Survey: parents discourage daughters from religious vocations

Survey: parents discourage daughters from religious vocations February 9, 2011

That, according to sisters who took vows last year.


If she had listened to her parents, Sister Jenn Graus might never have professed vows last month to join the Congregation of St. Joseph.

Though lifelong Catholics, Graus’ parents had met few nuns or sisters near their home in Sterling Heights, Mich., and assumed most were cloistered in remote convents.

They were uneasy when Graus, 27, told them about her religious calling. Would they ever see her again? Would the college education they scrimped and saved for go to waste?

“They had to overcome a lot of apprehension,” Graus said. Gradually, her parents warmed to her vocational aspirations after Graus told them that, yes, she would be allowed to visit home, and no, she would not have to give up her teaching career.

Communities of nuns and sisters in the U.S. are weathering a season of demographic decline with far-reaching consequences for the country’s vast network of Catholic schools, hospitals and social services.

But as Catholic leaders try to convince more young women like Graus to dedicate their lives to the church, recent surveys suggest that a big obstacle may lie surprisingly close to home.

More than half of the women who professed final vows to join a religious order in 2010 said a parent or family member had discouraged their religious calling, according to a survey conducted by Georgetown University‘s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Only 26% of the surveyed sisters said their mother encouraged them to consider religious life, and just 16% said their father cheered their choice, according to the report, which was released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Feb. 2.

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9 responses to “Survey: parents discourage daughters from religious vocations”

  1. This is really a shame, because nuns are needed more than ever.

    We need schools, hospitals and social service institutions whose activity is based not on vaguely philanthropic secularized ideals, but flow from a concrete experience of the Lord’s love, which He commanded be announced to His least. I see the the lack of vocations rooted in selfishness, and selfishness has deep moral consequences that affect society at its roots.

    In short, we need heroes, and heroes are nothing more than ordinary people that happen to be willing to step up to the plate.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to preach… but this is something we should all feel strongly about.

  2. I have to imagine that the sense of entitlement to grandchildren must also play into the mix. The demographic issue in religious vocations has a lot to do with the demographic issues in Catholic families.

    When you only have one, two or three children, and one of them chooses a life of celibacy, there are aspiring grandparents who feel threatened by that choice, as though they are somehow incomplete without grandchildren.

    That’s easy for me to say at my age, but I think it certainly bears further examination of our conscience as parents.

  3. Well, considering many an order of nun went rogue from “the spirit of Vatican II”, maybe it’s a bit of a blessing. Those orders should die out a bit, and then 10-20 years down the road the orthodox, traditional orders will be all that remain and the focus should be on promoting those orders.

    Mind you, our secular “you need lots of money” culture and our religiously apathetic parental generation really should be to blame for declining vocations. If it weren’t for World Youth Days who knows where we’d be.

  4. I have to imagine that the sense of entitlement to grandchildren must also play into the mix.

    Agreed, as does apprehension about who’ll look after them when they’re old and feeble.

    An unmentioned culprit behind all of this is contraception: Catholic parents who used contraception decades ago have unnaturally reduced the number of their (living) children. Having refused the gift of life, they’re now distressed at missing out on its joys. Parents who’ve generously forgone the selfish and unnatural choice of contraception usually have more children and are less distressed to see some responding to a religious vocation.

  5. This is so sad. Vocations begin at home. I have two daughters. Both my wife and I have spoken to them about religious life. We would be beside ourselves with joy should either or both of our daughters chose consecrated life.

  6. I’m from a non-Catholic household and initially there was major opposition to my vocation (I’ve been accepted into an order and entrance is pending the alleviation of my student loans). Now both of my parents have come around to support me, in so much as I’m their daughter and they love me. But there’s still that passive opposition.

    It’s a reality of most discerning young women these days. And it can be a tough battle. But I also think that it has the potential of strengthening the vocation.

  7. This is not only true of religious women, but of men as well. I don’t know about diocesan seminarians, but I know that many of the brothers studying for the priesthood in our Order — or at least in our province — were discouraged from entering religious life for a variety of reasons, whether it was an issue of having grandchildren, an only son, or the thought that they would never again visit home.

    When I talk to parents about vocations, I mention the fact that when we pray for vocations, it does not simply mean little Johnny or Jane in the next pew, but your own son or daughter. Some smile, a lot don’t.

  8. Truthfully, there was a time when when I might have discouraged my daughter from a vocation to a religious life (not that an aspiring fashion designer would likely take that route!)…but after seeing such joyful women in some of the newer orders, like the one seen on Oprah… I would be happy to.

  9. Obviously I’m not Catholic, but I can understand parents being hesitant about their daughters going into a religious order, for many reasons, one of which would be the desire to have that daughter marry and have a child. I taught in a RC school and 2 of the teachers were former nuns—one had left because she wanted to marry a man she met when he came to the convent to visit his sister(biological), which she did and had a daughter and is still married and the other decided she wanted to have control of her own money and life. Both are still Catholic. In fact the head of Catholic Schools in the city I taught in was a nun, and had been for at least 30 years, and left the order while I was still teaching. She did keep her position as the Catholic school superintendent, however—she just wasn’t Sister Mary any more, just Ms. whatever. So if some of these young women decide they really aren’t happy in the religious life, they can leave—even 30 years later!

    It is a big decision, and I would hope that the young women (and men) think long and hard about entering the religious life.

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