communities are in very serious shape.
  3. Missing Data? The report must have excluded some of the more fruitful congregations since I personally know of two communities that had more than 9 women enter.
  4. Diversity – 62% of newly professed sisters are Caucasian, 19% are Asian or Pacific Islander, 10% are Hispanic. This suggests a lot of work needs to be done to reach the Hispanic (Latino) Catholic communities in the US which are very underrepresented in the numbers entering.
  5. Older sisters less diverse – An astonishing 94% of sisters overall are Caucasian but this number is sure to drop a bit as the numbers in point four begin to shift forward in the years ahead.
  6. Converts – 13% of newly professed sister in 2010 were converts.
  7. Big Families Factor – A remarkable 64% came from families of 5 or more children. See pie chart at upper right. This confirms the long held notion that decreased family size is a significant factor in the decline of religious vocations.
  8. School Connections – 51% of new professed sisters attended Catholic elementary school. For decades Catholic Schools had been an engine of vocations for sisters. That seems a wash today and is likely due to the fact that most schools have few if nay Sisters teaching.
  9. Parish connections – 2/3 of the Sisters had participated in parish youth ministry programs and/or young adult ministry or Newman clubs.
  10. Liturgical Connections – 57% had been involved in some sort of liturgical ministry.
  11. Devotional Connection – 74% of the New Sisters had participated in Parish retreats, 65% prayed the rosary frequently, 64% participated regularly in Eucharistic Adoration. 57% had taken part in regular Bible Study programs. Hence parish life and traditional pious factors play and important role as does more more modern forms such as liturgical ministry and Bible Study.
  12. Encouragements – 52% of new sisters report being encourged to enter religious life by another sister,  44% by a friend  39% by a parish priest.
  13. Only 26% say their mother encouraged them on only 16% say their father encouraged them.
  14. Discouragements! – An astonishing 51% say their parents or family members actively discouraged them from entering!  This is quite an awful statistic actually. The very ones who should encourage are off message.

OK a lot of good information. But in the end the report seems to dodge the question as to why 84% of Religious Congregations had no one profess vows. I do not blame CARA for this since they likely received the scope of the survey from their patrons at the USCCB. The question remains though, why do some congregations show success and others not? What are the factors that most influence women to enter certain orders and not others?

Fortunately another CARA study mentioned above was commissioned by NRVC in 2009 and it does explore such questions. The full report is HERE and the findings are these:

  1. Scope – The response rate in this survey was higher, about 80% of Religious in the US had their community respond to the survey. Most of the communities that did not respond were small larelgly contemplative communities.
  2. The Survey includes both men and women.
  3. How many in Formation – Three-fourths of institutes of men (78 percent) and two-thirds of institutes of women (66 percent) have at least one person currently in initial formation (candidate or postulant, novice, or temporary professed). However, almost half of the institutes that have someone in initial formation have no more than one or two. About 20% of the responding institutes currently have more than five people in initial formation.
  4. Aging – Over all religious are an aging population. 75% of Men are over 60 and an astonishing 91% of women are over 60.
  5. More diverse – Compared to men and women religious in the last century, those coming to religious life today are much more diverse in terms of their age, racial and ethnic background, and life experience. 21% are Hispanic/Latino, 14% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 6% are African/African American. About 58% are Caucasian/white, compared to about 94% of older professed  members. This show a significantly higher percentage of Latinos than the smaller 2010 survey above.
  6. Critical Factors – 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 prayer. Ah, so here is the elephant that the 2011 report chose to leave unexplored. The italics in this sixth point are a direct quote from the CARA report and it makes it clear that data confirms what we already know anecdotally. Tradition and the respect for it is an important factor for younger vocations, as is fidelity to the Church.
  7. Generation Gap – Millennial Generation respondents are much more likely than other respondents – especially those from the Vatican II Generation – to say that daily Eucharist,  Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, and other devotional prayers are “very” important to them. Pay attention Religious orders.
  8. Communal life – When asked about their decision to enter their particular religious institute, new members cite the community life in the institute as the most influential factor in their decision (followed closely by the prayer life or prayer styles in the community). Most new members indicate that they want to live, work, and pray with other members of their religious institute, with the last being especially important to them. Responses to an open-ended question about what most attracted them to their religious institute reinforce the importance new members place on this aspect of religious life. When asked about various living arrangements, most new members prefer to live in a large (eight or more) or medium-sized (four to seven) community and to live only with other members of their institute. Younger respondents express even stronger preferences for living with members of their institute in large community settings. Findings from the survey of religious institutes suggest that that new membership is negatively correlated with the number of members living alone. That is, the higher the number of members who live alone, the less likely an institute is to have new members. Imagine wanting to live in community when you enter religious life. Here too we see that tradition is  confirmed and the loose knit apartment style, dispersed living of many dying congregations is simply being rejected by younger people seeking religious life and to live, work and pray in community
  9. The Habit – The responses to the open-ended question about what attracted them to their religious institute reveal that having a religious habit was an important factor for a significant number of new members.

Thus, the data of this earlier CARA report confirms what most Catholics already know: those who have vocations to religious life have a strong preference for the practices of tradition. A strong and enthusiastic love of Christ and his Church, fidelity to his teachings expressed through the magisterium, the wearing of the religious habit, vigorous common life and common prayer, a focused apostolate, joyful and faithful members of the community, all these are essential in attracting new vocations.  Of course.

Death wish? This has been clear for some time now and why some religious communities do see the obvious and adapt is mystifying to say the least. The clear message of the Holy Spirit who inspires vocations, the clear admonition of Rome which has strongly requested the return to the habit and other reforms, and the obvious preference of the young people who vote with their  feet, is a clarion call. Communities that follow these simple truths are growing, some are growing rapidly.  Communities that refuse to follow these simple truths would appear to have a death wish.

Picture – My own parish convent is occupied by an order that does follow these truths and they are bursting at the seams. They have just out-grown our convent which housed over 25 of them. They have now moved to another larger convent and left four sisters behind here. I have no doubt that our convent will fill again soon for the Servant Sisters of the Lord are a growing order who obey well the Holy Spirit and thus attract many many vocations. Their picture solemn vows is posted above. God is faithful, he is also clear as to what it takes for a religious community to thrive.

20 Replies to “CARA Reports on Religious Life Confirm Tradition”

  1. The return to tradition is what many faithful are crying out for. It is gratifying to see religious orders following such traditional rules so vibrant and successful. What puzzles me, though, is how people can cry out for some traditions to return and then turn around and vilify the return of others. The negative comments from yesterday’s blog regarding celibacy seem to ignore the fact that there were married priests for the first 1400+ years of the Church’s history. There were even several married popes, including St. Peter. Furthermore, strong evidence exists that women were ordained deacons for at least the first 300 years of the Church.

    Offer opinions as you wish, but the facts remain. What the Church has done, the Church may do again.

    1. Modernist drivel.

      While it is true that priestly celibacy is not dogma, don’t count on it being changed. I am a lay celibate and can tell you that the gifts of celibacy are abundant.

      As far as your women deacons remark, pure claptrap. Look around today and you’ll find in certain heretical corners women “priests” as well. The truth is that it is not possible for a woman to be ordained. That is not discipline that is dogma. Whatever “strong evidence” you mysteriously allude to must, by definition, be lies.

      Be careful as you indulge yourself with modernist fantasies. The world has enough heretics.

      1. I’m not looking for celibacy to be changed. We already have married priests currently serving in the Roman Catholic Church, and have had married priests throughout Church history.

        As for the ‘evidence’ ‘alluded to’ in my women deacons ‘remark,’ try Romans:16, or the Apostolic Constitutions Book VIII, Ch. 3, to start. You could also consider the Orthodox, who are Church, and who have women deacons.

        1. It’s hard to imagine we’re all so perfect we can focus our energies on demanding the Church change, rather than change ourselves.

          I strongly support, with prayers and monetarily, several religious communities that pray the Hours communally, follow a Rule, wear the habit, and live together as a community. They are also growing rapidly. I thank God for blessing the Church with these young religious, and beg for more.

    2. I was the one who made the negative comments about the newspaper article … my point was only that if the Church teaches one thing, I don’t like it someone within the Church is going to teach something different, especially to children. They can teach history, but they ought not to muddy the waters and go against the teachings of the Church. I know that Eastern Orthodox Churches have married priests.

  2. Because I am new to the Church I don’t know how recruitment is done in the Black Catholicc Church. It looks like according to the data that the numbers have always been low but in recent years null. About 3 years ago I purchased a pictorial book of an order of black nuns. In that book it took you through the history of the order, WHICH AT THAT TIME WAS IN FULL HABIT. As I flipped through the pages, all that changed. Today this order is struggling to stay afloat. I am sure there are many factors for their declineZ however I am always wondering what we as a Church are doing to promote religious life in the Black Catholic Church

  3. I hope that more will be done to promote monastic vocations for men and women, beginning with just letting young people know that monks exist. Perhaps visits to monasteries might be incorporated into more youth and young adult ministries. By design, most monasteries are off the beaten path but there is a Trappist monastery (dear to MY heart) which is in Berryville, VA — not so far from the DC metro region.

  4. A nun told me this past week that she wears regular clothes because she is laity – not clergy.

    As a more general point, I believe there is tremendous value in outward, physical signs of a calling or profession. With the trend toward religion’s exclusion from public space, nuns in habits would be a welcome counter-trend. I think most people, Catholic or otherwise, would respect the statement.

  5. I have said this before — I have always looked upon the nuns in their habits as “safe” havens. They are a witness to Christ and His good works.

  6. The solution is a return to the traditional latin mass and traditional spirituality. Once this is returned, vocations will be a natural outflow, because the traditional mass encourages sacrifice, devotion and a love of the history of the Church as well as a personal relationship with Our Lord.
    The new mass has a shakey track record and was born of compromise and breeds lukewarm devotion.

  7. “Missing Data? The report must have excluded some of the more fruitful congregations since I personally know of two communities that had more than 9 women enter. ”

    You are mistaken. Solemn Vows are not for newbies. Solemn Vows are the permanant vows a religious takes after a number of years as a religious. Some are after 4 years, and some are after up to 8 years (Such as Mother Angelica’s nuns). Just an FYI

    1. You seem to be a bit picky. I realize that solemn vows come after about 4 years. I do mean that the communities had more than 9 women profess solemn vows, not merely enter. But the point is they ARE new additions who have been through the process. Allow a little short hand every now and then.

  8. I didn’t know there was a “black Catholic Church”? (tongue in cheek)

    Msgr – is spot on!!! Traditional orders – in every sense of the word – are FLOURISHING! My sister is a first year novice for a Carmelite order and girls are entering in droves – and I’m talking young girls!!! I know this is true not only in her order, but in all faithful, traditional orders. (and some [orders] take final vows at 10 yrs!)

  9. Don’t let the numbers fool you. When I attended a Catholic Seminary 1/4 of them were gay or of a feminine nature. The quest for numbers by our Catholic leaders can and have lead to many Catholic mistakes and errors. May I suggest first assaigning good Holy leaders and they will find good Holy men and women. Also, there is a high degree of subtle racism ones again within our Catholic leaders. The Pharisees still live in the Catholic Church. We must continue to pray and pray hard.

  10. Would you please clarify about solemn vows. Many congregations of apolstolic sisters, according to their Rules and constitutions, take simple perpetual rather than solemn vows. Dominican sisters, for example (not the Dominican Nuns) take perpetual (unto death) vows and retain the right to inherit patrimony. Nuns who make solemn vows relinquish the right to patrimony. So, if the CARA study is counting only those who make solemn vows, it would be missing the many who make perpetual vows. See Code of Canon Law 1192,

    1. I am not sure how the CARA study accounts for all this but one might presume that “solemn vows” could be used in the general rather than the strict sense. As your brief comment shows, religious life has a bewildering number of forms and options. Hence, solemn vows might simply mean the profession that makes one a full member of the order. But I am only guessing.

      1. “Big Families Factor – A remarkable 64% came from families of 5 or more children. See pie chart at upper right. This confirms the long held notion that decreased family size is a significant factor in the decline of religious vocations”

        NOT SO FAST. There’s a clear correlation between large families (many siblings) and the Faith. Large families love children and observe the Magisterium’s teaching on the conjugal act and the sinfulness of contraception. Families with 1 or 2 who resort to contraception I’m willing to speculate do not embrace all the Church teachings and do not have a strong prayerful family life with a deeply rooted faith.

        A couple deeply rooted in the faith who marry in their mid to late 30s may only conceive 2 children. But having obedience to the Magisterium are just as likely to have their children become sealed with the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

        Contraception and it’s consequences hurts everyone.

  11. Are the Religious Sisters of Mercy different from the Sisters of Mercy? The Religious Sisters of Mercy seem orthodox, but I know that the Sisters of Mercy endorsed Obamacare.

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