Declining number of U.S. nuns, even among traditional orders, charted in new study

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Nuns in St Peter's Square wait to find out whether the College of Cardinals have elected a new pope on March 12, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Nuns in St Peter's Square wait to find out whether the College of Cardinals have elected a new pope on March 12, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

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(RNS) The more liberal, socially active communities of sisters are drawing about the same number of new entrants as the more conservative, tradition-minded communities: very few.

  • This is great news. Totally makes my day!
    Congratulations to the women who have abandoned this nunsense.

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  • philip

    Dear David Gibson, Thank you very much for writing this article. Many things have contributed to the decline of nuns in the Catholic church. First I would like to say “Thanks!” to all those who have served. Few people today would know the dedication, the education, and the sacrifice these women made to serve God. When I think “Nun”, I see a teacher, not just of religious education, but of one of the best educations one could get at a parochial school. When I think of Nuns, I think of the nurses who served in the Catholic hospitals caring for patients, whether they were Catholic or not. When I think of Nuns, I think of all the women who gave their lives to fight social injustice, economic injustice in the poorest cities of our nation. They did all that for low pay and very little thanks, if any.
    The Catholic Church decline started with Vatican II. I posed this question to a priest on national radio. The commentator of the show mocked me by saying,”The caller doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Off air, the well-known priest said that I was correct. What came out of Vatican II was either not implemented, or ignored, or was met with Catholic anarchy among the United States Bishops.
    The Catholic Nuns organization suffered tremendously from the Church’s overall decline. When Rome said that the Nuns had the option of wearing civilian clothes, their marketing, their stature, their reverence, their respect of appearance ( which they stripped away themselves), hastened their decline greatly.
    Today you can see an elderly nun in a muu muu and not know that she is a nun, rather than just a fat, old lady! Imagine if Catholic priests ran around wearing Hawaiian shirts, bermuda shorts, Ray Ban sunglasses, and Nike tennis shoes. In Business, make no mistake, the Church is a business, this look would not garnish respect, admiration, or intelligence !
    When children are growing up, they look for heroes. Believe it or not, our heroes come in costumes or,better put, uniforms. Whether it’s a soldier, policeman, fireman, nurse, even a geek engineer, doctor, priest. Today, who are girls looking up to? An ordinary woman, wearing ordinary clothes, that distinguishes her from nobody. A hero she does not make. It’s sad but true; it’s not what is in your brain, it’s not what is in your heart. The first impression is of what you look like.
    Will this solve the nuns and the Catholic Church’s problem? No, the nuns have been liberated, even if they become the last of their breed. God bless them for all the work they have done and they continue to do.
    Yours truly, Philip

  • Philip,

    “just a fat, old lady!”


    “It’s sad but true; it’s not what is in your brain, it’s not what is in your heart. The first impression is of what you look like.”

    Did the same person say those two things?
    Glad to know you don’t mind fat ladies as long as they are actually fat nuns.
    But only if they wear the appropriate habit?

  • Kimiko Shoda

    Though I am a young Catholic of only 22, I am very devoted to the traditional Latin Mass and all the devotions of our Faith. So are many young Catholics I know. So it comes no surprise that there is an attraction among young girls to communities of nuns that still wear the traditional habits. I live within 10 miles of 4 large convents of nuns in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, each of which in the 1950’s and very early 1960’s (up to 1963-64), had 75-125 girls enter to become sisters every year! This is when they were traditional and wore the traditional habits. Since the early 1970’s, none of these convents/Orders wear the habit. They are very radical liberal groups. But they have lost hundreds of their members, have a median age of 76, and average perhaps(if they are lucky), 1-2 interested girls entering per year. They have withdrawn from area hospitals and schools. Most are retired.
    But, on the other hand, I can count at least 6 Orders which wear a very traditional habit…including the old fashioned 1950’s nuns habits, which have an adequate number of girls entering each year (between 10-25). Sadly, thanks to the Catholic Church of Vatican II, I don’t think Orders will ever see numbers of 75-100 entering per year again….not unless we went back to the Latin Mass and Catholic tradition. And that goes for seminaries for the training of priests too!!

  • Fellow Athiest

    EHHHHH I see what you did there mate bravo

  • J_Bob

    If the Traditional Orders (which are fewer in number) are drawing the same amount of recruits, then the Non-Traditional (with larger numbers), then the math would mean the Traditional orders are growing significantly faster.

  • BeamMeUp

    They’re not in the HABIT anymore of being nuns (don’t tell me you didn’t see that pun coming).

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  • Anthony Hulse

    Religious life changes over time: for instance there were 1,200 years when the Franciscan Orders didn’t exist!

    The spirituality of Francis sprang up as the cities were developing. Prior to that there were huge and powerful monasteries, which went into decline as cities grew strong.

    Religious life changes as society changes.

    A new model is probably brewing as we speak.

  • Brad

    Ah, the heathen comes out from under his rock to troll; we’re surprised. But yes, in this, your religion seems to be taking over.

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  • Denise

    Bravo Max!!!!!!

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  • Dr. Phil

    I recently learned that the large numbers of religious that came into existence after WWI and WWII are the exception – not the norm – as to religious numbers over history. In other words, the large numbers of nuns/sisters that appeared in the 1960’s was the historical exception, not the norm.
    Thus, if we look at the historical trends (combined with the lessening of religious influence in America) it is understandable that the large orders of Catholic sisters in the 1960’s would eventually change.

  • George Waite

    You’d think that the writer had taken some statistics in college, but no.
    If the same number of people are joining two different groups, one much larger than the other, the smaller group has a higher percentage of new members; it’s safe to say that it’s probably growing faster than the larger group.
    Either oblivious to basic statistical analysis or dishonestly hoping that nobody would notice and would want to agree with him, for whatever reason the agenda of the day demands.

  • midwestlady

    Did you even read the article? All the data they have contradicts what you say.

  • After going to Catholic school and seeing how these “liberated” sisters verbally and psychologically bully and abuse anybody who crosses them (so motherly and relational!) , it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this was going on. I’m willing to bet that the sexual abuse is far worse in some cases than what most priests have done. The Holy Father is right on about the rot and filth in the Church, and I really feel so far we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg when it comes it.

  • Globally, the number of nuns also is declining, but not nearly as fast as it is in the U.S.Nuns also face a big challenge in their dwindling ranks. The total number of nuns, also called religious sisters, in the United States

  • Daylily

    From the report linked above:
    A number of stories in the popular press have made the claim that the more traditionalist institutes (e.g., those wearing a full traditional habit) are growing, while those institutes that do not wear a traditional habit are declining. However, as Johnson, Wittberg, and Gautier report “The reality of the situation is that an almost equal percentage of LCWR [Leadership Conference of Women Religious] and CMSWR [Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious] institutes have no one at all in formation at the present time (32 percent and 27 percent, respectively). One of the most striking findings regarding new entrants is that almost equal numbers of women have been attracted to institutes in both conferences in recent years.”
    (pp. 20-21). The reality that these OCD data disclose is that nine in
    ten institutes follow the trend line shown above while one in ten have
    defied that trend.

  • Daniel Connelly

    A few more numbers and a little math.
    When the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious broke away from the LCWR in the mid-1990s there were approximately 90,000 LCWR to the 10,000 new Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Today there are approximately 38,000 LCWR (aging and shrinking) to about 12,000 Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (younger and growing). The Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious went from 10% of the total to 24% in one generation. If All stays on course,the LCWR will be at 16,000 on one more generation with only a thousand or so taking care of the rest in nursing homes. The Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious will be the defacto majority.

  • Callie

    I wasn’t a Catholic, but I spent the 7th and 8th grades in a parochial school. (We briefly lived in a city ridden with so much poverty and crime, along with a bad school system, my parents didn’t want to send me to a public school.) Those two years were my only experience with nuns. I didn’t leave with a good impression.
    The nuns hit students so violently, especially the boys, that the “discipline” constituted beatings. Children would sit in the classroom and sob after having been verbally bullied and physically abused, yet these “good” women had no remorse; they’d lecture the rest of students about what happens to brazen, misbehaving children. Once, a feisty girl said “How dare you lay a hand on me” after a nun had hit her; the nun proceeded to smack her across the face, perhaps 12 times, until the girl was a crying mess and couldn’t fight back.
    At my young age, I knew that there was something horribly wrong with these women and the system that had created…

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