"More young women are entering convents"
The following are excerpts from an article from the Nov. 13, 2006 Time Magazine issue, titled, "Today's Nun Has A Veil--And A Blog -more young women are entering convents. How they are changing the sisterhood", by TRACY SCHMIDT, LISA TAKEUCHI CULLEN:
"...Over the past five years, Roman Catholic communities around the country have experienced a curious phenomenon: more women, most in their 20s and 30s, are trying on that veil. Convents in Nashville, Tenn.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and New York City all admitted at least 15 entrants over the past year and fielded hundreds of inquiries. One convent is hurriedly raising funds for a new building to house the inflow, and at another a rush of new blood has lowered the median age of its 225 sisters to 36. Catholic centers at universities, including Illinois and Texas A&M, report growing numbers of women entering discernment, or the official period of considering a vocation. Career women seeking more meaning in their lives and empty-nest moms are also finding their way to convent doors...
This is a welcome turnabout for the church. As opportunities opened for women in the 1960s and '70s, fewer of them viewed the asceticism and confinements of religious life as a tempting career choice. Since 1965, the number of Catholic nuns in the U.S. has declined from 179,954 to just 67,773, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The average age of nuns today is 69. But over the past decade or so, expressing their religious beliefs openly has become hip for many young people, a trend intensified among Catholic women by the charismatic appeal of Pope John Paul II's youth rallies and his interpretation of modern feminism as a way for women to express Christian values...
As this so-called JP2 generation has come of age, religious orders have begun to reach out again to young people--and to do so in the language that young people speak. Convents conduct e-mail correspondence with interested women, blogs written by sisters give a peek into the habited life and websites offer online personality questionnaires to test vocations. One site, Vocation-network.org frames the choice much like a dating service, with Christ as the ultimate match. 'For a long time, we neglected to invite people to see what we are about,' says Sister Doris Gottemoeller of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of America, a national order. 'I think we're more ready to do that now.'
And although the extreme conservatism of a nun's life may seem wholly countercultural for young American women today, that is exactly what attracts many of them, say experts and the women themselves. 'Religious life itself is a radical choice,' says Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference in Chicago. 'In an age where our primary secular values are sex, power and money, for someone to choose chastity, obedience and poverty is a radical statement.'
At the Sisters of Life Formation House in the Bronx, N.Y., 16 young women are making their way through that journey. They include a former Marine, a professional opera singer, a United Nations aide and a recent Yale grad. They have left behind paychecks, apartments, even boyfriends. Sister Thérèse Saglimbeni, 27, a novice who joined the convent in 2005, recalls watching the sisters playing volleyball while she was a student at the nearby State University of New York Maritime College. 'I was with my boyfriend and had said how fun the sisters looked,' she says. 'He said, "Well, why don't you join them?" And I replied, "Well, maybe I will!"'
The other sisters chuckle when Saglimbeni recounts her saucy retort. But many of their loved ones feel less jovial about the women's decision to take the veil. 'For those who are called, there is a real falling in love. You are filled with a joy and desire to be with God,' says Sister Mary Gabriel Devlin, 32, vocation director at Sisters of Life. 'Their families are not experiencing this, so it can be hard for them to understand.' The sense of alienation can be even greater when women choose an order that isolates them from their families and others so that they can devote themselves to strict schedules of regimented prayer. Convents like Sisters of Life that combine contemplation with active ministry to the public are the most popular among young women...
Nuns of all ages at convents in the U.S. say modern technology is helping them give the world--and prospective applicants--a more realistic picture of their lives. 'There are people out there who wonder what being a nun is like,' says Sister Julie Vieira, 36. 'These are people who were exposed to stereotypes of nuns and don't understand how we really live.' So last summer Vieira began a blog titled A Nun's Life, in which she has chronicled her days as a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and also a conventional-dressing, apartment-dwelling, master's degree--holding production coordinator at the Loyola Press, a Catholic publisher in Chicago. 'Being a nun has not always been my lifelong goal,' she writes in one entry. 'The whole "nun" thing kind of snuck up on me when I wasn't paying much attention ... I can't tell you how many times I've been called "Sister Julie" that it doesn't jolt me or make me look around and wonder who they are talking about.'
Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, vocation director at the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, credits e-mail to some extent with what can only be described as her order's astonishing growth. Founded in 1997 as an offshoot of a large convent, the Sisters now have 73 members with an average age of 24. In 2006, 15 women entered as postulants. Next August, more than 20 women are scheduled to join them. The order is fund raising for a new convent for them to live in. 'We cannot build fast enough. It's incredible,' says Bogdanowicz, 50..."