At the end of a decade of steady entrances to religious communities, the NRVC has released its 2020 Study of Recent Vocations to Religious Life. This study comes 11 years after the first study completed in 2009. This latest research provides information on those men and women who entered religious life from 2013 – 2018. The NRVC states that “they are mindful no study can point to just one reason why a person responds to God’s call to enter a community.” There is a mystery in the call and an unpredictability in the response. The grace of perseverance is the essence of religious life with both our oldest and newest members serving as influential role models of courage, compassion and competence. In this week’s edition and in the upcoming weeks we will share some of the findings of the study.
Religious life in the U.S. todayOver 700 diverse religious institutes exist in the United States. They vary in spirituality, charism, and mission as well as size, composition, and presence of new members. The diversity of sisters, brothers, and priests is one of the hallmarks of religious life today.
On average, roughly 200 people a year take final vows, and around 400 to 500 begin the process of formation.
Many newer members see community life as what is distinctive and most attractive about religious life. What incoming members seek in community life is praying together, celebrating holidays and feasts together, living with other members and sharing meals together.
Additionally, living at or near a ministry site and living simply, in solidarity with the poor and marginalized is ranked “somewhat” to “very” important. The younger a respondent is, the more likely he or she is to prefer to live in a larger community, especially one with at least eight members. This is consistent with findings from the 2009 study of newer members.
Newer members prefer living with members of different cultures (four in five) and newer members themselves reflect the racial and ethnic changes in the United States toward more people who claim an identity outside of European white culture. Catholics, along with the rest of the country, are increasingly Hispanic.
While age presents challenges for communities when inviting young people to join, it has not deterred those who entered from doing so. Thirteen percent of perpetually professed are younger than 60, and the identical proportion are aged 90 or older.
In ranking their attitudes about various aspects of communal life, new members give their religious institutes the highest ratings on their care and support of the elderly members. Most newer members prefer to live in communities with members of different ages (93 percent).
It was the 80 year-old [sisters], the wisdom figures of the community
[who] were always the first in the chapel and the last at the dining room table.
They were always there, you could always count [on their presence].
Prayer and Spirituality
Personal private prayer characterizes the regular prayer life of the majority of sisters, brothers and priests in almost all responding institutes. Daily Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours are almost as common, reported by nearly nine in ten responding institutes.
As I was growing in my prayer life, I realized that I really wanted my whole life
to be that intimate communion with God. And the more that desire grew,
the more I saw the way it’s lived out in religious life.
The majority (95 percent) of perpetually professed religious have a college degree. The majority of newer members come with considerable education as well as ministry and work experience. Seventy-one percent of new members had at least a bachelor’s degree before they entered. Eight in ten were employed, usually in a full-time position, and slightly more than half were in engaged in ministry, a quarter on a full-time basis and about three fifths on a volunteer basisCharacteristics of Younger Members
Characteristics of Younger Members
The study revealed many facts about newer members:
One-third of newer entrants (34 percent) have a relative who is a priest, deacon or religious sister or brother.
One in ten report that they entered another religious institute before the congregation to which they currently belong.
Seven in ten considered religious life by the time they were 21, with half doing so by the time they were 17. Female respondents are more likely than male respondents to have thought about a religious vocation at a young age, that is, before the age of 14 (30 percent compared to 16 percent.). Men were a little more likely to first consider religious life when they were college-age. (30 percent of men compared to 23 percent of women.)
Most newer members (74 percent) participated in a “Come and See” experience(s) before they entered their religious institute.
Almost half of those in initial formation (48 percent) were born in 1990 or later.
The average age of entrance is 28 for men and 29 for women. This is a little younger than the average age of entrance in 2009, which was 30 for men and 32 for women.
The majority of newer members experienced support in their consideration of religious life: 80 percent found support from priests and religious. Around 7 in 10 reported that friends and parishioners were a significant source of support. The large majority of parents and siblings (95 percent) expressed support ranging from “somewhat” to “very much.”
The majority (60 percent) of religious institutes have at least one person in initial formation. About 20 percent currently have more than five people in religious formation.
Attraction to Religious Life
Newer members are likely to say they were attracted to religious life by a desire for prayer and spiritual growth and by a desire for a deeper relationship with God. To only a slightly lesser degree, most new members also say they were attracted to religious life by a sense of call to consecrated life, a desire to be of service, and a desire to be part of a community.
They were attracted to their particular religious institute by its prayer life and mission, followed by community life and the example of its members. Although the ministries of the institute are also important to most new members, they are less important that those previously-listed factors.
Newer members in religious life first became acquainted with their religious institutes in different ways. As in NRVC’s 2009 Study on Recent Vocations, the most common way to meet a religious community was in an institution such as a school, where the members served. Besides institutional settings, other relatively common ways of becoming acquainted with the Institute were through their own Internet search of websites, through a relative or friend in the Institute, through working with a member of the Institute, or through print materials.
“I started thinking about religious life because
living on my own, it just felt like something was
missing. I was attracted to living in community
with other people with the same charism, with the
same spirit, with the same hopes for the world with
our differences. I wanted to be in community.
That was really important to me.”