Understanding the factors in choosing a religious order

Posted by Siobhan O'Neill Meluso
Wednesday 23, January 2013 | Category:   Catholic culture

As we approach Catholic Schools Week, it is fitting to find in a survey report by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that Catholic schools and colleges influence the choice to become a religious sister and brother. “New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life,” is a report on a survey that was commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations www.usccb.org/consecratedlife on the major factors in choosing to enter a religious order of those Sisters and Brothers who professed perpetual vows in 2012.

The most notable major findings include the following:

Average Age-

·         The average age of those professing perpetual vows is 39 and the age range is 23-66 years for women and 25-62 years for men. Additionally, the average age of 20 is the consideration time for the newly professed while half were 18 or younger when they first considered religious life.

From the U.S. or Asia-

·         71% of the class of 2012 was born in the United States and Vietnam is the most mentioned country of those born outside the U.S. The Asian percentage is larger and the Hispanic/Latino percentage is much lower than previous years.

Catholic Schools and highly educated-

·         Regarding education, 43% of the class attended Catholic Elementary or Middle School, 36% attended Catholic High School and 33% attended Catholic Colleges. Additionally, 60% of the professed earned an under graduate or graduate degree before entering their religious institute and only 7% report educational debt delayed their application to the community.

Prior Work and Ministry experience-

·         82% of the professed reported prior work experience; 19% worked part time and 63% worked fulltime before entering a community.  Furthermore, 72 % of the class were active in parish life before entering and of that 45% participated in youth ministry or youth group, 25% participated in Catholic Campus Ministry or a Newman Center and 25% participated in World Youth Day. Finally, 88% of the professed shared that they had prior ministry experience most commonly with liturgical ministry.

Encouragement to consider a vocation-

·         82% report someone encouraged them to consider a vocation to religious life including parish priests, friends, and religious brothers and sisters. Alternatively, 74% discourage the professed from considering a vocation by one or more persons including parents and family.

Familiarity with the Religious Institute-

·         Responding religious knew the members of their religious institute 4 years before entering the institute and 20% were sponsored or worked with the institute prior to professing.


CARA “researchers surveyed religious who professed perpetual vows in 2012, reaching a total of 108 sisters and 24 brothers, a response rate of 85 percent of the 156 potential members of the Profession Class of 2012 identified to CARA by their religious superior.”

            In sum, the newly professed are now older, primarily educated in Catholic schools, encouraged to consider a vocation by priests and religious and familiar with the religious institute they consider before they enter. How will we continue to connect discerners with communities? 

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