The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University recently released its annual report on vocations to the religious life. “New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life: The Profession Class of 2014”, which was presented to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in late January, provides a glimpse into the background of the men and women who professed their final vows last year. Sadly, the study also identifies the continued decline of religious life in the post-conciliar era, as nine in ten orders reported zero members professing perpetual vows in 2014.
During the course of their research CARA identified 190 women and men religious professing final vows, with a total of 77 sisters and nuns and 41 brothers completing the survey, representing a response rate of 62 percent. While the survey itself captures data such as ethnicity, educational achievement and private prayer practices, what it reveals about the importance of family for producing vocations is truly eye opening.
More than eight in ten respondents (83 percent) come from families in which both parents are Catholic.
More than one in three (36 percent) of these responding religious have four or more siblings.
CARA also reported similar findings for the 2013 survey. Of the 107 identified women and men religious professing final vows that year, a total of 80 responded to the CARA survey: 69 sisters and nuns and 11 brothers.
Almost eight in ten (77 percent) came from families in which both parents are Catholic.
Additionally, the CARA study found that nearly half (47 percent) of those who professed their final vows in 2013 had four or more siblings.
At a time when the majority of self identified Catholics accept the notion that two kids per household is the ideal, these families of five or more children are irrefutably counter-cultural. However, with over a third of respondents in 2014, and nearly half in 2013, coming from such large families, the facts speak for themselves.
Put simply, the CARA findings repeatedly illustrate the foundational role families play in producing vocations. The importance of both parents being Catholic and open to life cannot be overstated. Where Catholic marriages reject the contraception-crazed culture, families are blessed with children, and the Church with vocations.
When addressing the Directors of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and Italy in January, 1958, Pope Pius XII noted that:
“Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil…
“With good reason, it has often been pointed out that large families have been in the forefront as the cradles of saints. We might cite, among others, the family of St. Louis, the King of France, made up of ten children, that of St. Catherine of Siena who came from a family of twenty-five, St. Robert Bellarmine from a family of twelve, and St. Pius X from a family of ten.”
Addressing the same Association in Rome this past December, Pope Francis noted that:
“The presence of large families is a hope for society…I always thank the Lord in seeing mothers and fathers of large families, together with their children, engaged in the life of the Church…”
Let us hope that, as we move forward, more in the Church will highlight the important role that large families play in producing vocations to the religious life. Any study of the vocations crisis of the past several decades has to include a serious discussion of contraception and its negative impact upon vocations. In the coming years may we see more large families serving as a witness to hope through their self-giving and sacrificial love, and may an abundance of supernatural grace and religious vocations result from their obedience.
(Photo courtesy of the Institute of Christ the King)