WASHINGTON (January 6, 1998) -- Parish work has increased among women's religious orders to the point where for the first time Catholic orders of sisters report that they work in parishes at the same level that they do in schools (76 percent).
However, education still is the primary work of individual sisters, and almost 13,000 list education as their primary ministry, more than twice the number who cite work in a parish.
Work in parishes continues to be the number one ministry for men's orders, where 83 percent of the orders work in parishes and 3,295 priests and brothers list parish work as their primary ministry.
The shift in ministry among sisters was demonstrated in a survey of U.S. institutes for consecrated life conducted by the Commission on Religious Life and Ministry.
The Commission, which includes representatives of the U.S. Bishops, Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, initiated the survey as part of its preparation for the World Day for Consecrated Life, a Vatican-initiated worldwide event. The celebration is noted annually in Rome, February 2, and in the United States on the preceding Sunday, this year January 31.
Dioceses and parishes nationwide are slated to mark the occasion with such activities as special prayers at Mass, renewal of vows, information sessions about the consecrated life and appreciation socials.
The Commission 's survey was sent to every U.S. religious order to ascertain the ministerial scope of the institutes. Results showed that the top-ranked categories were pastoral work and education. Eighty-three percent of orders of priests and brothers who responded are working in parishes as pastors, pastoral associates or spiritual direction. Sisters are engaged in pastoral work at the same level as education (76 percent). Seventy-four percent of orders of priests and brothers work in educational settings.
The surveys were sent to the 343 religious orders of men and the 825 religious orders of women in the United States. The response represents 133 orders of religious priests and brothers totaling close to 13,000 members, well over half of the 22,000 religious men in the United States, and 416 orders of sisters with more than 62,000 members or 73 percent of U.S. sisters. The analysis of the survey was completed by the Life Cycle Institute of The Catholic University of America in Washington.
The largest number of priests and brothers represented work in parishes as pastors, pastoral associates or administrators. The largest number of sisters (20.6 percent of all U.S. nuns) are involved in education; the highest number are elementary school teachers, followed by administrators and principals, high school and college teachers.
The survey indicates that Catholic sisters also are involved in pastoral work in increasing numbers, with nearly 11 percent of all U.S. sisters serving in parishes as pastoral associates or administrators, directors of religious education, and musicians. The total number of orders reporting parish involvement equals the number serving in education. According to the 1998 Official Catholic Directory, nuns administer 213 parishes in the United States.
After pastoral work and education, the greatest number of religious orders are involved in social work (56 percent) and health care (51 percent). The greatest numbers in social work are prison ministers, administrators, staff of homeless shelters and soup kitchens, AIDS counselors, and case managers. In health care, the greatest number of priests and brothers work in special services such as chaplaincy, pastoral care, mission services. The greatest numbers of sisters work in allied health services and as hospital administrators and nurses.
The survey also asked how many religious orders sisters, brother and priests are involved in diocesan structures and national ministries. Ten times as many sisters (911) as religious priests and brothers (92) are involved in diocesan ministry. The orders of women reported 33 sisters in the role of chancellor, 37 as vicars for religious, and 54 in departments of education.
Just under one percent of all Catholic priests, brothers, and sisters are creative artists, with the largest numbers writers, visual artists, and musicians.
The final section of the survey asked Catholic orders to describe their sponsored institutions. Of the orders responding, the women's communities reported that they sponsor 405 hospitals, 145 long-term care facilities, and 76 centers for senior care. They also have 245 elementary schools, 223 high school and 103 colleges. Catholic sisters sponsor 249 and men's orders 60 social services ministries such as community centers, food pantries, literacy centers, day care centers, housing programs, and counseling services. Orders of priests and brothers sponsor 103 colleges, 36 elementary schools, and 37 colleges.
There are well over 100 retreat centers operated by men's and women's orders.
Bishop Joseph J. Gerry of Portland, Maine, a member of the Benedictine order and chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Consecrated life, noted the extensive reach of people who have chosen to consecrate their lives to service of the church.
"The efforts of men and women religious and members of other institutes of consecrated life are extraordinary and well worth holding up to young people today," he said. "Ordinary people who recognize God's call to live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience have the opportunity to live an extraordinary life. Many saints and heroes, such as Benedict, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Vincent De Paul, Therese of Lisieux, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Father Damien of Molokai, show dramatically that persons consecrated to God in this special way make a difference in the world."