WASHINGTON – The Catholic Church held its annual celebration of World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life on February 2, and parishes commemorated the event over the weekend of February 5-6. This is always a special time for individual parishes to celebrate the gift of consecrated life and pray for men and women discerning a consecrated vocation with the global Catholic Church.
Instituted by St. John Paul II in 1997, World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life is celebrated in conjunction with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas Day, which commemorates through the blessing and lighting of candles that Christ is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.
Those who live the consecrated life often feel called to a different charism than diocesan priesthood. Both diocesan priesthood and consecrated life are necessary for building the life of the Church, though they accomplish this in different ways. Some consecrated men and women feel called to missionary work beyond their geographic region, some feel called to lives of extreme poverty or seclusion. Consecrated men and women include religious priests, brothers, sisters, nuns and monks from numerous orders, some well-known, others less familiar. Consecrated virgins also serve God and others, even while living in the world.
Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations spoke of how the example of consecrated men and women should spur all of the faithful on to greater holiness. “With lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience, consecrated men and women provide us with an example of complete dedication to Christ. They remind us that regardless of the vocation the Lord calls us to, we are all called to union with Christ and to do our part to build up the kingdom of God.”
As it does every year, the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate to conduct a survey of the religious Profession Class of 2021. The survey polled women and men religious who professed perpetual vows in 2021 in a religious congregation, province, or monastery based in the U.S. CARA received a response from 547 of 742 major superiors for an overall response rate of 74% among religious institutes. Of the 182 identified men and women religious who professed perpetual vows in 2021, 62 sisters and nuns and 60 brothers and priests responded to the survey for an overall response rate of 67%.
Some of the major findings and highlights of the report are:
• On average, responding religious report that they were 19 years old when they first considered a vocation to religious life.
• The average age of responding religious of the Profession Class of 2021 was 37. Half of the responding religious were age 34 or younger. The youngest was 24 and the oldest was 70.
• Three-fourths of responding religious (76%) were born in the United States. Of those born outside the United States, the most common countries of origin are Vietnam and the Philippines (five religious from each).
• Nine in 10 (86%) responding religious reported that someone encouraged them to consider a vocation to religious life. Men are more likely than women to be encouraged by a parish priest, friend, mother and parishioner.
• The Profession Class of 2021 is highly educated. Two in ten responding religious earned a graduate degree before entering their religious institute. Seven in 10 (70%) entered their religious institute with at least a bachelor’s degree (63% for women and 77% for men).
• Four in five (80%) participated in one or more religious programs or activities before entering their religious institute. Two-fifths of respondents (39%) participated in youth ministry or youth group. Three-tenths participated in young adult ministry or group (33%) and Catholic campus ministry/Newman Center (30%). One in five (18%) participated in a World Youth Day prior to entering their religious institute.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is home to hundreds of religious men and women from around 20 different orders, including the Congregation of Holy Cross; the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ; the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration and many others. Some of these priests pastor local parishes. The diocese is also home to two consecrated virgins and a small community of cloistered nuns, the Poor Sisters of St. Clare.
Sometimes women can feel overlooked when it comes to their discernment process. That is why the diocese has resources in place to encourage women to pursue their vocations, similar to the ones for men discerning priesthood. Jessica Hayes, OV, has been appointed as advisor for vocations to the consecrated life, and posters encouraging faithful Catholics to pray for women in formation for the consecrated life are displayed throughout the diocese.
Some of these women have been called to orders outside the geographic boundaries of the diocese, such as Sister Mary Vianney Lyon, in formation with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Sister Lucia Marie Langford, OP at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey.
Though there is much joy to be found in consecrated life, like every vocation, there are always challenges. Those called to this way of life can certainly benefit from the prayers of the faithful laity to aid in their spiritual battles, as many great religious saints also faced.
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