I thought I might discuss a few more myths about vocations to religious life that I have run across in my experience as Vocation Director for the La Salette Missionaries. A professional study has listed several myths that are very interesting.
Myth #1: There are fewer religious communities.
Fact: The rise and diminishment of religious institutes has always been part of the continuum of religious life. Once a need is met, unless a community adapts its founding charism to addressing the changing needs in the Church, it is not uncommon for the community to end.
Many congregations today that share a same charism are either consolidating or merging into new religious institutes. One little known fact is that since the end of Vatican II in 1965, approximately 175 newer religious communities have been founded in the United States alone. Some were only short-lived, but others are canonically recognized as religious institutes by the Church today.
From our experience as La Salettes: Our worldwide La Salette community has maintained its numbers for the last 100 years. Of course, our vocational experience is that we are getting very large numbers of applicants from our Provinces in India, Madagascar, Angola and the Philippines. In the United States, in the years 2000 we combined our four provinces in one new province and have recently been blessed with new inquirers. We as La Salettes are constantly updating our ministries in response to the “signs of the times.” We are presently involved in pastoral planning for our province and hope that more men will respond to the call of God to La Salette.
Myth #2: Religious communities are homogeneous and lacking in ethnic and cultural diversity.
Fact: This may have been the case previously, but newer members are definitely changing the face of religious life in this country. Fifty-eight percent of newer religious are white Anglo, compared to 94 percent of the finally professed men and women religious in the US. Nearly 20 percent of newer entrants were born in a country other than the United States. Hispanic/Latino vocations make up 21 per cent of the newer religious while 14 per cent are Asian/Pacific and 6 per cent are African or African American.
From our experience as La Salettes: Our newer inquirers have been from Hispanic, Haitian, Nigerian and Anglo cultures. Of course, we at the National Shrine in Attleboro have gone out of our way to include La Salettes from other cultures, including our Provinces or Regions in Angola, Myanmar and Madagascar.
Myth #3: New members would prefer to live alone.
Fact: Newer members are coming to religious life not just for ministry, but also for common prayer and community living as well. Respondents were much more likely to indicate a preference for living in a large (8 or more) or medium-sized (4 to 7) community than living in a small community and especially living alone. This is especially true of younger members.
From our experience as La Salettes: In the past few year, our aspirants heave definitely express their desire to live in community. The size of our communities has not been an issue.
Myth #4: New members want to live with younger members.
Fact: Although having a peer group of their age cohort is extremely important to younger members, the evidence shows an extremely high percentage (93) of newer members who prefer to live in community with people of different ages. In addition, newer members also show a preference for living with people of different cultures and who do different ministries.
From our experience as La Salettes: Our own expectation of our inquirers initially was that they would not want to live with people who are older. However our real experience has been that they say that age simply doesn’t matter. They see in our older members a rich history of faith and years of experience in the ministry. All this they appreciated as a gift as well as a challenge and model for them to keep growing in their faith, as these older La Salettes have already done.
Myth #5: New members are drawn to the ministries of a community.
Fact: Newer members indicate that they are drawn to religious life because of the example of the members, the spirituality, prayer life, community life, and mission of the institute. In fact, more than half of the newer members surveyed indicate that they were previously involved in either some liturgical ministry or other volunteer work in a parish or other setting. Since newer members were already previously involved in some type of ministry, clearly, they are coming to religious life not just for ministry—they are coming for a way of life that is different from what they were living before.
From our experience as La Salettes: As La Salettes, our aspirants do come to be a part of our reconciliation ministry because they have already been involved in ministry elsewhere and have enjoyed it so much. However they do expect that their new life within community will help to sustain, strengthen and encourage them to be good La Salettes. For them, community supports ministry. They are complementary and both essential to their life as La Salettes.
I believe that our community is very much alive and well and will continue to live and spread the message of Mary to all God’s people.