Women Entering Religious Orders Today Highly Educated, Experienced in Church Activities, Survey Finds
Newly professed class more diverse than past classes
One-quarter enter with graduate degrees
Half attended Catholic elementary school
WASHINGTON (February 2, 2011) — Women entering religious orders today are highly educated and experienced in numerous church activities, according to a national survey.
The survey report The Profession Class of 2010: Survey of Women Religious Professing Perpetual Vows was released February 2, the Church’s World Day for Consecrated Life. It was conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. The survey was sent to sisters represented by the two conferences of religious women, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, as well as contemplative communities. Respondents represented 52 religious orders. A total of 68 out of 79 sisters contacted completed the survey.
Major findings note:
In general, women religious of the Class of 2010 are more diverse than previously perpetually professed women religious in terms of racial and ethnic identity. Six in ten identify as white, one in five identifies as Asian, and one in ten identifies as Hispanic/Latina.
Nearly nine in ten sisters and nuns were born Catholic and eight in ten came from families in which both parents are Catholic.
Half of responding women religious (51 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school. Women religious are about as likely as other U.S. Catholics to have attended a Catholic high school and much more likely to have attended a Catholic college.
The responding women religious are highly educated. A quarter earned a graduate degree before entering their religious institute. Six in ten entered their religious institute with at least a bachelor’s degree or more.
Many women religious were active in parish life before entering their religious institute. Four in ten participated in a youth group and three in ten participated in a young adult group. Eighty-five percent had ministry experience before entering their religious institute, most commonly in liturgical ministry, faith formation, or social service ministry.
Three-quarters of responding sisters and nuns regularly participated in retreats before they entered their religious institute. Two-thirds regularly prayed the Rosary and/or participated in Eucharistic Adoration. Six in ten regularly participated in a faith sharing or Bible study group and/or in regular spiritual direction.
Nine in ten women religious (87 percent) say they were encouraged to consider religious life by someone in their life. Of those who reported that they were encouraged to consider a vocation, more than half (52 percent) say they were encouraged by a religious sister. A third were introduced to their institute through the recommendation of a priest or advisor.
Most women religious of the Profession Class of 2010 (84 percent) participated in some type of vocation program or experience prior to entering their religious institute. Most commonly this was a “Come and See” experience or a vocation retreat.
“We are proud of the vocation, sacred commitment and service that women religious have made in the Church,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, chairman of the Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “Making the profession of poverty, chastity and obedience is counter-cultural. It requires courage and fidelity to remain faithful to a religious vocation. The bishops of the United States promise their prayers and support for these and future women religious in our country.”
“The report demonstrates that family life and education are significant in forming children in the spiritual life. Many women, before entering, were active in Church and participated in spiritual exercises — especially Eucharistic Adoration, praying the Rosary and retreats. This is a tremendous witness to the power of Christ and prayer in the Church,” said Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, RSM, associate director of the Secretariat. “It also points to the witness of answering God’s call that religious women and priests give to young people. The personal relationship each has with Christ is fostered by the role models they see in, and encouragement they receive from, women religious and priests.”