Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Nuns and Priests Seen Opting for Tradition

picture from Godzdogz

From yesterday's New York Times

A new study of Roman Catholic nuns and priests in the United States shows that an aging, predominantly white generation is being succeeded by a smaller group of more racially and ethnically diverse recruits who are attracted to the religious orders that practice traditional prayer rituals and wear habits.

The study found that the graying of American nuns and priests was even more pronounced than many Catholics had realized. Ninety-one percent of nuns and 75 percent of priests are 60 or older, and most of the rest are at least 50.

They are the generation defined by the Second Vatican Council, of the 1960s, which modernized the church and many of its religious orders. Many nuns gave up their habits, moved out of convents, earned higher educational degrees and went to work in the professions and in community service. The study confirms what has long been suspected: that these more modern religious orders are attracting the fewest new members.

The study was already well under way when the Vatican announced this year that it was conducting two investigations of American nuns. One, taking up many of the same questions as the new report, is an “apostolic visitation” of all women’s religious orders in the United States. The other is a doctrinal investigation of the umbrella group that represents a majority of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The new study, being released on Tuesday, was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, for the National Religious Vocation Conference, which is looking for ways for the church to attract and retain new nuns and priests. It was financed by an anonymous donor.

“We’ve heard anecdotally that the youngest people coming to religious life are distinctive, and they really are,” said Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. “They’re more attracted to a traditional style of religious life, where there is community living, common prayer, having Mass together, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together. They are much more likely to say fidelity to the church is important to them. And they really are looking for communities where members wear habits.”

Of the new priests and nuns who recently joined religious orders, two-thirds chose orders that wear a habit all the time or regularly during prayer or ministry, the study found.

The study also showed that whites account for 94 percent of current nuns and priests but only 58 percent of those in the process of joining orders.

Asians and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately represented among the newcomers, accounting for 14 percent, far above their 3 percent share of the Catholic population in the United States, Sister Bendyna said.

Hispanics are 21 percent of the newcomers, compared with only 3 percent of the current priests and nuns.

Of women who recently entered religious orders, the average age is 32; for men, it is 30. But retaining new recruits is a challenge. About half of those who have entered religious orders since 1990 have not stayed, and almost all who left did so before making their final vows.

“People come to religious life because they feel they’re being called,” said Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, adding that the purpose of the church’s training process “is to discern that call before a commitment is made.” So “it’s not surprising,” he said, “that you would have people that would leave.”
h/t Cathcon


Dilly said...

I would be very interested to learn how the process of winding down the dying orders will work. Some have considerable property assets. Can the local bishop direct that these be made over to newer orders? If not - what happens when millions of pounds/dollars worth of property is vested in a couple of nonagenarians? I have watched convent after convent close and be demolished in this country, and the land sold for building. Checking the Charities website shows that some sparsely populated aging orders are staggeringly asset-rich.How is this money re-invested? Surely there should be a proper transparent plan put in place to supervise this fairly. And also could I put in a plea for the Pugin chapels and original buildings at least to be handed over to traditionalist orders who would value them, rather than be smashed up and replaced by a McDonalds, as happened to my former school.

Anonymous said...

Very good news!

santoeusebio said...

"Some have considerable property assets". This is only partially true. The cost of looking after elderly nuns can be very high and assets can dwindle rapidly with employing lay people to look after them and/or paying nursing home fees. Further I do know of dying orders who have given financial help to some of the newer orders. But you do have a point! I hope the Bishops do not get their hands on it though!

Lee Gilbert said...

To corroborate the New York Times story:

The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, Nebraska has 18 nuns in the novitiate, with at least 2 more on the way that I know of. And this is AFTER sending off a contingent of nuns to found a new house in Elysburg, Pennsylvania in late June.

Mother Teresa O.C.D. paces her entrances at about one per month so that the community isn’t overwhelmed.

She is obviously intent on founding yet another daughter house, since Carmelite monasteries should only have 21 nuns in them unless there are plans to make a foundation.

This is a very sweet, joyous and penitential bunch that has all the offices and the Mass in Latin- and the new houses will also.

They are all in full traditional Carmelite habit.

This is probably one of the most authentic expression of Carmelite life in the world. Perhaps one of these days the other houses will take the hint….

My daughter is there and she told me one of the nuns had been a gymnast. Occasionally for their recreation period she will do cartwheels and backflips for them- in their full traditional habit which she has pinned beforehand.

What better image to symbolize the spirit of that monastery or the young people today entering these traditional orders?

Fr Ray Blake said...

My prayers for daughter.

I would love to publish a picture of the pinned, cartwheeling nun!

Elizabeth said...

This is wonderful, it will certainly encourage vocations.

Bonnie said...

"But retaining new recruits is a challenge. About half of those who have entered religious orders since 1990 have not stayed, and almost all who left did so before making their final vows."

Oh you silly NY Times. Of course they left before their final vows! I left more than half the dating relationships I was in, always before "final vows", because of discernment.

There's nothing scandalous with leaving a convent or the seminary before final vows or ordination because one has discerned they're called to something else. Just like there's nothing scandalous about breaking up with a boyfriend because God's peace is not in the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I think it rather an obvious phenomenon that young people are attracted to the traditional orders. In fact, I strongly believe that if Holy Church were to embrace its traditions and beauty instead of trying to adapt them to the fanciful whims of modernity and seeming "hip", many who struggle in the modern world would return to the Church.
I know for myself that seeing a religious person in full habit is awe-inspiring - I give a slight bow as they walk by. It inspires my respect for them because they are willing to non-verbally declare their faith in Christ.
Pax Christi,

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