Press Release: 2020 Study on U.S. Catholic Religious Vocations reveals steady entrance since 2003

Press Release: 2020 Study on U.S. Catholic Religious Vocations reveals steady entrance since 2003




2020 Study on U.S. Catholic Religious Vocations reveals steady entrance since 2003

New entrants are ethnically diverse, embrace intercultural and intergenerational living, desire prayer, communal living, and solidarity with the poor, and express abundant hope

Study surveyed 3,500 sisters, nuns, brothers, and priests who entered religious life since 2003


Chicago, March 25, 2020—Young women and men continue to enter religious life at a steady rate and approximately 200 per year make final vows.

The 2020 Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life was conducted by the Center for  Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center, on behalf of the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), a professional association of religious vocation directors, based in Chicago.

The study, a follow-up to the NRVC’s landmark 2009 Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life, captures trends and new data about those who have entered religious life from 2003-2018.  It was made possible by a grant from the GHR Foundation.

Sister of Saints Cyril and Methodius Deborah Borneman, NRVC director for mission integration, is encouraged by the study findings. “Though fully aware of the challenges they face, new entrants are hopeful because they recognize their own role in creating a future,” she said. “The church and the wider Catholic community may confidently support the choice to enter religious life and continue to invite women and men to consider this unique vocation.”

Diversity remains the hallmark of new entrants

The total number of new members is likely higher than the 3,500 surveyed, as some religious institutes did not participate. The study’s findings, which did not include diocesan priests, show continued diversity in ethnicity and experiences among new members in the past decade:

  • 13 percent are Hispanic; 10 percent Asian or Pacific Islander;
    6 percent African/African American, and 1 percent diverse ethnicities
  • 7 percent speak Spanish as a first language; 5 percent, Vietnamese; 12 percent, one of at least 50 languages
  • 24 percent were born outside the U.S. (coming from 68 countries)
  • 71 percent enter with a bachelor’s degree and 81 percent held jobs before entrance
  • 73 percent attended Catholic schools for at least part of their education
  • 85 percent considered religious life before age 25; 28 is the average age at entrance

Continuing sense of call

Nearly identical to the 2009 Study, new members are drawn to religious life by a desire for prayer, spiritual growth, deeper relationship with God. They also describe feeling a “sense of call,” and a desire to be of service and part of a community. Personal private prayer, daily Eucharist, scriptural/spiritual reading, and other daily prayer practices and devotions are rated important by more than 80 percent of newer members.

Beyond the spirituality of their religious institute, the most significant draw for new members to a particular institute is: charism (spirit), mission, prayer life, community life, and the example of members. Among respondents of diverse ethnicities, the founder, ministries, cultural diversity, and sense of welcome of the institute are very important.

Invitation and welcome

The majority of recent entrants were invited by someone—a parish priest, member of a religious community, a teacher, a friend—to consider religious life and discern a vocation. They learned about their religious institute in diverse ways, including attending a school run by the institute, an internet search, a friend or relative in the institute, or print and online resources.

Among the religious institutes surveyed:

  • 88 percent accept new members (60 percent have at least one new entrant)
  • 75 percent have a vocation director/vocation team
  • 60 percent sponsor “Come and See” experiences (74 percent of new entrants participate in these opportunities to experience community life)

Realistic and hope-filled

New members acknowledge the challenges of the changing demographics within their institutes; yet they remain optimistic. As one new member put it, “These are exciting times to be a religious! My greatest hope is that we respond to the needs of God’s people by thinking outside the box of what has been to what could be.” Another stated, “I hope we continue to invite others to join us and dream of new ways to minister to the poor and marginalized.”

Download 2020 Study on Recent Vocations.
En Español

News coverage

US vocation conference study finds diversity growing, dedication to Gospel values strong, by Dan Stockman, Global Sisters Report

The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) was founded in 1988 as a professional organization of men and women committed to vocation awareness, invitation, and discernment to consecrated life as brothers, sisters, and priests. The NRVC serves its nearly 1,000 members by providing continuing education, resources, and services for professional growth.


The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) is a national, nonprofit, Georgetown University-affiliated research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church.


GHR Foundation applies entrepreneurial creativity and universal Catholic values in the areas of health, education, and global development. Started in 1965 by Opus founders Gerald A. and Henrietta Rauenhorst, the Foundation seeks transformational change, and partners with the world’s experts to achieve impact.

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