Catholic education sways decision for religious life

WASHINGTON - Catholic education in high school and college is a significant factor for men and women choosing to enter a religious order, according to an annual survey of sisters and brothers who recently professed final vows.

The survey also found an increase in the number of Asians, particularly Vietnamese, choosing religious life in the U.S.

The report, "New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life" is based on a survey conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and commissioned by the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Researchers surveyed religious who professed perpetual vows in 2012, and obtained responses from 108 sisters and 24 brothers, a response rate of 85 percent of the 156 potential members of the profession class of 2012 identified for CARA by their religious superior.

Major findings showed:

- The average age of religious of the profession class of 2012 is 39. Half of the men and women are 37 or younger. The youngest sister who responded was 23; the oldest, 66. Eight women professed perpetual vows at age 60 or older. Among brothers, the youngest was 25 and the oldest, 62; two professed perpetual vows at age 60 or older.

- The class makeup is 69 percent white, 15 percent Asian and 8 percent Hispanic. Most respondents (71 percent) were born in the United States. Of those born outside the U.S., the most common country of origin is Vietnam.

- About four in 10 religious (43 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school, a rate similar to the U.S. Catholic adult population (42 percent). These respondents were more likely than other U.S. Catholics to have attended a Catholic high school (36 percent of the religious, compared to 22 percent of U.S. adult Catholics overall) and much more likely to have attended a Catholic college (33 percent of the religious, compared to just 7 percent of U.S. adult Catholics overall).

The religious also are highly educated. Twenty-two percent earned a graduate degree before entering their order and 60 percent entered their order with at least a bachelor's degree or more.

Most religious did not report that educational debt delayed their application for entrance to their religious institute. For those who did, they averaged two years of delay while they paid down an average of $19,500 in school debt.

More than eight in 10 religious (82 percent) had work experience prior to entering their religious institute. Women were more likely than men to have been employed in education or health care. Men were more likely to have been employed in business or church ministry.

Many religious were active in parishes before entering their institute. Almost half participated in youth ministry or a youth group. One quarter participated in a young adult ministry or group, Catholic campus ministry/Newman Center, and/or World Youth Day.

Almost nine in 10 (88 percent) had ministry experience before entering their religious institute, most commonly in faith formation. Women were more likely to have participated in faith formation or liturgical ministries (except altar servers), while men more commonly reported working in hospital or prison ministries, being an altar server, or teaching in a Catholic school.

On average, religious who responded to the survey said they were 20 years old when they first considered a vocation, but half were 18 or younger when they first thought about it. Eight in 10 (82 percent) said they were encouraged to consider religious life by someone, predominantly priests, religious sisters and brothers.

The women who responded to the survey represented 64 religious congregations, provinces or monasteries. The brothers were from 19 different congregations, provinces, or monasteries.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970