A recent study of men and women who professed perpetual vows in 2011 shows that new members of religious orders are younger and more educated than those in the past.
“We are encouraged by the report’s findings that men and women are considering a vocation at a younger age,” said Mercy Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Vocations and Consecrated Life.
“As the Catholics recognize their responsibility to build a vocation culture in its parishes, schools and families, children and youth are being introduced to the various vocations in the Church,” she said in an April 5 statement.
“This helps them respond to God’s love and will generously and willingly.”
A recently released study, conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, surveyed men and women religious who were incorporated into religious communities in 2011.
The survey, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that the average age of women professing perpetual vows in 2011 was 39. This is four years younger than those from the previous year.
Men entering religious orders, who were included for the first time in the 2011 study, averaged 42 years in age.
In addition, respondents reported that they first thought about a religious vocation at a younger age than last year’s class. On average, survey participants first considered a vocation to religious life when they were 19 years old, although half did so at age 17 or younger.
Those entering religious orders in 2011 were also highly educated. Almost 60% had earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and 16% had earned a graduate degree as well.
Sixty-five percent of survey respondents identified themselves as white, while 19% identified as Asian, and 9% identified as Hispanic. The U.S. bishops have recently commissioned a survey on Hispanic vocations, to determine why the group is underrepresented.
Ninety-four percent of respondents said that they have been Catholic since birth, and almost 80% come from families in which both parents are Catholic. Almost half of those surveyed attended a Catholic elementary school, and nearly all said that they regularly participated in some kind of private prayer activity before entering their religious institute.
Members of the Class of 2011 come from a variety of backgrounds and have overcome various challenges to make their perpetual vows.
Sister Emma Calvo, OP, said that she “felt the desire to belong totally to God” since she was 8 years old, while Sister Wanda Szymanko was engaged to be married when she “re-experienced the call to religious life.”
Sister Roseli Oliveira overcame the challenge of initially lacking the support of some family members in her vocation, while Brother Damien Evangelista experienced a “crisis of faith” and stopped practicing his faith for several years in his mid-20s before finding his way back to Christ.
The newly professed men and women will now use their diverse talents to serve God and his people in a variety of ways.
“Religious sisters, priests and brothers are treasured by the Church, and we support their sacred commitment to be poor, chaste and obedient in imitation of Christ and at his service,” said Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis.
The archbishop, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, explained that the religious help us “set our heart’s goal not on this life, but on eternal life.
“In a world where human frailty is acutely felt, they remind us of God and bring Christ’s redemptive love to all they meet."