Modest upturn in numbers joining religious life
The latest statistics for entry to religious life in England and Wales indicates that the overall number of people entering religious congregations has seen a modest upturn in the last few years.
However, the survey of 1,465 religious houses in England and Wales also indicates that this is not a uniform trend.
Many of the apostolic communities which burgeoned in the middle of the last century are declining in terms of entrants from the UK but often have a strong and growing presence overseas.
The findings have been published in an executive report commissioned by the Compass Project and administered by the National Office for Vocation.
The report shows that it is an encounter with Christ that engages people with the question of vocation and programmes such as Compass which facilitate discernment are critical in supporting people and helping them respond.
However, some of the statistics are challenging, despite the signs of renewal and growth.
The findings show that nearly half of the nuns in England and Wales are aged 80 or older. This is even higher amongst apostolic religious women.
According to the report, “The vocations statistics for female religious congregations show that apostolic and contemplative orders are attracting new members in approximately equal numbers but there are many more apostolic congregations so new members per congregation is much higher for contemplative houses.”
The report shows that among male Religious, twenty-two percent are aged over 80.
There are two apostolic (clerical) congregations performing very strongly and accounting for a large proportion of overall numbers (both have a strong contemplative dimension). One is a new order (founded in the nineteeneighties), the other founded in the twelfth century.
All 11 Apostolic congregations who have received new members have some ministry with young people and cite personal contact with an existing member as how most new members make a vocations enquiry.
The monastic houses with some outside have shown a rise in new members in the latter half of the decade. The enclosed monastic orders are also receiving more new members in the last two years.
The aims of the study were to collate accurate and complete entry statistics for the last ten years and to measure retention rates.
The report also sought to identify those religious congregations which are attracting and retaining new members; to build a population profile for religious men and women in England and Wales and to sketch an outline of young practising Catholics who may be discerning a vocation and identify the key issues.
The Compass advisory board said that it hoped that the findings would highlight signposts for best practice for vocations ministry in England and Wales so that all who work to foster vocations can better equip men and women with the tools of discernment.
“The findings of this study were varied and in some instances, surprising but one fact remains – the Lord is still calling young men and women to religious life and many of them respond generously to this call and serve Him faithfully”, the report said.