The Future of Religious Orders in the United States: Transformation and Commitment

The Future of Religious Orders in the United States: Transformation and Commitment

The Future of Religious Orders in the United States: Transformation and Commitment

The Future of Religious Orders in the United States: Transformation and Commitment

Synopsis

For religious orders to continue as a vital force in the Catholic Church, in the United States, and in the world, they must change in dramatic and significant ways. Fidelity to the mission of the founder and responsiveness to critical and unmet human needs are fundamental to the ongoing mission of religious orders. New forms of poverty and the genuine opportunity to serve new and emerging groups of those most in need certainly challenge the ability of any single group to respond in today's world. Since the Second Vatican Council, the changes in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States have effected the way members of religious orders live and work more thoroughly than any other single population. According to National Catholic Reporter, this comprehensive three-year study, which was funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., is one of the most significant occurrances within the Catholic Church since that Council was convened almost 30 years ago.

Excerpt

The changes that have occurred in religious orders in the United States since Vatican Council ii opened in 1962 have been dramatic, affecting the manner in which the members live and work as they carry on sometimes centuries-old traditions of caring for those most in need. This study provides a perspective on the lives of more than 121,000 sisters, brothers and religious priests, as reflected through various social scientific methods. Its purpose was to identify the changes that must yet occur if the religious order is to remain a vital social institution in American society and the Catholic Church into the next millennium.

The study emerges at a time when the average age of the members of many congregations in the United States approaches 67 years of age for women and 60 years of age for men while, over the period ranging from 1962 to 1992, the number of members in Roman Catholic religious orders has decreased by nearly 43% for brothers and sisters and 18% for religious priests. This decline corresponds with a comparable decline in Roman Catholic health, education and social service institutions. For instance, during that time period, the number of Roman Catholic hospitals decreased by 23%, universities and colleges by 15% and private elementary schools by nearly 42%. (Both population statistics and Roman Catholic institutional demographics are elaborated in Appendix A.) the current trend of decline is itself not the focus of the study. Rather, the intention was to focus on the future of these orders and their robust histories in order to shape a perspective for the American public and for religious audiences, which will be most affected if this decline continues.

Surely, those who began to implement the changes some 30 years ago had a vision of what religious orders could become. However, the course of renewal has faced more challenges than were expected. Many of the changes appear less chosen than required in light of diminished resources. To develop new perspectives on this unique call requires courage and energy from those . . .

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