Vocation fact sheet

Vocation fact sheet

Statistics and links to vocation-related information

Who's considering religious life?

Just who is considering religious life is tracked by a number of different organizations, including the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Religious Vocation Conference, and VISION Vocation Network.



• Among male never-married Catholics, 3 percent (or approximately 350,000) have very seriously considered becoming a priest or religious brother.
• Men who have attended a Catholic secondary school are six times more likely to consider being a priest or brother.
• Among college students involved in Catholic campus ministry: 66 percent have seriously considered becoming a priest or religious brother.
• Among men involved in diocesan young adult ministry: 84 percent have seriously considered becoming a priest or religious brother.



• Among female never-married Catholics 2 percent (or approximately 250,000) have very seriously considered becoming a religious sister.
• Women who have attended a Catholic primary school are three times more likely than those who did not to consider being a religious sister.
• Among college students involved in Catholic campus ministry: 39 percent have seriously considered becoming 
a religious sister.
• Among women involved in diocesan young-adult ministry: 30 percent have seriously considered becoming a religious sister.

Women & Men

• Among former full-time volunteers of Catholic Volunteer Network 37 percent have considered religious life or the priesthood and 6 percent have chosen a religious vocation.
• Among men and women discerning a vocation, the average educational debt is $28,000. (A majority of religious congregations have turned an inquirer away within the last 10 years because of educational debt.)


Who's entering religious life?

Newer entrants identify their primary reasons for coming to religious life as a sense of call, a desire to deepen their prayer and spiritual life, and a desire to live and work with others who share their faith and values.



In 2018 there are over 1.1 million religious brothers, sisters,
and order and diocesan priests in the world:

     641,661 religious sisters and nuns
     414,065 diocesan and religious order priests
     50,941 religious brothers


In the United States

• Both the spirituality and mission of the religious institute, along with the example of professed members, are most likely to attract newer members to their respective institutes, followed by the prayer life and community life.

• In 2017, there are more than 61,000 religious sisters, brothers, and priests in the United States in 768 religious institutes.

• Over 1,000 U.S. women and men are in formation preparing to become sisters, brothers and priests.

• More than 200 women and men in the U.S. profess perpetual vows annually.

• The average age a person first considers a vocation to religious life fluctuates between 17 and 20; however, half are 18 or younger when they first consider a vocation.

• In 2017, approximately 477 entered priesthood—266 to diocesan priesthood (from 114 dioceses) and 96 to religious priesthood. Among religious orders, the largest number of respondents came from the Jesuits, Dominicans, and Benedictines.

• The average age of entrants is 28 years of age and the average age at perpetual profession for men is 43 and for women, 39 years of age.

• Newer entrants are 67 percent Caucasian/white/European American; 17 percent Hispanic/Latino/a; 11 percent Asian/Pacific Islander/Hawaiian; 3 percent African/African American/black; 2 percent other.

• 70 percent of newer entrants have a bachelor’s degree when 
they enter.



Information gathered from the follow sources:


2013 CARA/National Survey of Former Full-time Volunteers of the Catholic Volunteer Networkby Caroline Saunders, Thomas Gaunt, S.J., and Eva Coll

2012 CARA/USCCB Study on the Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life among Never-Married U.S. Catholics by Mark M. Gray and Mary L. Gautier

2009 NRVC/CARA Study on Recent Vocations

2007 Young Adult Catholics and their Future in Ministry Study by Dean R. Hoge and Marti Jewell


Glossary of terms

The call to “religious life” in the Catholic Church—also known as “vowed life” or “consecrated life”—is a call to become more like Christ by living the values of prayer, ministry, and community. This call can be lived out in a number of unique ways (see main forms outlined below). Yet all religious priests, sisters, and brothers take vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, commonly called the “evangelical counsels.” 

Apostolic/Active While prayer and community life are important to them, apostolic religious communities are engaged for the most part in active ministries, such as teaching, parish ministry, health care, social work, care for the elderly, work with young people, service to the poor, and many others.

Missionary Missionary communities focus their lives on spreading the gospel in areas in need of evangelization and service. These communities serve in a variety of ministries, such as preaching, teaching, healthcare and other forms of witness among the people with whom they live.

Contemplative Members of contemplative religious communities focus on daily prayer, especially the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and individual prayer. They tend to live in greater solitude than apostolic communities so that they can direct their prayer and work toward contemplation, though some communities that consider themselves contemplative are also engaged in apostolic ministries.

Semi-Cloistered/Cloistered Often, contemplative religious communities are cloistered or partially cloistered. That is, they live separated from the outside world and focus on prayer, including prayer for the needs of the world. As cloistered religious, they rarely leave their monasteries, and all or most of their work is done within the monastery.

Monastic Monastic communities fall somewhere in between apostolic and cloistered. Monastic men and women place a high value in prayer and community life, but many are also engaged in active ministries. Monasticism centers on living in community, common prayer, and Christian meditation.

Additional vocation resources

» VISION Vocation Network for hundreds of articles and videos, podcasts, and interactive features including:
• Vocation Match (VocationMatch.com
• Spirituality Quiz | Celibacy Quiz | Catholic Quiz (scroll down on home page)
• Vocation Events Calendar
• VISION Vocation Guide (www.digitalvocationguide.org or order print copies)
• VISION bookmarks and Vocation Prayer Cards (these free resources come in packs of 50). 
• E-books: Discover your path; Being Catholic: A user’s guide (to be published March 2015)
• Year of Consecrated Life banners (Order banners at nrvc.net/store)
• Year of Consecrated Life song downloadable sheet music and audio files
» National Religious Vocation Conference (Find recent vocation studies at nrvc.net and vocation resources in the online store.)
» United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB.org)
» Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (cara.georgetown.edu)
» A Nun’s Life Ministry (anunslife.com)
» National Catholic Sisters Week (nationalcatholicsistersweek.org)
» Global Sisters Report (globalsistersreport.org)
» Men Religious in the U. S. (yearforconsecratedlife.com)
» Catholic Volunteer Network (catholicvolunteernetwork.org)
» Take Five for Faith: Daily renewal for busy Catholics (takefiveforfaith.com)
» Prepare the Word: Whole parish evangelization (PrepareTheWord.com, featuring weekly prayers of the faithful 
for the Year of Consecrated Life)
» Many other Catholic publishers have books and articles on prayer and discernment, religious life, and the lives of saints. Please check out their websites and catalogs for additional resources to build your library of vocation-related resources. Find a list of Catholic Press Association Member publications atwww.catholicpress.org under the About Us tab.



Catholic Church statistics

Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)
VISION VocationMatch.com, for those searching for the right vocation. A free service.
Vocation-Network.org, information and resources for those discerning a vocation to religious life.
DigitalVocationGuide.org, interactive digital version of the annual VISION Vocation Guide
NRVC Member Community links, links to religious community websites, dioceses, and organizations
Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)
Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR)
Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations



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