Let's Face the Truth

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Let's just admit something straight up - Sisters are getting older. The average age of the majority of religious communities is increasing, rather than decreasing. Convents are closing, schools and hospitals are being turned over to lay leadership - there's simply not enough Sisters to go around anymore.

Recently, there's been a lot of discussion about this very topic in our Province and, while it can be distressing for someone younger, it has been very healthy to talk about it and admit to the truth.

Taken at a discernment retreat a few years ago
Meg (now Sr Meg, who just finished Seminary), Sister Liz
and Whitney, my fellow postulant
Yet I'm still here.
Yet my fellow postulant, also a twenty-something, is still here.
Yet our Seminary Sisters (novices) are still here.
Yet our younger Sisters are still here.

There's something bigger than us that's calling us, no matter the average age of the Sisters in the community. Our groups aren't as big as they were in the 1950s or 1960s but we're still coming. God is still calling.

But why? For me, a postulant still trying to figure things out, the answer is a bit complicated. The average age of the members of the first community I joined was decades younger than the Daughters of Charity. There, most of the professed Sisters were twenty-somethings, yet I didn't stay.

I was drawn to the Daughters by their Vincentian spirituality, their love for the poor, their down-to-earthness (is that a word?) and the Sisters themselves. I felt the Daughters of Charity exemplified all I wanted to be and all I already am. So I dived in and joined and I've never thought of leaving because the Sisters are older than me.

Discerners - don't be afraid to just dive in. Worry more about God's calling than the average age of a community. In the end, it doesn't matter. What matters is your joy and peace with them and their spirituality. Just follow God's call, don't worry about the rest.

Sisters - don't be ashamed of your average age. If you and your religious community are living the Gospel, young people will come. There may be less than before, but God is still calling us. And we're willing to listen to you and soak in your wisdom. Some of the best discernment advice has been from our Sisters in the retirement Villa.

Others - don't believe for a second that just because a community gets lots of young vocations, it's better. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with those communities. You can praise those communities who get lots of young vocations...but also praise those that don't. (By the way, did you know, the retention rate of postulants/novices is the same for both?) You want to encourage vocations, but by bad-mouthing the ones getting older, you're discouraging what you would actually love to see - young women following God's call.

That isn't to say that religious communities shouldn't plan accordingly (close missions, spread out Sisters, etc) because of the smaller groups of new vocations. In fact, it is very important that they do. But rather this blog post is to say don't lose hope, there are still some of us out there, maybe even more than we know.

(As a sidenote, then again, I am also speaking as a postulant of a very very large religious community all over the world. Counting the whole world, not just the US, our average age is in the 30s. Yet I know others - other twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings - that aren't part of a community like that but joined anyway.)


  1. Amanda, Thank you! I am a forty-something who has been a witness to many of our sisters struggling with the median age for twenty years. I, too, have struggled at times. And yes, what I have learned is to keep my eyes on Jesus and pay close attention. Being a woman religious has brought me great joy; I hope I have been able to spread it with the love I know.

  2. As a discerner in my early 20's I really appreciate your reflections here. I recently heard another reflection on the same topic and the speaker was reflecting upon pruning that God carries out upon the vine so that it "may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:2). While vocations might seem non-existent as the number of religious will become fewer and fewer in the years immediately ahead a thousand years to us are as one day to God. The vine is being cut back, but only so that it might bear more fruit in the future and while we might not live to see the new fruit that the vine will yield in the future we know that God is good and that God is still calling laborers to enter into the harvest.

  3. Thank you! We, young women religious, need to stop apologizing for the ages of our communities - we are rich in experience, in love, in community, in prayer, and in a treasury of good works!

  4. I think there is a challenge for religious reaching a normal retiral age - 60-65 as they are not so able to grow old in communities as there are a substantial number of older sisters. Also the declining number of younger people choosing to commit their lives into groups of aging women, however admirable.
    With changes to the English education system students having to take on substantial loans to get through university, I would think that there will be fewer well-educated candidates around which will change the balance of groups. Although the plus side is there are many ways to get an education nowadays.
    The downside is younger religious could find themselves becoming more out of touch with other young people sharing a similar motivation.
    There are ups and downs in every walk of life and one has to continue to discern a personal vocation carefully over time.

  5. Thank you for this. I'm in my mid 20s and am discerning with a community who's median age is significantly older. It was good to be reminded that God is still calling. Sometimes I wish that I felt called somewhere where more sisters were around my age, but I'm not. "My" community speaks to my heart and I must follow God's call for me because I know it to be true.


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