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Typical new US nun: 39-year-old who prays Rosary, comes from large family

April 06, 2012

The typical woman religious who professed perpetual vows in 2011 is a 39-year-old cradle Catholic who prayed the Rosary and participated in retreats and Eucharistic adoration before entering religious life, according to a survey released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

464 (57%) of the major superiors of US women religious responded to the survey, which was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). In addition, CARA surveyed religious institutes of men; the 75% of institutes that responded reported that a total of eight men professed perpetual vows as brothers in 2011. (Men studying for the priesthood were not surveyed.)

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 42% of newly-professed men and women religious came from families with four or more siblings, while another 13% came from families with three siblings; remarkably, none of the 75 women religious or eight religious brothers was an only child
  • 5% of the newly professed women religious are converts, typically at age 22
  • 79% of the newly professed women religious reported that both parents are Catholic, while 42% say they had a relative who was a priest or religious
  • 66% are white, while 17% are Asian and 10% are Hispanic
  • 70% were born in the US, with foreign-born nuns most commonly born in Vietnam, Philippines, India, or another Asian country; the typical newly professed woman foreign-born religious entered the US in 2000
  • 48% attended a Catholic elementary school, while only 25% attended a Catholic college
  • though the newly professed were educated at a time when fewer than 1% of Americans were home schooled, the survey found that “3% of responding religious report being home schooled at some time in their educational background (although none of the brothers report this)”
  • 56% of newly professed women religious have at least a bachelor’s degree
  • 14% participated in one of the World Youth Days, and 13% participated in a Franciscan University of Steubenville conference as a high school student
  • 67% of the newly professed had attended a retreat before entering religious life, 65% regularly prayed the Rosary, and 60% regularly took part in Eucharistic adoration
  • the typical newly professed woman religious began to consider a religious vocation at the age of 19 and was familiar with her institute for two years before entrance
  • 37% reported that a parent or family member discouraged them from entering religious life; 25% report they were discouraged from entering religious life by their mother, while 14% were discouraged from doing so by their father
  • 48% say they were encouraged by a religious sister to consider religious life, 38% by a friend, and 32% by a parish priest; 18% said their mother encouraged them to consider a religious vocation, and an even smaller 7% said their father encouraged them to consider a vocation


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