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


To be concise,

Because we don’t know they exist. There are three communities of religious sisters within an hour of me; most people that go to my parish may be able to name one.

13 years of CCD classes and we never once talked about religious orders/life. It was only marriage, or in extremely rare cases, someone might accidentally fall through the cracks and become a priest.


They at least talked about Marriage? I am grateful for even that. I fear that will go next.


From the National Catholic Register article:

“Another important factor often overlooked, however, is the radical transformation of religious life that affected the majority of religious orders of women in this country during the tumultuous 1960s and into the 1970s. While Vatican II (1962-1965) did call for updating customs and lifestyles in convents, it never called for religious to set aside their traditional apostolates and institutions and to abandon habits, community life and prayer in common.

Yet, this is exactly what many religious orders did after Vatican II, including some of the largest and most prestigious ones. Several sisters feeling trapped in orders like this have told me that when they objected to the direction their superiors were taking, they were silenced and/or marginalized and/or sent for mental health evaluation and even told to leave after a lifetime of service.”


I completely disagree that being a Catholic means you never offer any sort of criticism of how the Church is doing something. I am also happy that probably 99 percent of Catholics I know feel the same way.

When we put the Church and its functionaries in a position of being “above reproach” we end up at best with no process improvement, and at worst with sexual abuse scandals because nobody wanted to speak up.

I would rather listen to boatloads of people kvetch endlessly about whether the EMHC is wearing flip-flops and similar banalities, than live in a world where no criticism is permitted, like North Korea. If you think differently, don’t impose it on me or others. It’s oppressive and unwelcome.


Not what I meant :slight_smile: Please see my post below…thanks!


If you notice, the religious orders which are dying out are those which used Vatican II as an excuse to shed their habits and begin wearing flannel shirts and jeans. If potential novices see no difference between social justice warriors in secular and religious life, why join an order?

But look at those orders which retained their habits, are faithful to the magisterium and do more than crusade for “human development” and you will find thriving communities.


Well, ok. Be a little cautious here.
I distinguish between “criticizing the Church” … and … criticizing institutions that people think are still Catholic, but are now 90% secularized. In many cases there is only the tiniest connection between The Church, and, This Institution, but the advertising is misleading, especially when it refers to Jesuit, Franciscan, or whatever.

We live in an anti-religious authority climate. The enemies of the Church would like it if every layman acted as if he were the bishop, that Catholics were vocally suspicious of all Catholic authority. This climate, pushed by the Media, has influenced mostly people who are liberal, but now is hitting conservatives too.

Some religious orders, especially women, have followed this trend, identifying the Magisterium as useless, perhaps even evil. I don’t want to fall into the same mistake they did. If I disagree with parish or diocesan policy, I try to communicate that discretely to the proper authorities, or their supervisors, showing documentation as to where they are in disagreement with Church teaching.

Discrete communication, even using the provisions of the Code of Canon Law, takes longer, but does far less damage than other means. I disagree with groups like the LCWR or NETWORK. Should I then imitate them, hold press conferences, go to the anti-Catholic media for help?


Politely expressing disagreement does not mean being a jerk about it or painting the Pope, the Magisterium etc as “evil”. We had some threads yesterday where people were basically attacking priests with whom they did not agree, this is not the way to go about expressing dissent IMHO.

There’s always room for a conflicting opinion reasonably and politely expressed. Most of the problem with disagreement comes when people stop being reasonable or polite and go off on an ego trip a la Luther.

At the same time there have always been a tiny handful of people who think our duty as Catholics is to follow everything the Pope and our local Bishop says, without question. If it’s an infallible matter or a case of obedience to a rule, fine, we do need to follow it and perhaps we should watch our tongues as well, but as others pointed out on the infallibility threads, the Magisterium these days issues a huge amount of opinions and guidance that likely do not rise to the level of infallibility, and we shouldn’t have to be silent about all of it.


I keep reading about these people. I assume they exist, but I have not met any of them yet. What puzzles me is this other group of people, who think it is their duty to keep reporting on this “follow everything” group. Apparently the “follow everything” group is considered a menace that needs to be monitored, since they are referred to so often.


They’re not a menace, I just don’t want to be identified with them, or have their concept of “being a Catholic” imparted onto me.
They are free to do, think, and say as they like.


Here is some data on religious orders that are doing fairly well.


I think that part of it is to do with the fact that times have changed- when my grandmother and her sister were younger their options upon leaving school were either find a small job to tide them over till marriage, upon which they become a housewife, or join a convent. Two of my great aunts joined convents, and the other two and my grandmother became wives, mothers and later grandmothers.


Could you please identify a religious community that dropped their habit for secular clothes that are actually thriving? Not changed their habit to a more modern one, but actually scrapped it?

I’m not aware of a single one.


This is just one page… not very informative


I didn’t mention going from habit to secular clothes in my post.


I’m confused, I thought you said you never mentioned sisters moving from habit to secular clothes? What do you mean by “changed to secular attire”?


Some orders and communities still preserve a “distinctive garb” but of a secular style (meaning, in the case of men, for example, pants and a shirt, but with certain colors, like a “uniform”.). So it’s not like those who don’t wear a habit but simply wear secular clothes (meaning - whatever secular men and women wear in the world, within certain standards of modesty and simplicity of course).

Funny that the traditional habits were actually things the people wore during those days. They are anachronistic today. One of the advantages of this is that they draw people’s attention. One of the disadvantages, as many solid and orthodox consecrated men and women will testify, is that it singularizes them amidst the people. Consecrated men and women are not called to stand out. They don’t like the spotlight. Which is why I also said above: “others…have simply never worn a habit”. The Founder felt that it would draw the wrong kind of attention, as it would be “out of place” and in some cases very dangerous. This was common in the post-1700 France.

It is a fact that the youth appear to be drawn to communities who preserve a traditional-looking garb or a habit. But that also is not necessarily a good sign, as formation directors will tell you: sometimes being drawn by the externals is all there is, yet as Kempis writes, “it is not the habit that makes the monk” - or something like that. The external is meant to lead to the internal life. For some, once the initial attraction or infatuation is gone, or once the goal is reached and they wear the habit, what appeared to be a vocation melts like butter left outside the fridge. And if this happens years after the vows, there is a situation now.

It is very similar to Christian courtship (per St. Francis de Sales): the externals play a role, of course, but one must then focus on the internal life of virtue of the other. To be drawn to a partner merely because of the looks is vanity.

I hope I made some sense :slight_smile: I sometimes dig holes and bury myself in :confused:


[quote=“the_coppersmith, post:57, topic:458177, full:true”]

Funny that the traditional habits were actually things the people wore during those days. [/quote]
Not usually. There were very different religious habits developed from the same regions, about the same starting time. No, they were always distinctive.

Usually they are called to stand out, except for certain situations. BTW, I wear a wedding ring. Sometimes I wear my K of C pin, some members wear very distinctive clothing.

Externals can be overemphasized, like all good things.
Externals influence the mind and heart, and also reflect them. Young people are drawn to communities that are orthodox. These communities are usually the same ones that wear religious habits. They also reflect a public commitment to the gospel, and a public sign of unity with members of that community.

Kneeling in church is an external. Bowing before the Eucharist is an external. Cutting the grass in front of the convent is an external. The wedding gown is an external. A religious habit, or other Christian insignia for laity, help identify persons who might have a listening ear, who might be available for a hurting person. It also shows a love for persons in the world, but a realistic detachment from “The World”. Many a person has trusted a priest or religious, identified by their habit, in an emergency or problem situation.


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