Maureen Fullam, our Director of Communications, attended the 17th Annual National Communicators Network for Women Religious Conference in New Orleans this past September. NCNWR is a professional organization for communicators within religious congregations of women, providing a network of education and support for members who work to promote understanding of women religious, enhance their image and advance their mission. The theme of this conference related to the communicator as public face of the mission and charism.
Keynote speaker Brother Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, Executive Director of the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), joined communicators to discuss the results of the CARA* Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life and its implications for communicators.
The study showed that new members bring increased ethnic and cultural diversity and a strong desire for communal living, prayer, and Catholic identity. While numbers in religious orders may be decreasing, new members are passionate about religious life.
Focus of the Presentation
Excellent and concrete suggestions were shared with communicators to assist them in strategizing and working with vocation ministers on unified messages and themes to reach women and men considering a vocation to religious life. Utilizing communicators in vocation ministry to help shape a consistent image and message in print, web and social media was emphasized (especially since this generation communicates by using social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.). The summary was lifegiving and supported by statistics.
CARA* Study on Religious Vocations – Why?
Prior to this study, the only information on religious vocations in the U.S. was anecdotal. The goal was to identify and understand who is entering religious life today and to find out which religious congregations are receiving and retaining new members.
Another goal was to identify ‘best practices’ in vocation promotion and religious formation. Hopefully this important data will be helpful to religious congregations as they develop their vocation plans in the future, and bring a greater awareness of vocations to the wider church.
How Was the CARA Study Done?
All Major Superiors (including members of LCWR and CMSWR) and 4,000 new members who entered or took final vows in the past fifteen years were surveyed. There was an excellent response rate. There were also focus groups of new entrants from around the country. In addition, eight on site visits were made to congregations who successfully attract and retain candidates.
Study Findings and Highlights
The study, released in August 2009, found that religious communities following more traditional practices have better success attracting younger members. The average age of women entering religious life is 32 (30 for men).
Many in this new generation look at religious life and mission through different eyes. For example, this emerging generation does not relate to Vatican Council II, the Vietnam War, or the women’s movement as part of their own history. While they know about these people or events from reading history, they did not experience these events firsthand as people over the age of 50 did. Each generation has a collective psychic consciousness that impacts the members of the generation regardless of their personal, individual life experience.
The Differing Worldview of Today's Young Catholics
Findings from the research also suggest that new members are especially attracted to religious institutes that are clear and confident about their identity and hopeful about their future. Some new members are disheartened by the apathy, pessimism, and fatalism they see in some of the members of their congregations.
New members are drawn to religious life primarily by a sense of call.
Brother Paul said the greatest differences between the younger and older generations are seen in the "desire to belong to a group whose commitment and fidelity to the church is unquestioned, the wearing of a religious habit, the form of community life and style of prayer."
- 78 percent say they were attracted “very much” by a desire for prayer;
- 73 percent say they were attracted “very much” by the desire for spiritual growth
- 85 percent say they were attracted to their particular religious institute by the example of its members, especially by their sense of joy, their down to earth nature, and their commitment and zeal.
Catholics entering religious life "are clearly disheartened by polarization they see in the church, in religious life and in their religious institutes," said Brother Paul. Those divisions must be acknowledged as part of "the reality to which we attempt to invite women and men to a radical following of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a life of consecrated chastity, poverty and obedience," he said. There is a need to recognize the differing worldview of today's young Catholics in order to discover what might attract them to religious life.
What do these newer members look like?
They are more racially and ethnically diverse.
| Hispanic and Latino/a
| Asian or Pacific Islander
| African, Black, or African-American
|| The average age of women is 32 and 30 for men
| hold at least a BA degree upon entrance
|| More than 90 % held full-time employment positions
| attended Catholic school at least for a time in their educational career
| were engaged in some type of full-time or part-time ministry or volunteer service.
Characteristics of Communities who Successfully Attract and Retain Members
The communities exhibit a strong Catholic identity
Live in community
Have a private and communal prayer and sacramental life
Spreading the Good News of Religious Life and Vocations:
What are key messages for Communicators?
There is evidence to support that a younger generation is entering religious life.
- Newer members indicate they are drawn to religious life primarily by
- a sense of call
- a desire for prayer and spiritual growth
- a desire to deepen their commitment in and to the Church.
- ministry was rated lower.
- The strength of religious life in the U.S. lies in its diversity of charisms, lifestyles, and ministries.
- We need to tell our stories today in a way that captures the romantic imaginations of a younger generation.
There were several Best Practices for Vocation Promotion suggested upon the basis of this Study. These two are especially important for communicators:
• Use of media for vocation promotion
• Targeting age groups
A major possibility in targeting age groups would be to keep open and continue to cultivate the necessary lines of communication between this population and religious congregations through the ongoing use and updating of Social Media. Just click here to find a glossary that will make social media and social networking simple to understand and access. I also share (with permission) a section from the NRVC website that highlights the importance of FACEBOOK:
MORE EVIDENCE OF FACEBOOK'S IMPORTANCE
Vocation ministers now have one more set of data urging them to use Facebook: the "Nielsen Social Media Report," released on September 11, shows:
- 23 percent of American adults’ time online is spent on social media.
- Facebook is the number one social media site they use.
NRVC urges vocation ministers to use Facebook as a way to connect to and stay in touch with young adults. A good way to establish an account is to sit down with someone familiar with Facebook and have that person coach you through the simple set up process. Be sure to “like” NRVC on Facebook so you’ll receive our updates.
Click here to enjoy our Franciscan Sisters of the Poor Congregational Facebook page: we are happy to tell you that we have 175 followers!
Moving Forward in Hope to Attract New Generations . . . Next Steps
As a follow-up to this CARA Study, religious and Catholic lay leaders, invited by the NRVC, gathered in Chicago this past September to take some next steps to effectively promote religious life to a new generation in a new century. The goal is to develop an action plan for promoting vocations. More information about this endeavor will be shared in the coming year.
*CARA - Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University-based research center.
- Maureen Fullam | November 2011