CARA study: Entrants to religious life are young and find vocational inspiration online

For the first time, Georgetown University's Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted a study on men and women who have just entered religious institutes. The study looked at people who formally entered "a religious congregation, province or monastery based in the United States during 2015."

According to the report, among the 57 percent of religious institutes that responded to the national survey, more than two-thirds reported no one entering religious life in 2015, while roughly one in five had two or more entrants.

The report states that 411 people entered religious institutes in 2015: 218 men reported by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, 120 women reported by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, 54 women reported by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and 19 new entrants into contemplative communities of women. Of those, 279 individuals responded to CARA's survey.

Women constituted a slight majority of the 68 percent of new entrants. Among the men, about 80 percent expect to become priests; the rest plan to become perpetually professed brothers. Results are reported by gender, though the types of communities they entered are not specified.

Results showed that these entrant classes are young (an average of 30 years old) and finding vocational inspiration online, with roughly a third initially learning about their religious institution through an Internet search.

White Americans make up the bulk of the entrants: 81 percent were born in the United States (followed by Vietnam and Mexico), and roughly seven in 10 identify as white. One in eight identifies as Hispanic, one in 10 as Asian, and one in 20 as black.

Being raised Catholic proved a consistent shared detail among entrants (93 percent). While Catholic higher education makes it seven times more likely one will later enter a religious institution, about the same percentage of 2015's entrants as U.S. Catholic adults in general attended Catholic elementary school. More than a third of entrants attended Catholic high school. Seven in 10 entered their religious institute with at least a bachelor's degree.

Nearly all respondents said when they first considered entering a religious institute, they were encouraged by other members of their religious institute, their vocation director or their spiritual director. Fewer received encouragement from parents (65 percent), siblings (62 percent) and other relatives (55 percent).

More women were drawn primarily by a sense of call to religious life than men, who reported feeling a stronger desire for community. But nearly all entrants reported that daily Eucharist and private personal prayer are very important to them, as is living and praying with other members.

Roughly 75 percent said they felt "excellent" about their sense of identity as religious, while slightly fewer (70 percent) said the same of their identity as institute members, its focus on mission, and its response to the needs of our time.

While prayer and community life were the two aspects that entrants mentioned as the initial draw to their religious institutes, community life was also commonly noted to be one of the most challenging aspects of religious life.

The Conrad H. Hilton Foundation, which funds Global Sisters Report, funded the CARA study.

[Soli Salgado is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report. Follow her on Twitter: @soli_salgado.]