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Looking for Nuns in All the Right Places

In recent weeks we have offered some commentary on the February 2, 2011 CARA report on the profession class of 2010.

Today at the National Catholic Register blog, Tim Drake offers additional commentary on the report. 

Drake cites one Church source, corroborated by other studies, who says that the CARA report ignores the ‘elephant in the room,’ namely, “the rather obvious fact that religious communities that preserve traditional elements such as the habit, common prayer, communal life, focused apostolates, and strong affirmation of Church teaching, are doing well in comparison to orders that do not.”

Drake also notes that the CARA report does not examine the difference in those joining orders associated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) versus those joining the smaller Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). A 2009 study showed that just 1% of religious orders associated with the LCWR have more than 10 women in the process of joining, whereas among the CMSWR, 28% reported having 10 or more candidates.

Cardinal Rode Concerned About Secularization of Religious Communities

Cardinal Franc Rode

Religious orders face continued pressures to “secularize,” and this threatens their identities and their mission in the world. This is according to Cardinal Franc Rode, who is stepping down as head of the Vatican office on religious life (officially known as the “Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life“).

Cardinal Rode made these remarks in an interview last week with Vatican Radio as reported by the Catholic News Agency/EWTN News. This is a recurring theme, as he has cited the influence of secularism as well as feminism as reasons for the recent apostolic visitation of U.S. religious sisters.

While affirming the “spiritual liveliness and missionary dynamism” of religious communities throughout the Church’s history, he candidly admitted the challenges they face in today’s world. “Religious life is in difficulty today and this must be recognized,” he noted.

He is especially concerned that works of charity have frequently degenerated into mere social work, which he said causes harm to the proclamation of the Gospel. When that happens, communities pursue “a society of well-being” here and now, rather than questions of eternity.

While there are signs of secularization everywhere, Cardinal Rode said that they are most prominent in the West.

At the same time, Cardinal Rode expressed his confidence in the new religious communities springing up in places such as France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Peru, and the U.S. which are “surging against the spirit of secularism.”

“These communities give great importance to prayer and to the fraternal life lived in community; they insist on poverty and obedience: all take the religious habit, a visible sign of their consecration,” he explained.

“[They] call man to his transcendent destiny and constitute a force of renewal, of which the Church has a great need.”

Vocations Are Habit-Forming!

Religious habits are making something of a comeback these days. Check out this recent article entitled, “Younger Catholic Women Get into the Habit,” which discusses how the Nashville Dominicans have been able to attract new members under the age of 30.

They were also featured last December in this NPR story, which connected their traditional habit to their appeal to young women today.

Similarly, last week the online edition of Catholic San Francisco published “‘Oprah nuns,’ a fast-growing teaching order, expanding to California.” This piece, profiling the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, also highlights the significance of the religious habit in the new wave of religious vocations.

The religious habit is a topic to which we will return often in this blog. Today, I would like to share this brief reflection on the religious habit from Sr. Maria Pacis of the Dominican Sisters of Mary:

“Each day, as I don the Dominican habit, I am struck by the symbolism associated with each part of the habit. Each piece has ‘attached’ to it a virtue in which I daily strive to grow: charity; purity of heart, mind, and intention; obedience; perseverence; and finally devotion to Jesus, Mary, and St. Dominic. It is an ever-present reminder to me and to my dear Sisters that we are all Brides of Christ.” 

Sister’s uplifting comments bring to mind St. Paul’s description in Ephesians 6:10-17 of the holy attire that all Christians must put on as they prepare for spiritual  battle.