NYT: New Nuns and Priests Seen Opting for Tradition

Hell’s Bible has an interesting article.

The following will resonate with the experience most of us have. 

The aging hippies are passing on and the young men and women coming up, without the 60-80’s baggage, want their Catholic heritage intact and they want to apply it to their vocations with continuity, not rupture.

This is from The New York Times with my emphases and comments.

August 11, 2009
New Nuns and Priests Seen Opting for Tradition

A new study of Roman Catholic nuns and priests in the United States shows that an aging, predominantly white generation is being succeeded by a smaller group of more racially and ethnically diverse recruits who are attracted to the religious orders that practice traditional prayer rituals and wear habits.

The study found that the graying of American nuns and priests was even more pronounced than many Catholics had realized. Ninety-one percent of nuns and 75 percent of priests are 60 or older, and most of the rest are at least 50.

They are the generation defined by the Second Vatican Council, of the 1960s, which modernized the church and many of its religious orders. Many nuns gave up their habits, moved out of convents, earned higher educational degrees and went to work in the professions and in community service. The study confirms what has long been suspected: that these more modern religious orders are attracting the fewest new members[As we all know.]
The study was already well under way when the Vatican announced this year that it was conducting two investigations of American nuns. One, taking up many of the same questions as the new report, is an “apostolic visitation” of all women’s religious orders in the United States. The other is a doctrinal investigation of the umbrella group that represents a majority of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The new study, being released on Tuesday, was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, for the National Religious Vocation Conference, [I would like to see the results!] which is looking for ways for the church to attract and retain new nuns and priests. It was financed by an anonymous donor.

“We’ve heard anecdotally [and we all know that the plural of anecdote is not "data".  Therefore this was a good idea for a formal study.] that the youngest people coming to religious life are distinctive, and they really are,” said Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. “They’re more attracted to a traditional style of religious life, where there is community living, common prayer, having Mass together, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together. They are much more likely to say fidelity to the church is important to them. And they really are looking for communities where members wear habits.”  [Can I hear an "Amen!"?]

Of the new priests and nuns who recently joined religious orders, two-thirds chose orders that wear a habit all the time or regularly during prayer or ministry, the study found.

The study also showed that whites account for 94 percent of current nuns and priests but only 58 percent of those in the process of joining orders.

Asians and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately represented among the newcomers, [Philippines?] accounting for 14 percent, far above their 3 percent share of the Catholic population in the United States, Sister Bendyna said.

Hispanics are 21 percent of the newcomers, compared with only 3 percent of the current priests and nuns.

Of women who recently entered religious orders, the average age is 32; for men, it is 30. But retaining new recruits is a challenge. About half of those who have entered religious orders since 1990 have not stayed, and almost all who left did so before making their final vows[Also, not a surprise.  First, religious life is very counter-cultural and we remain people of our own age.  Second, perhaps they tried to join some group that still has a lot of squishy things going on.]

People come to religious life because they feel they’re being called,”  [There is no lack of vocations, I think.] said Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, adding that the purpose of the church’s training process “is to discern that call before a commitment is made.” So “it’s not surprising,” he said, “that you would have people that would leave.” 

 Too bad the article left off there, on that sour note.   What was necessary was a line or two about the way some religious orders have so many applicants that they must be turned away.  Also, some dioceses have many vocations while others… not so many.  Usually this has something to do with a bishop who is also in favor of tradition.

Brick by brick, folks.

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  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    I would also add that we should not be too worried about the stat that half who have joined religious life have left, since most of those who left did so before prior vows. That’s the very purpose of having a distinction between temporary vows and permanent vows.

    People are attracted to a religious order, join it to see if it is what God is calling them to, and then, if it isn’t, they leave. I think there are a lot of very good and holy laypeople in the Church who, at one time in their younger years, joined – or considered joining – a religious community. Those who spent some time in temporary vows may have discerned that the life, or that particular community, wasn’t their vocation, but they have obtained an exposure to (hopefully) a faithful religious life, developed habits of prayer, and gained some solid spiritual friends. Perhaps, later in life, they will end up steering their own children to religious life, since some of the myths and misconceptions have been wiped away.

    If you know of someone who entered religious life, but left before taking final vows, he or she should not be seen as a failure or a reject – no more so than someone who was engaged to be married, and then decided that marriage was not his or her vocation, or that their fiance(e) was not the right one.

    I am convinced that God is bringing about very good things for our Church through the new religious orders that are popping up. Small though they are in comparison to the massive orders of a hundred years ago, they are acting as a wonderful leaven, making the whole dough rise. We should keep our faithful religious in our prayers, for they are fighting an awesome battle on our behalf!

  2. fathermichael says:


    “Here you will find the full report, executive summary, and other supplementary information, including best practices for vocation promotion.” – Bro. Paul Bednarczyk, CSC

  3. Jack Hughes says:

    Good News on two points

    1) Although I realise it’ll take a few years for these figures to materialise in actual ordinations/professions it will be good that other orders will take some of the strain off the FSSPX in the fight to maintain tradition. Its not spiritually healthy for one order alone to do so as it can lead to a feeling of gnostocism amongst members of said order and the faithful that attend Masses offered by them.

    2) It looks like the long road to recovary is gaining ground……… next step either start a Cause for Mgsr Lefebvre’s cannonizaton or re-open his mother’s.

  4. jbalza007 says:

    Recently at St. Margaret Mary (Oakland, CA), we had an opportunity to hear a seminarian from our own parish give a presentation on how his discernment process led him to the Institute of Christ the King. The Institute came to St. Margaret Mary only on 2005, but by the following year, he had already joined the Institute and is now an incoming third year seminarian at the Institute’s St. Phillip Neri Seminary in Gricigliano, Italy.

    His whole presentation can be seen at:

  5. JosephMary says:

    It seems that all the vocation stories I know of lately with the person looking to a religious order, are all choosing a ‘traditional’ order. The girls are choosing the Dominicans of Nashville or Ann Arbor or the Franciscans of the Immaculate or of the Renewal or other habited orders. And the young men are also going to those orders faithful to charism for the most part.

    There is little grace in liberalism to draw vocations. The young folks want a ‘radical’ way of life, not just a paycheck from the church and living as a secular. Those orders not faithful to their charism must either be renewed or die out. (and in some cases, not any too soon sad to say)

    But the faithful orders are growing and have such issues as not enough room for all the aspirants…

  6. Charivari Rob says:

    “What was necessary was a line or two about the way some religious orders have so many applicants that they must be turned away. “

    Which orders are those?

  7. lmgilbert says:

    The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, NE has 18 nuns in the novitiate, with at least 2 more on the way that I know of. And this is AFTER sending off a contingent of nuns to found a new house in Elysburg, PA in late June.

    Mother Teresa paces her entrances at about one per month so that the community isn’t overwhelmed.

    She is obviously intent on founding yet another daughter house, since Carmelite monasteries should only have 21 nuns in them unless there are plans to make a foundation.

    This is a very sweet, joyous and penitential bunch that has all the offices and the Mass in Latin- and the new houses will also.

    Anytime you need a little bit of good news, Father, you should drop down for a visit. They have an incredibly beautiful chapel. I am sure you would be very welcome.

    By the way, they are all in full traditional Carmelite habit.

    This is probably one of the most authentic expression of Carmelite life in the world. Even the nuns at Lisieux have abandoned the tradtional habit. Perhaps one of these days the other houses will take the hint….

  8. P.McGrath says:

    Asians and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately represented among the newcomers, [Philippines?]

    Don’t forget the Vietnamese as well.

  9. Hidden One says:

    The National Religious Vocation Conference’s website has a “Mythbusters” section for this report. It’s worth reading – http://www.nrvc.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=410

    [Frankly, I think that the write ups explaining the “fact” behind Myth 3 (and Myth 4) indicate that they aren’t really myths. Myth 3 is, perhaps, poorly phrased.]

  10. TJM says:

    It must have killed the New York Slimes to print this. After all, these young religious are Catholic, unlike “Father” McBrien, “Sister” Chittester, you know, the usual suspects. Tom

  11. Deimater says:

    I, for one, am very surprised that one-third of new candidates are still choosing religious orders that do NOT regularly wear habits. Actually, I find this rather disquieting.

  12. St. Teresa of Avila was drawn to a Carmelite order that wore shoes. So was St. John of the Cross. And yet somehow, they got a good number of Carmelites to go discalced by the end of their lives.

    You think maybe God doesn’t give up on orders, and sends them reformers and renewers?

  13. Rob F. says:


    Don’t be so worried about that. The groovy orders still have more monasteries and convents than the newer traditional orders, so they are usually much easier to access. They will get a fair number of inquiries just due to their easy availability. Many of their entrants leave them for more traditional orders later on.

  14. Are there specifics on the geographics of who remains habit-less (vestment and tradition)? Perhaps with linkage to home dioceses, etc. This would tell a fuller story along with where vocations are coming from.

    Even with these good turns for vocations, we must pray that the call to vocations may be heard and maintained amidst the secular screams.

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