Are we doing enough to encourage young women to become religious sisters?

Cathy Lynn Grossman brought my attention to a surprising statistic:

Daniel Burke at Religion News Service reports on a study released last week by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that the largest obstacle to women taking vows is their families.

… when asked about where they got the idea that the religious life of prayer and service was their vocation, 52% said they were encouraged by a religious sister, but 51% also said they were discouraged by a parent or family member.

As Catholics we hear a lot about our “vocations crisis”, and yet that phrase almost always refers to the insufficient number of young men pursuing a vocation to the priesthood.

Praise God, many young men are hearing the call and are actively pursuing a vocation to the diocesan priesthood, and many have already become young, excellent priests.

But there is also a vocations crisis among young women, and so I think it’s important that we begin a conversation about what we are doing to encourage these vocations, which do so much to serve the Church and bring glory to God.

I’m particularly interested in hearing from Catholic parents who have fears about their daughter pursuing a vocation to religious life. And I’d also love to hear from parents who have had or do have a daughter who has pursued such a vocation.

In my experience of meeting young religious sisters, I’ve never met one who wasn’t thrilled to be a sister. But I wonder if everyone has been exposed to such a positive witness.



  • Conrad

    What is ominous is taking away from the tiny pool of devout girls in a slatternly culture; for every one that becomes a nun, the risk goes sharply up that a Catholic young man will fall into indifferentism or sin with a non-Catholic or liberal Catholic.

  • Kathleen

    In May I will be entering into a Carmelite Monastery and have encountered various reactions from family and friends. This is what the Lord is calling me to do, so as much misunderstanding that is received, I absorb very little of it. My dad who is a source of abundant support reminds me that St.Thomas Aquinas’ mother had his brothers kidnap him when she discovered his desire to become a Dominican–mind you, this as in the 13th century. Closer to our age, we have the story of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) whose Jewish mother and family was not very thrilled–to say the least–of her initial conversion and entrance into Carmel. My mom is supportive of my call, though finds great difficulty in the strictness that I am embracing. Though I am not a mother, I can only imagine the pain of this for her. I understand that this vocation is not a solitary sacrifice, for it affects all that I love and love me. But the beauty of our faith is the knowledge that the gift of the cross brings us closer to our Beloved Savior. The Lord has bestowed onto me the gift of perserverance and I have gratitude for this, for He calls each of us to come closer to His Sacred Heart in whatever vocation that He deems for us.

  • Nicole

    Our diocese does not have many active sisters, but our Parish and the local Campus Ministry have invited active, habited, authentic orders to come help with retreats, speak to parishes, etc. It is great to see them and have our large parish exposed to their charisms.

    Next week our Mom’s group will host a religious sister who is speaking about religious vocations for women and how to support these vocations in our homes.

    Most of the Moms, as mentioned in previous posts, have small families or only have negative experiences of sisters. This does pose a problem, but I do see a willingness by them to talk about this and let the Lord open their hearts.

  • Liz

    I think I have an interesting part in this discussion because I am a young woman in the process of looking into the religious life. Something I see (especially since I live near a seminary), is that for a young woman it is usually not as easy for her to choice an order as it is for a young man to join the seminary. If a man decides to be a priest he usually choices the diocesan priesthood, and so he talks to the vocation director of his diocese, fills out an application, and goes to the seminary (of course it is not THIS easy, but you get the point). However a young woman has to look high and low for a good religious order. I’m not complaining about this process, but I’m just pointing out that in many cases the discerning process is harder for a young woman, particularly compared to those choicing the diocesan prieshood.

    As for parents influence, I can’t say much in reply here because I am an anomaly in that I am a Catholic convert. My family is not Catholic so their response to my discernment, and the church in general, is very skeptical.

    • Angela


      Two of the orders mentioned by other commenters are Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Dominican Sisters of Nashville (not sure the exact title of their order). I have personally met three wonderful sisters from the former, and my dad speaks quite highly of sisters from the latter. Maybe you could get in touch with one or both. I will pray for you.

    • Bro AJK

      Dear Liz,

      That was the challenge for me discerning which order to join as well. Those men God calls to serve the local Church do have it easier in a way than those of us looking at religious life.

  • Anon

    Very thoughtful article – at one point I discerned religious life myself, and while my parents were always very supportive, I met a lot of young women whose families were NOT, and in a very vocal and volatile way – it reminded me of when Jesus spoke about how he came not to bring peace but a sword – mother against daughter, father against son, etc.

    Anyhow, I also wanted to comment b/c the picture used with this article is of a sister I knew – Sr. Mariana, OP of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Just to clarify, her family has always been very supportive of her vocation, from what I’ve seen and what she’s spoken of about them. So she is an example of a family that HAS accepted her vocation, and even encouraged it. She’s a wonderful sister and is under temporary vows now.

    I think there are a lot of “issues” some families might have with the formation and lifestyle of the sisters – particularly the limited contact, but that is all part of the vocation. As Americans, in this “instant contact” culture (w/facebook, email, cell phones, texting, etc.), it may seem crazy to only get a handwritten letter a couple of times a month from your child. (Every order is different in how they deal w/communication, this was just an example). However, I’ve found the limited contact actually strengthens the family bonds through the power of grace – it emphasizes how we are connected on a spiritual level and makes us actually be MORE PRESENT when we do see/hear from each other. The limit actually allows for more meaningful conversation.

    Religious life is such a gift, and we should always pray for more vocations – for their our sign that this world is not the end, that there is something better – that we have a Bridegroom waiting for all of us at the end of our lives who will embrace us with an unimaginable love as long as we let Him through our contrition and conversion, and our own “yes” to His love.



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