Jo Piazza: This was a bad week to be a small survey on women religious, what with prime news real estate being filled with Egyptian unrest, Hollywood rehab and a snowpocalypse of epic proportions blanketing the Midwest.
But a small survey on women religious was indeed released this week, on Groundhog Day (better known in some circles as Church’s World Day for Consecrated Life), by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Georgetown-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
The survey gave a general overview of the women who professed their perpetual vows in religious life (became full-fledged sisters) in 2010 and was the first of its kind to evaluate a single year’s class of entering nuns. Of the 63% of orders who responded to the survey only 79 women took their final vows in the past year.
Despite the lack of full participation from every order in America, it is unlikely that the total number of new sisters this year was much higher than that.
Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, a senior research associate at CARA, said that the bulk of larger communities responded to the survey and the smaller contemplative communities who did not respond rarely have new members.
They may be small in size, but according to CARA’s stats the new lady religious are indeed a few good women. Of the women religious who responded, 68 of the 79 are highly educated. A quarter earned a graduate degree before entering their religious institute and six in ten entered their religious institute with at least a bachelor’s degree or more.
They’re also older than you may imagine. The average age of responding women religious of the Profession Class of 2010 is 43.
The survey’s findings go on for 23 pages and include all sorts of delightful tidbits about the class of 2010 — including the fact that 66% of respondents said they were discouraged from entering the vocation — but the most interesting part of this survey is that it fell on deaf ears.
During a time when American nuns are under the most intense investigation the Vatican has ever taken of women in religious life in modern times, it is interesting that the secular media doesn’t seem to care about the women who are choosing to enter this embattled profession. A quick nexis search of 2010 and “women religious” of general news sources found that two outlets, both newswires, reported on the survey. An online search of both The New York Times and The Washington Post revealed no mention of the survey.
Walsh wasn’t surprised or particularly perturbed. “This isn’t something that is of interest to the mainstream press,” she told us matter-of-factly.
The Catholic mainstream press slowly began picking up on the story on Friday.
“We did a tweet on it,” Walsh told us. “We’ll see what happens.”