Sisters turn to the Internet for vocations

This being Vocation Sunday, it’s a good time to look at a vocation that is really struggling, religious sisters.  How can they attract new recruits?

Here’s one answer:

When Sister Elaine Lachance devoted herself to a religious life straight out of high school in 1959, her religious order had more than a dozen convents in the U.S. with nearly 260 sisters.

Today, the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, based in Canada, has just five convents in Maine and Massachusetts with 56 sisters. The youngest is 64 years old, and it’s been more than 20 years since a new member joined.

Rather than leave the future of the convents to prayer and chance, Lachance has turned to the Internet. She’s using social media and blogging to attract women who feel the calling to serve God and their community.

She says she had her awkward moments when she began using Facebook and writing blog posts.

“But I knew I had to go there, that I had to do it,” said Lachance, who turned 70 on Sunday. “You have to go where the young people are. And that’s where they are.”

The number of nuns and sisters has plunged through the decades as more career opportunities for women opened, parochial schools closed and sisterhood became less visible. Generally, a nun lives a cloistered, contemplative life in a monastery, while sisters live and work within their communities.

In the U.S., the count has fallen from about 180,000 in 1965 to 55,000 last year, a drop of nearly 70 percent, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. In 2009, their median age was 73, with 91 percent of them 60 and older.

At one time, women would join the sisterhood through word of mouth or their personal interactions with sisters, said Lachance, vocation director for the Good Shepherd Sisters. But now, many younger women aren’t even aware it’s a choice.

For years, Lachance has visited Catholic schools, placed ads in religious publications and attended job fairs to recruit sisters. She’s still doing those things, but she has also turned to Facebook, her blog and YouTube. The order also updated its website and hired a public relations company.

It’s hard to sell somebody on committing to a religious life, with its vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, in today’s world of slick technology, fast cash and material goods, Sister Dorina Chasse said on a recent day at St. Joseph Convent, a home along the Saco River in Biddeford where elderly and sick sisters are taken care of.

“It’s hard for them to leave that,” Chasse said.

Still, there’s been an uptick among women showing an interest in pursuing a religious life, said Patrice Tuohy of the National Religious Vocation Council, a Chicago-based group representing vocation directors for religious organizations.

The NRVC launched a website called seven years ago that links young people interested in leading religious lives to religious communities. The site gets about 6,000 inquiries a year.

The Internet is useful for such questions because it offers instant information and is anonymous, Tuohy said.

“For a 20-year-old to think about joining a religious community is an unusual decision, not to mention countercultural,” she said. “Someone who’s thinking about taking a vow of poverty and chastity goes counter to a culture that promotes sex and money and power.”

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  1. I doubt that it is very attractive for women to accept not only second class status in the church, but in light of the recent Vatican attack by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, as well waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Inquisition by the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, many would argue that the hierarchy view women religious with contempt. It is appalling that any bishop would accept the position to become their new bosses. it reminds me of during Watergate, when persons of conscience resigned rather than fire the independent prosecutor, but among those in top offices at the Justice department, only Robert Bork would do the firing. Women should be fully integrated in all orders of the church, priesthood and diaconate. Washington Theological Union would not be closing down soon if its majority female student body could be ordained.
    In other words, the “vocations crises” is a manufactured crises, caused by poor doctrine and policy of the sexist male hierarchy.

  2. Get real Peter. Your comment is so inane I can’t even begin to comment. Sounds pretty petty and juvenile.

  3. Barbara P. says:

    I think the Church has not yet come to a fullness of understanding of the role of women in the Church. Certainly we should look to Mary – Mary who was given a choice by God and activley chose to do God’s Will but was not directed to do anything -Mary who brought about the start of Jesus’ public ministry by asking him to work a miracle at Cana and appeared to be the first to understand that the time had come for Jesus’ public ministry to start – Mary who was given the Church by Jesus from the Cross and told to be its Mother. I think in God’s time and according to God’s Will, the role of women will change and women will find a place in the hierarchy and within the dogmatic authority of the Church. The status quo is not sustainable. However, the most important thing is that the Gospel message be spread and the faith of the Church passed on from generation to generation.

  4. Steve Newark says:

    To imply that all Nuns wish to be Priests is an insult to those women.

  5. Barbara P says:

    I do t think anyone implied that here.

  6. While technology is great at getting the word out, communities have to have something worth while to promote.

    If the congregation is promoting commity life, prayer, sacrifice, a visible sign (habit) and vows that really mean something then I don’t see why they wouldn’t have vocations. Technology won’t do it on it’s own.

  7. If Sisters have abandoned community life, prayer, a distinct apostolate and a visible sign of consecration why would anyone want to join them? What is different about them than living a devout life as a laywoman? If orders die out it is because no one knows them. Most orders drew tremendous numbers of vocations from the schools in which they taught. They are no longer in the classrooms so their exposure in quite limited. Note why the LCWR is being looked at.
    The orders that have maintained a religious life are attracting members, for many others we are witnessing a long, long wake.Very sad.

  8. midwestlady says:

    How can they attract new recruits? That’s an easy one.
    They need to study those orders that are getting recruits, of course: Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration and so on.

    Most young Catholic women aren’t going to give their lives in dedication for “moving beyond Jesus” programs and “Conscious Evolution” fads. They want Christ; they want solid rules and apostolates; they want real community life. They’re looking for Catholic authenticity. Give them that and they will come.

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