Action Alert!

success redefined

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 11, 2009

Sister Anne Doyle, RSM, is stepping down after a 4-year term as head of Vocations Ireland. She recognizes that the number of religious vocations during those years has not been great-- certainly not in comparison with the numbers a generation ago.

The big numbers are over and gone and maybe it was never about numbers.

Well, yes, of course. Numbers aren’t everything. Better a handful of truly zealous religious than a horde of mediocrities. But zeal is hard to measure, whereas numbers allow for easy comparisons. If you don’t focus on the numbers you need some other means of measuring your effectiveness, so that you know whether or not you’re headed in the right direction. Sister Doyle has found such a measure. She speaks of “the vibrancy of Vocations Ireland and amongst vocations directors, despite the fact that people mightn’t have been entering.”

Prescinding from the use of the word “vibrancy” (which is a dead giveaway), let’s stipulate that the vocations directors with whom Sister Doyle has been working are excited. That’s good. But whatever they’re excited about, they haven’t been able to transmit that excitement to many young people. That doesn’t mean they’re failures, or that they’re going about their business in the wrong way. There could be many other reasons for the failure to recruit large numbers of religious vocations, and heaven knows that Ireland today is a tough territory. But if it’s dangerous to rely solely on numbers to define success, it’s even more dangerous to rely solely on the subjective feelings of the people whose success we’re trying to measure. I may feel exhilarated as I play a Chopin waltz. That doesn’t mean anyone would want to listen.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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