WASHINGTON - A study issued Feb. 4 by the Washington-based
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that "a
great majority" of those entering religious life had prior
experience serving in at least one parish ministry.
"The most common ministry service reported was liturgical
ministry," said the report, "followed by some form of faith
formation." The study said 84 percent had taken part in some
form of ministry either as a volunteer or in a paid position.
The survey was sent to 411 men and women entering religious
institutes - a catchall term encompassing religious
congregations and orders - with 278 responding, for a
response rate of 68 percent.
While half had attended a Catholic grade school, a bit more
than the 42 percent for the total U.S. adult Catholic
population, the differences were more pronounced for Catholic
high school (39 percent vs. 22 percent) and college (40
percent vs. 6 percent) attendance. Those entering religious
life were well educated, with 49 percent having an
undergraduate degree and another 21 percent having a graduate
One troubling note in the report was that 68 percent, or more
than two-thirds, of all U.S. religious institutes reported no
one entering religious life last year. One in seven
institutes had one entrant, and about one in five reported
having two or more.
While a majority of respondents reported receiving positive
responses from their families about their consideration of a
vocation, those numbers were in the mid-50 percent range,
while they zoomed into the mid-90s when it came to support
from vocation and spiritual directors and the institute
While 64 percent said they had gotten to know a priest or a
religious brother or religious sister while growing up who
was not a relative, and 55 percent said starting a discussion
with their family about their vocation was easy for them,
only 19 to 29 percent can recall their mother, father or
another relative talking to them about a vocation.
The top attractions to religious life, with at least half of
those saying they "very much" were attracted to these
aspects, were a desire for prayer and spiritual growth, a
sense of call to religious life, a desire to be of service, a
desire to be part of a community, and a desire to be more
committed to the church.
The qualities that attracted them most to the religious
institute they entered were its spirituality, its mission,
its community life, its prayer life, the example set by its
members, the ministries of the institute, its fidelity to the
church, and welcome and encouragement by members.
Items they said were most helpful in arriving at a decision
for choosing a particular instate were contact with the
vocation director, contact with institute members and a "come
and see"-type experience.
The top Influences behind their choice of institute were its
community life, its prayer life and prayer styles, its
members' lifestyles, the types of ministry of its members,
and its practice regarding a religious habit.
Respondents reported that the top aspects of community life
were living and praying with other members, socializing and
sharing leisure time together, sharing meals together and
working with other members.
They rated their respective institutes most highly on
faithfulness to prayer and spiritual growth, commitment to
ministry, opportunities for spiritual growth, fidelity to the
church and its teachings, opportunities for personal growth,
the welcome and support of newer members, the focus on
mission, and opportunities for ongoing formation.
Asked in a separate series of questions to rate their
institute, at least half of those responding said they were
excellent in projecting a sense of identity as institute
members, their sense of identity as religious, the quality of
community life, educational opportunities, relationships with
one another, responding to "the needs of our time," the
institute's formation programs, communal prayer experiences,
preparation for ministry, efforts to promote vocations, and
efforts to promote social justice.
Still, life has its challenges, and religious life is no
"Asked what was the most challenging about the religious
life, the respondents most commonly report that they find
community life the most challenging aspect of their religious
life experience. They have learned that living in community
may involve loss of privacy, as well as struggles in living
with the members who have different cultural backgrounds,
points of views, ages, personalities and preferences," the
"Respondents also report the challenge of recognizing and
addressing limitations in themselves and others, while
desiring to grow in religious life. They regularly mentioned
their difficulty in overcoming 'myself,' 'temptations,'
'weakness' and 'sins.'"
CARA said, "Respondents found challenges in adapting to the
new lifestyle in their religious communities. This adjustment
includes daily schedule, new life pace, food, prayer life
(and) community life, among other things.
The report added, "Another emerging challenge that
respondents shared was their decreased connection with their
family members and friends. The schedule and lifestyle in
religious life lead religious to reduce their connections
with families and friends. They live far away from their
family and friends that sometimes leads them to homesickness.
Some of them also felt that their family and friends did not
understand religious life and their decision to enter the
religious life. They also missed some other relationships and
felt that religious life somehow reduces their opportunity