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Rebirth for Catholic Brothers and Sisters?

While a quick glance at the American Catholic priesthood shows a population that is white, aging, and shrinking, a new, first-of-its-kind survey of 4000 Catholic brothers and sisters — as well as those in training — hints at something refreshingly different: an increased diversity in ethnicity, age, and life experiences among new members. The “Study of Recent Vocations to Religious Life” by the Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center, found that:

Among men and women in training:
• 21 percent are Hispanic
• 14 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander
• 6 percent are African/African American
• 43 percent are under age 30
• (94 percent of the finally professed are white)

Among all new members:
•70 percent enter with a bachelor’s degree
•90 percent held full-time jobs
•7 percent have been married
•5 percent have children
•73 percent attended Catholic schools at some time
•68 percent considered religious life before age 21

While most communities still report an aging population and diminishing numbers, some attract new members, and a few are experiencing significant growth. Men’s communities and women’s communities following more traditional practices have better success attracting younger members today. Approximately 75 percent are drawn to religious life very much by a sense of calling and desire for prayer and spiritual growth, and fully 85 percent were attracted to a community by its members, citing their sense of joy, commitment, and zeal. Younger new entrants look for an institute’s fidelity to the Church and seek to wear a religious habit, while older new entrants are drawn to its mission. New entrants prefer to live in large communities (eight or more).

As one study participant said, religious life “has been here a long time, and it will continue in whatever shape that God wants it to be.”

The study is available at nrvc.net.


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