London: Religious Life Study Day

Brother Paul Bednarczyk

Brother Paul Bednarczyk

More than 120 members of religious congregations gathered in Westminster Cathedral Hall on Wednesday, 16th June,  for a conference and forum hosted by the Religious Life Institute at Heythrop College, University of London, in collaboration with the National Office for Vocation. 

The day was facilitated by Brother Paul Bednarczyk CSC, Holy Cross brother and Executive Director of the United States National Religious Vocation Conference based in Chicago. Brother Paul is responsible for a major research project: Recent Vocations to Religious Life conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, Washington, published in August 2009.
The original study was designed to identify and understand the characteristics, attitudes, and experiences of the men and women who are coming to religious life today.  It also assesses the characteristics and practices of the religious institutes that are successfully attracting and retaining new members. Sister Gemma Simmonds CJ, director of the Religious Life Institute and lecturer in theology at Heythrop said: "Although the study was based on statistics gathered from the United States, Brother Paul’s brilliant presentations offered religious from Britain and Ireland the opportunity to explore characteristics and trends among young Catholics, in particular those entering religious communities. It also provided a platform for discussion of best practice in Vocations Ministry in light of the current vocational landscape."

The study found that while most religious institutes in the United States are experiencing diminishing numbers, some continue to attract new members and a few are seeing important growth.

Significant numbers of men and women continue to respond to a call to religious life and are hopeful about its future.  78% of men’s communities and 66% of women’s have at least one person currently in initial formation as a candidate or postulant, novice, or
temporary professed member.

Those coming to religious life today are much more diverse in terms of age, racial and ethnic background, and life experience. Many come with considerable education and ministry and work experience. More than 90% were employed, usually full-time, and nearly 70% were engaged in some form of ministry.  The median age of those applying is going down, with the average age of entrance at 30 for men (median 27) and 32 for women (median 29).  Nine in ten applicants were brought up Catholic and most (73%) attended a Catholic school for at least part of their education.  68% of the new members first considered religious life by the time they were 21.

Bishop George Stack and Ms  Judith Eydman of the National Office for Vocation attended the day with a number of diocesan vocations promoters, who see their job not only as promoting the priestly vocation but creating a ‘culture of vocations’ nationally.  Trends show that the most successful institutes in terms of attracting and retaining new members follow a more traditional style of religious life, with members living together in community, participating in daily Eucharist, praying the Divine Office and engaging in devotional practices together.  Further factors in attraction were a strong sense of the distinctive identity of religious, including the wearing of a religious habit, working together in common apostolates and explicit fidelity to the Church and the teachings of the Magisterium.

Abbot Christopher Jamison of Worth Abbey, West Sussex and founder of the Compass programme for vocations discernment said: "What happens in the American church travels over here in time.  The study day promoted a sense of optimistic purpose among those of us working to promote a culture of vocations to religious life.  There were challenges, too, amid the good news, but we know that young people continue to seek a deeper relationship with God, being part of something larger than themselves and being a witness to God for others.  Brother Paul’s visit has reminded us that God offers us ‘a future full of hope'."

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