Questions Parents Ask About Vocations to Religious Life

Talking about religious life can be hard for both parents and their children. Often, the only information available is through media rather than lived experience. The following questions and answers are meant to provide you and your family with accurate information about the vocations of religious sisters.

Are young people entering religious life today?

Yes. A sense of call, service, and prayer continue to attract people to religious life. Most religious orders have at last one person who has entered the community recently. The average age someone first considers religious life is 19 years old, so it’s not uncommon for high school students and young adults to ask questions about vocations. Similar to the vocation of marriage, 30 is the average age of entrance into religious life. There are over 1 million nuns, sisters, brothers, and priests in the world today.

Why are there so many different religious orders?

People have founded religious orders and societies of apostolic life throughout the centuries to focus on particular works of mercy to respond to unmet needs of people who are neglected, abandoned or marginalized. Among the approximately 2,000 religious orders (or institutes) worldwide and 700 religious institutes in the United States, each has a unique spirituality, mission and charism (or spirit) that defines the way members pray, live, and serve. Apostolic, cloistered, contemplative, evangelical, and monastic are common forms of consecrated life.

Isn’t religious life lonely, especially with so many elderly members?

Every woman — married, single, or a sister — has some lonely moments. That is part of the human condition, and the restlessness we feel until we rest in God, as Saint Augustine described it. But when a person has a sense of truly being where God wants her to be, involved in vital ministries, making a difference, doing good, and enjoying diverse and fulfilling friendships, that person is rarely lonely. Living in community opens members to many life-giving experiences, including intercultural and intergenerational living. The oldest members in a community model commitment, perseverance, and wisdom and are often the biggest inspirations, advocates, and mentors for the newest members. And they’re often the most fun!

How often will my daughter be home for the holidays and family events?

All communities recognize that the support of loved ones is crucial for the novice as well as vowed members of the community. The amount of communication that a daughter or son can have with their family often depends on their stage of formation (initial period) and the religious community that they joined. When people enter a religious community, they are encouraged to invite family and friends to visit, and are provided opportunities to stay in contact with loved ones. During the holidays, spending time with the community is a priority, yet home visits are typically possible

Will my daughter use their education and talents as a sister?

Absolutely. Education is a priority for women religious, with at least 70% having college degrees before entering religious life and many earning at least one graduate degree. A parent’s concern that their child is “throwing their life away” couldn’t be further from the truth. Women religious put their talents and gifts to use in service to others — something that gives them immeasurable joy. And far more Sisters work in the field in which they were received their degree(s) than non-Sisters do. Who doesn’t want that for their child? Many communities provide opportunities for lifelong faith formation and professional development by way of additional degrees, workshops, conferences, retreats, and college courses.

Can’t my child be of service to the church as a volunteer or associate? Is taking vows and belonging to a religious community necessary?

Certainly. Generosity of heart is required of all Christians, whether married, single, ordained, or consecrated. However, the way that generosity is expressed is unique to each individual. All of us must answer the call we hear that we believe will give us the greatest sense of wholeness and purpose. For priests, sisters, or brothers, their total gift of the self to God and others demands the support of a community and a commitment to their vows.

With the demands of ministry, how do religious communities face stress and avoid burnout?

Religious communities are built on maintaining a balanced lifestyle. In all forms of religious life, there are scheduled times for personal and communal prayer, meals, recreation, retreats, and celebrations. In addition, sisters, form friendships, engage in exercise, and set aside time for being “off duty.” All of these activities, when done consistently, can prevent burnout and minimize stress. While the church is not looking for perfect people to lead, our dioceses and religious communities need people who are healthy, holy and joyful.

How long does it take to become a religious sister? Can people change their minds?

Generally, it takes about six years for a person to become a vowed member of a religious community. Formation involves several stages. While these vary in name, length of time, and format by community, they all involve a time of inquiry, a one of two year period of novitiate training, and a time of living temporary vows one year at a time for at least two years. Considering a vocation with a religious community (vocation discernment) does not mean your child is obligated to become a sister. Vocation and formation directors help candidates discern whether or not a vocation fits. There is nothing shameful about trying out religious life, then determining that it is not the right vocation.

I support my child’s vocation, but my spouse doesn’t. What should I do?

When a daughter opts for a way of life — any way of life — that parents are not expecting, a mother or father can experience a sense of loss. All parents have dreams for their child’s future. Talk openly to your spouse about his or her thoughts and feelings. Help all family members to voice their concerns. Next, ask the vocation director for books or articles that might give concerned family members a deeper knowledge of your child’s chosen vocation. It may also be helpful to speak to other parents with similar concerns. A vocation director would be able to help connect you with other families.

Encouragement and support from parents and family members is invaluable to a loved one considering religious life. Take time in prayer and ask God to give you the grace to accept your child’s decision and trust God will provide you comfort and joy as your child fulfills his or her unique call.

Source: National Religious Vocation Conference