In my work among vocation candidates to our own La Salette Missionaries, I have spoken with many people about their vocation. I have found that many have impressions about vocations to religious life that are sometimes far from the truth.
Fortunately, a few years ago there was a wide-ranging study on Religious Vocations in the United States – sponsored by the National Religious Vocations Conference (NRVC) and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The results of their study have dissolved some ongoing myths about vocations to religious life. Some may actually surprise you.
Myth #1: No one is entering religious life anymore.
Fact: More than 70 percent of all religious communities (both men’s and women’s) report having new members in formation. Nearly 20 percent have five or more people in some stage of formation. These numbers do not reflect the large number of entrants in the 1950s and ’60s, although many people have used this period as a point for comparison.
From our experience as La Salettes: Within the past two years, I have spoken with many men interested in religious life. In fact, last year we had celebrations for an ordination to the priesthood as well as and a brother’s final profession. We have also welcomed three men into our pre-novitiate program.
Myth #2: Most vocations are coming from older/second-career candidates.
Fact: Our study indicates that the average age of men who entered religious life since 1993 was 30. For women the age was 32. The data also shows that 71 percent of those in initial formation are under 40. Although there always has been, and always will be a place for older or second career candidates in religious life, our study results have confirmed what we have tracked in our Vocation Match Annual Trends Survey, which is that an increasing number of younger people are looking at religious life as a possible life option.
From our experience as La Salettes: In the two weekend programs we have offered over the pat two years, the age range has been from 17-52 years of age. Half of our participants have been from 17-30 years of age and then the ages jump to 40-52 years of age. Two of our older candidates were involved in youth ministry programs.
Myth #3: Conservative/traditional communities are the only communities attracting new members.
Fact: Religious institutes that have a focused mission, who live in community, who have regular prayer and sacramental life, and who wear a habit show a higher proportion of newer members. The study indicates that men and women are also drawn to other types of religious life.
From our experience as La Salettes: The candidates for our community mostly seem to be drawn to the La Salette message and our charism of reconciliation. Those who came to our weekend programs often mentioned that they just felt “at home” with us. They mentioned our wonderful hospitality, kindness and spirit of openness that draw them. They do notice that we often wear the La Salette Crucifix as our special sign of commitment. In response to their questions, we have often given them a wooden La Salette Cross as a memento of their visit.
Myth #4: Entering religious life is a last resort.
Fact: New members to religious life report having rich options available to them—in terms of career, education, and personal life choices. Seventy percent of respondents had at least a bachelor’s degree before entering, with one third of these respondents also having degrees in higher education. Nine out of ten respondents said that they were employed prior to entering their institutes.
From our experience as La Salettes: I have found that our inquirers have had careers but many lack a full college education. They will need to finish college and, if they persevere, go onto their theological studies.
Myth #5: Younger religious are not interested in traditional devotional practices.
Fact: Newer members have ranked highly daily Mass as very important to them. Their prayer style also expresses a strong preference for Liturgy of the Hours, faith-sharing, non-liturgical common prayer, Eucharistic adoration, and common rosary and meditation.
From our experience as La Salettes: Over the last two years I have found that our inquirers have a very balanced spirituality and enjoy praying with us as a community.
With all of this in mind, it’s important to remember that we are welcoming our inquirers at an older age. Therefore we welcome their new ideas, new hopes, as well as their faith experiences and talents. All these are most important if they continue their journey of discernment of a vocation to La Salette and our mission of reconciliation.