Why are Religious Orders in the U.S. dying?

In 20 years U.S. orders will be depleted of members, and many groups will disappear, since they are full of mostly older members and no vocations. Yes, there’s a few groups drawing vocations, but the numbers are very small in the big picture.

Why are Religious Orders in the U.S. dying?

Some are. Some aren’t. Some once had a lot of members with a specific charism, but now they are all aging. Here is one order that isn’t dying, and there are many others.


There are probably dozens of reasons, but much of it likely stems from a general irreligiousosity in the US in general. Most youth see religion as something you keep tucked away and certainly not something you’d dedicate your life too. I think it might also stem from the fact that most US youths do not encounter religious so the thought of joining an order is likely extremely remote. You can’t aspire to what you’ve not been exposed to.

I could probably count on one hand the number of female religious I have personally met in the last 5 years. If I discount Jesuits, I might need a couple fingers on my second hand to count the male religious I’ve met in the same period.

(A) It is not men who build the house, but the Lord. A charism does not disappear that easily. It may be God’s will to have quality rather than numbers, and older holy men and women of faith who constitute the heart of the Church.

(B) Georgetown University recently issued a study of emerging religious communities. There are many small communities across the U.S. that work like the humble carpenter of Nazareth, hidden and faithful. God is renewing the consecrated life in mysterious ways.

© The Lord is calling forth the laity to step up. Lay movements have given new vitality to the Church. Where people see a “crisis of vocations” to the priesthood or the consecrated life, I simply see the Holy Spirit going wherever He wills, stirring the hearts He wants to stir and renewing the face of the Church.

Do not forget that Christ can take five and turn them into five thousand by merely willing it, and that all Peter had to do was cast the net on the other side of the boat to catch so many fish that the boat almost sunk. We worry too much about vocational crisis, yet do we promote vocations?

A wise man once called the Consecrated Life “the forgotten vocation”. How can we promote this “forgotten vocation” in our families, parishes, and ministries?

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Benedict XXVI spoke about a shift in parental & community expectations.

Parents are part of the reason. Modern culture, even among practicing families, is often indoctrinating children with the belief that the path to happiness and success = money & secular education. Even if they regularly pray themselves, they don’t want their child to become the next St Teresa of Avila or St Francis Assisi, or a priest. They want them to be a pharmacist.

This is in addition to the more obvious reasons of a less religious culture and a culture more focused on immediate gratification.


This is my impression too. Sure, there are fewer vocations nowadays, partly because Catholics have smaller families so less kids to choose a vocation, partly because women have greater opportunities to just go have a career now whereas in the past, religious life was one of the few available paths to many career fields, and partly because people are less religious. However, the people who are still heading into religious life seem to be joining small orders or perhaps starting their own.


I agree with the posts that attribute part of the decline to the general decline of religion in the US, and extreme emphasis on secular education, advancement, material goods. But much of the decline has to be attributed to the leadership of many of the orders themselves.

They appear to be heavily responding to a “magisterium” of the secular culture, specifically the secular media. Read their websites, their priorities are the same as those of CNN. If Gates and Obama promote Common Core, they get FANATIC for Common Core. They applaud a given bishop or pope if that leader happens to agree with them, but they are not influenced by that bishop or pope.

The problem is greatest among orders of sisters. I can’t speak to their own, private spiritual development, as I don’t know. But I can speak to the fact that local religious orders that once bore much fruit, including evangelizing people to the Catholic Faith, don’t bear any fruit now, even where they do have some active sisters left. Why would a young woman join a religious community committed to the beliefs of the NY Times, the Democratic Party and personal empowerment when she can do those things on her own?

There are a few religious orders forming, or growing, that are orthodox in belief, united to the Magisterium. They serve the poor and evangelize, whereas the dying orders may serve the poor, but never evangelize. But girls have to do some research to find these orders, usually out of town. Where I live, the established religious orders used to recruit from their own grammar and high schools, based out of enormous mother houses (now being turned into nursing homes).

Among orders of priests, it is more complicated, but to some extent this principle holds. The more a community is intellectually, spiritually and emotionally attached to the “Spirit of the Age”, it may gather more applause but fewer recruits.

Much prayer is needed for sisters, religious priests and brothers.


We follow Europe in abandoning Christianity. However, the orders which are most holy, most faithful to the magisterium are growing. For instance: https://www.sistersofmary.org/

I think you hit on something there. I read an article a few years back that said in previous eras, women were anxious to use religious orders as a way of getting out and doing things, like activism or social justice or even professional careers, that they could not do as well just as single women not attached to an order. Apparently, the order opened up opportunities. That is also why they were anxious to join orders that went out into the world and did stuff.

The article went on to say that many of the young women looking at joining orders nowadays were actually looking for the more cloistered or contemplative orders where the members of the order stay in the convent and pray. They were looking for a place to get away from the world and renew their faith. Going out and doing stuff for an order was not as appealing because you could now do all those things without having to join an order.

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To some extent this is generational; the Church is reaping what it sowed. When I was in parochial school before Vatican II, the sisters were brutally over worked, taken for granted by laity and bishops and priests alike. They were thrown into classrooms with 50 children, lacking a college degree or any training, with other jobs piled on them. Their own spiritual and emotional needs were perhaps neglected.

After Vatican II, that generation regarded their former situation as exploitation. As they moved up in leadership, they brought forth some good ideas from Vatican II, but also bad ideas from the secular culture. I met sisters who apparently were still arguing against the pre Vatican II Church, for decades afterwards. Every bible study was turned into a rant. As the secular culture turned against the Catholic Church, the sisters sided with the secular culture to an incredible extent.

Many sisters left the convent, for various reasons. Those who remained focused their energy on some particular priority, using the convent as a kind of organizing base. Other sisters continued in a chosen ministry, but less and less as a Catholic ministry, but perhaps a social responsibility. The local convents use the word “Franciscan” far more often than they did in 1960, for instance. But are they actually as Franciscan now as they were then?

A tiny group of women have formed what will be a new active religious community, fully in union with the Magisterium. Keep in mind they are surrounded by existing convents. The only religious orders that are maintaining their numbers are the 2 cloisters.

I think that will be the future, starting anew in union with Catholic doctrine and the Magisterium.

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Probably because they prefer doing reiki, “moving beyond Jesus,” and are generally into cosmic evolutionary new-age gobbeldygook. That or they simply don’t live the spirit of their founders and instead pursue purely secular causes. As others have mentioned, there are many social forces at work drawing women (and men) away from the religious life, so there must be something real and powerful to attract them–the aforementioned garbage isn’t it.

At least near me, we have some some good orders that are either growing or at least sustaining themselves–they all wear habits, actually care about Jesus and the Catholic faith, have a solid prayer and liturgical life, and they do good works–it’s not rocket science.

I have a friend who was looking into the religious life and visited some of the above, as well as one of the dying congregations. According to her, the dying group were basically indistinguishable from three secular lay women who happened to be roommates and did part time social work. Why would anyone take vows for that?


The religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are not respectable to “common sense” today. They are seen as old-fashioned, outdated, and irrelevant, but they are core to the lives of the saints.

OK, I am a layperson, and I guess you are. What can the laity do, other than ranting on the internet, to support “good orders” and the persons in them?

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HONESTLY I think it is because people are all about themselves and they don’t think serving the Lord and doing without the comforts of this world are worth it. I pray for all who give up their comforts and their lives to the Lord. God Bless them.

Pray and make them more known, I think, especially to people who might have a call to explore.

This is another one. www.sistersoflife.org

Some are dying and others are growing.

For example, among the Religious Sisters, a number of active communities are dying while others are growing.

Let’s look at the women:
After Vatican II, a number of active communities of Religious Sisters decided to stop wearing their habits (not all but some of the active communities - not monastic ones)
Also, some of the active communities were established to very specific jobs, which after Vatican II were opened up to lay people.
For example: teaching in Catholic Schools, being missionaries to the poor, running nursing homes, etc.

Before & after Vatican II, some of the special missions these sisters had stopped being unique to Religious Life. Often, these sisters had a hard time (due to their Charismas) changing the focus of their orders to remain relevant.

Plus, I think today, when most young women decide they want to be a religious sister, they prefer the whole package … meaning if they are going to be a sister, they want to look the part.

The orders that wear habits (in general) are growing, while the orders that do not (in general) are dying.

As far as the men are concerned, the ones that faithful to Catholic teaching (like the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception) are growing, while groups that have become less faithful are shrinking.

But think the major issue in the USA is that the religious groups (male & female) which are shrinking are typically larger & older orders founded in the 1800s, while the ones that are growing are typically newer & smaller ones founded in the 20th & 21st centuries.

God Bless

I don’t think that’s the issue. I think the issue is that the orders that are not faithful do not live up to the expectations people place on them. No young person wants to join a group that doesn’t live up to their potential or live up to their reputation.

Why would a young women want to join an active religious order where everyone works in different jobs (from education, health care, etc) and not together. And barely even prays together, as each of them attends different mass times and prays most of the hours by themselves.

Some of these orders are more like a sorority house (without the parties) than what everyone expects a convent to be. Everyone is doing their own thing.

God bless


This is a great point about common life. There’s a great passage on this from St. Anthony Mary Claret, including how religious life can be reformed, in his autobiography. See paragraphs 711 to 716 here (starting on page 118):


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Yes. It is telling that traditionalist /traditional-leaning orders are flourishing with young vocations, while the ones that you describe are attracting zero.

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