Dominican nuns from three monasteries share what they have sought within their enclosure, and what they have found without their phones.
When compared to the giddy heights of the Catholic vocational heyday that was the mid-20th century, current numbers of priests and religious will always pale in comparison, Any honest discussion of these numbers, however, must acknowledge that the heights were an anomaly that perhaps owed as much to the effect of a fairly sympathetic and increasingly available press — and the heroic portrayals of priests and religious in books and movies — as anything else.
In the case of Catholic women, education and unprecedented career opportunities for young women worked as something of a one-two punch to the solar plexus of religious vocations. Some years ago, a Capuchin involved in a research project confided to me that the projected numbers for women religious looked so dire that “we may not have any monastics left by 2020.”
Fortunately, after decades of gasping, the seminarian numbers are beginning to climb, and religious vocations appear to be regaining their wind and rising from the mat, although not without problems. “We’re missing a generation of vocations,” says Mother John Mary, superior of an enclosed Passionist community in Kentucky. That brings a measure of complication; some communities who are enjoying strong growth find that their experienced, professed sisters are outnumbered by those still in formation. “There are not many sisters to whom I can delegate,” Mother John Mary says.
Still, it is noteworthy that millennial women — most of them gifted, well-educated, and able to consider a broad array of career and lifestyle paths — are making the very ancient choice to spend their lives in prayerful enclosure.
Father Aquinas Guilbeau recently had the opportunity to talk to three such enclosed moniales — all “millennial” women — who are living out their lives within growing contemplative communities in New York, Virginia, and Alabama. Their conversations focused on their vows, and how the governance of monastic family brings its own kinds of freedom and challenges, and these young sisters had a lot to say. (Read Part II, here)
Millennials without smartphones and apps
But asking millennials about specific concepts associated with their generation was an irresistible place to begin, as Fr. Guilbeau did. How do these young religious, raised with smartphones and exposed to the social media trends that give ersatz “meaning” to so many, deal with the absence of all that, he wondered?