This was affirmed in a recently released report from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The report on "Recent Vocations to the Religious Life" was prepared for last week's National Religious Vocation Conference, which took place in New Orleans.
In the study that surveyed new members of the various religious orders and institutes, 85% said that they chose a particular community because they were "very much" attracted by the example its members.
Of these new vocations, some three-fourths reported that they initially felt drawn to religious life by a sense of a call and the desire for spiritual growth.
The research, which was conducted over the past year with institutes representing 80% of all religious in the country, shows that the groups that are most successful in attracting and retaining new members follow a more traditional style of religious life.
In this style, "members live together in community and participate in daily Eucharist, pray the Divine Office, and engage in devotional practices together."
As well, the report continued, they "wear a religious habit, work together in common apostolates, and are explicit about their fidelity to the Church and the
teachings of the Magisterium."
"All of these characteristics are especially attractive to the young people who are entering religious life today," it affirmed.
One aspect of religious life that most attracted these new members, according to the report, is common prayer.
The majority stated that this is what also most sustains them now, especially daily Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours.
The research noted significant generational gaps in the communities, especially between "the Millennial Generation -- born in 1982 or later -- and the Vatican II Generation -- born between 1943 and 1960."
Younger respondents are more likely than older members to report attraction to religious life due to the desire to be "more committed to the Church and to their particular institute by its fidelity to the Church."
The report noted that many of these also said that their decision about a particular institute was "influenced by its practice regarding a religious habit."
In general, the U.S. religious are aging, with 75% of finally professed men and 91% of women reaching age 60 and over this year.
Overall, the majority of religious who are under age 60 are in their 50s.
However, the report noted that although most groups are undergoing aging membership, a few institutes continue to attract new members and some are "experiencing significant growth."
On average, the new male members were 30 years old when entering an institute, and the females were 32.
These new members are from a more diverse ethnic background than the current group of finally professed religious, which is 94% Caucasian.
By contrast, the new vocations include some 58% Caucasian, 21% Hispanic/Latino, 14% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 6% African/African American.
The majority of these, 68%, considered a religious vocation by the time they were 21, and 53% said that they thought about it before age 18.
As well, 27% of female respondents and 19% of the males considered the vocation even before age 14.
Many of the institutes reported a variety of vocational and discernment programs, targeting young people in various age groups.
The most common programs are "Come and See" experiences, live-in events, discernment retreats, and mission or ministry activities.
However, beyond these programs, the study showed that the members themselves, and their example of living religious life, were the most important factor in influencing people to choose their institute.
Currently, there are at least 2,630 new vocations in the initial stages of religious formation throughout the country.
The study noted that many of the religious expressed the hope in a "younger generation that they believe is bringing a new energy and optimism to religious life."
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Full text: http://cara.georgetown.edu/