More on the Sisters--and religious life

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The Leadership Conference of Women Religious meets this week under the shadow of a Vatican "doctrinal assessment" and survey of the "quality of life" of apostolic religious. NCR has two interesting pieces, one a report from New Orleans, the other commentary by a Dominican sister, that give good background on the ongoing--and in my estimation unjustified--investigation of U.S. women religious. (If you don't know my opinion on the matter, you can read my July column here.)

Almost simultaneous with the LCWR meeting is a new study on religious life in the U.S., showing, not surprisingly, the continuing slide in vocations to religious life in the U.S. Those that are joining are more diverse culturally and racially (21 percent Hispanic, 14 percent  Asian or Pacific Islander,  6 percent are African/African American, which is a shift from 94 percent white among finally professed). I haven't been able to confirm if the study asked country of origin, though I have a call in, which to me seems an obviousl and important question. Younger people who are joining, it seems, are gravitating more toward a more "traditional" style: habits, set schedules, etc.

One interesting bit for me was their motivation for joining: According to the AP story, "Unlike earlier generations, new members of orders are drawn to religious life primarily by a sense of call and desire for prayer and spiritual growth and less so out of a desire to do ministry, the survey found. . . . 'It isn't that ministry isn't important' to younger candidates, said Sister Mary Bendyna, the principal author of the study. 'Volunteering, social work, working for the poor — they can do that elsewhere.' " The complete study can be found here.

I wonder how that would jive with previous generations of religious. I still think the desire to wear a habit has more to do with the individual than with the essence of religious life--you don't see judges wearing their robes as a "witness" to the judicial system, though their robes were originally daily garments. And it strikes me that joining religious life to develop one's own spiritual life, instead of a desire for ministry, is a little self-focused. At the same time, perhaps the many options available to young people now means that what is unique about religious life will bubble up.