Holy Cross Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, addressed the U.S. bishops at their meeting last week to report on the wide-scale national vocation study his organization undertook.
The landmark study, Recent Vocations to Religious Life, looked at "who is entering religious life today and the characteristics of the religious institutes that are receiving and retaining new members."
From Brother Bednarczyk's address:
"It is no surprise to anyone that men and women religious are a shrinking and aging population. Compared to the mid-sixties when the number of religious reached its peak at about 23,000 priests, 12,500 brothers and about 180,000 sisters and nuns, the religious population has decreased by approximately 65 percent. According to the latest statistics, there are less than 13,000 religious priests, 5,000 religious brothers, and 59,000 religious sisters and nuns. About 75 percent of men and more than 90 percent of women religious are age 60 and over. For those men and women religious who are under 60, the majority are in their 50s, with only 1 percent under 40.
"Although the number of religious is considerably lower, we need to look at this phenomenon within the broad spectrum of religious life. The truth is that throughout history men and women religious have always made up a small percentage of our Catholic population. The temptation is to compare the high numbers of the fifties and sixties as the norm, when in actuality, they were an anomaly. It is my hope that this study will serve as a more realistic benchmark for tracking future trends in religious vocations for this century."
The research, he said, confirmed what his organization has been tracking for several years: Younger people are beginning to look at religious life as "a viable option." He explained that the numbers show that millennial Catholics are looking for more "traditional style" communities:
"Newer members say they are drawn to religious life primarily by a sense of call, a desire for prayer, spiritual growth, and clearly for younger members, a deeper commitment to the Church. More than 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. As a testimony to the strength of diversity in religious life, these institutes represent a wide variety of lifestyles, ministries, charisms, and spiritualities. The institutes though that are most successful in attracting and retaining members at this time, would be characterized as following 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 devotion al practices together. They also wear a religious habit, work together in common apostolates, and are explicit about their fidelity to the Church and its teachings. All of these characteristics and practices are especially attractive to the young people who are entering religious life today, the members of the millennial generation."
The read Brother Bednarczyk's full address, click HERE.
To read "Ten Myths About Religious Life...," click HERE. And to find resources from the study, click HERE.