It doesn’t sound like a large number compared to they brief and storied heyday of the mid-twentieth century, but last year 200 men and women religious professed final vows in the United States — up from 136 solemn professions the year before
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), under a commission by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), conducted its annual survey questioning those who professed perpetual vows in 2016. What they discovered were some key habits which multiple religious cited as important to their vocational pursuit.
According to the USCCB, “The survey polled women and men religious who professed perpetual vows in 2016 in a religious congregation, province, or monastery based in the U.S. CARA received a response from 610 of 759 major superiors, for an overall response rate of 80 percent among religious institutes.”
The results led to some surprising discoveries that remained consistent throughout those who responded. For example, a strong prayer life was noted as a key to discernment prior to entering the religious life.
Nearly nine in ten or 86 percent of responding religious regularly participated in some type of private prayer activity before they entered their religious institute. About two-thirds participated in Eucharistic Adoration, prayed the rosary, or attended retreats before entering. Nearly six in ten participated in spiritual direction before entering.
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Another common thread was the role of Catholic education.
Almost half of responding religious (46 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school, which is about the same as that for all Catholic adults in the United States (39 percent). These respondents are more likely than other U.S. Catholics to have attended a Catholic high school (38 percent of respondents, compared to 19 percent of U.S. adult Catholics) and much more likely to have attended a Catholic college (37 percent of responding religious, compared to just 10 percent of U.S. adult Catholics). Responding women religious are less likely than brothers to have attended a Catholic college (31 percent for women compared to 42 percent for men).
What else helped them make the ultimate decision? The encouragement of a parish priest.
One-half say that a parish priest (53 percent) encouraged their vocation.
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The results of the survey are meant to help the Church discover new ways to help young people discern where God is calling them to and what it is that leads some youth to ultimately choose the consecrated life. It is a fitting topic to discuss as Pope Francis announced last year the theme of the next Synod of Bishops in 2018: “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Pope Francis desires with this Synod “to accompany young people along their existential journey towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their life plan and achieve it joyfully, opening themselves up to an encounter with God and humanity and actively taking part in the building of the Church and society.” With the recent decline of religious, the Church now wants to discover anew the beauty of consecrated life and propose it again to young people in hopes that many more men and women will take up the call to give their whole lives to God.