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.

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32 thoughts on “Are we doing enough to encourage young women to become religious sisters?

  1. susanna says:

    The only prayer said after mass at my church is for “vocations to the holy priesthood. Men who will serve you…”

  2. Sr. M. Bridget says:

    When I told my parents that I was entering the convent at 19, they were quite shocked. Religious life was never talked about in my Catholic family of 5 kids. I know that my parents were both quite disappointed by my decision to follow God’s call, but now, 8 years later, it is so amazing to see the transformation in everyone in my family! They have adopted all of my Sisters as their own daughters. It definitely helped that when I entered, there were 6 of us in my group, all aged 18-21. Praised be to God that we have all 6 persevered and are preparing to make our Final Vows in 2012! I would have to agree, we are a minority, but I can’t imagine my life any other way.

  3. catholicgrad says:

    I have to add that there are parents who pressure their children *into* religious vocations. Maybe it’s not as frequent as the opposite, but it is definitely there. I know that it’s hard for parents to let their children make their own decisions, but a vocational decision is the decision of an adult. That means parents are allowed input, but not say-so and definitely not pressure.

    1. Debra says:

      Judging by the resistance I encountered from the religious communities when I tried to get my daughter the assistance she needed to even explore what religious life is about after she came to me and expressed interest in it, I seriously doubt this to even be possible. Now she’s 18, dating, and has no interest whatsoever. When I mentioned to her that one of the religious communities we had looked into suggested this would be the time in her life to schedule that visit, she no longer wished to go. Now, I can only hope and pray that if this is the vocation she is called to, that she will decide to explore it before her life takes her permanently elsewhere.

  4. Debra says:

    I previously posted my comment on Facebook, but I will post it here, too. My daughter was once interested in exploring this possibility. At convent after convent, monastery after monastery, I queried for information or a place for her to take an exploratory retreat and was turned us away. A number refused to even return the contact attempts all because she was too young “to make such a difficult decision” at the time. Now that she is the age that they wished, she is no longer interested. If you want to encourage girls to consider consecrated life, you have to be willing to entertain their questions and allow them to make visits when they are asking the questions, not at some magic decision making age 5 – 10 years later. A vocation to consecrated life is not sown, cultivated, and harvested overnight. If you ignore their queries when they are young, they grow up and find other things to do. It’s not as if the world doesn’t offer them plenty of better looking alternatives. As a mother, I am convinced she has a religious vocation, but there is nothing more I can do unless she decides again that she is willing to explore the possibility now that the convents are willing to talk to her.

  5. Carolyn says:

    This is a great topic! I think of this often because I co-lead a high school Confirmation program at a parish. Very few of the kids have thought about a vocation in the past – but of those who have considered it, 90% of them were because they had a middle school teacher (my friend and one of the other co-leaders) who talked about vocations at times throughout their school year. I know of one situation (with a young man) whose father is a deterrent to that student’s discernment of the priesthood. But thankfully he trusts us and talks openly about his discernment and asking for other resources for that endeavor.

    It’s so good to hear that parents are talking about vocations with their children. From our (non-parent) perspective, we try to discuss vocations as much as possible in our class (either as the main topic or as part of a broader discussion on saints, prayer, sacraments, etc and by providing times for them to do personal prayer to talk to/listen to God and gain self-knowledge). Another thing we do is a ‘vocations panel’ of people representing married life, single celibate life, brothers, sisters, and priests to give them exposure to the various vocations.

    So from my non-parent perspective, this is also an issue for catechists – that the procurement of well-trained catechists can also be a boon to this process.

  6. Tony Layne says:

    I wonder: 1) How much of it is due to the predominance of radical feminists in the religious orders today? 2) How much of it is due to the lingering perception that women need to have children to be fulfilled while men do not? 3) How many of our new seminarians experienced opposition from their families, and how does that number compare to the new women religious? In other words, is it really specific to women, or is it part of an overall pattern of discouragement from vocations?

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