For the past few years a lot of misinformation has been spread asserting that only “traditional” communities whose sisters wear the habit have been receiving new vocations, while religious communities whose sisters do not wear the habit are “dying out.” Typically this misinformation is accompanied by rather equally untrue and rather uncharitable claims regarding Catholic sisters and nuns who do not wear a habit.

Frankly, the ” who is growing v. who dying out” game says A LOT more about the people who spread such misinformation than it does about the sisters and nuns themselves. I can understand (though not condone) media attention that likes particular angles and over generalizes rather complex issues. More reprehensible, however, is the attitude of a handful of Catholics who relish in perpetuating this misinformation. It’s as if they want to see a smack down so much that they are willing to bypass fact and the Gospel to see that it happens.

The assessment has been conducted by Mary Johnson, SNDdeN, and Patricia Wittberg, SC, both of whom are noted sociology professors and women religious. Their “fact-based assessment” is a welcome light on a serious and complex issue in the church in the United States. The assessment is grounded in actual data from the Official Catholic Directory, the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, and a 2009 study of religious institutes in the U.S. by CARA and NRVC. It is interpreted by experts who actually know the landscape of religious life and the Catholic Church in the United States.

Interestingly, one thing that the assessment highlights is that “numbers” alone do not tell the whole story of the charism of and attraction to religious life. Johnson and Wittberg encourage readers to look at the whole “ecology of religious life” and the diversity of charisms that serve as a great gift to the church and the world. Sister Susan Rose, CSJP, notes this too on her blog Musings of a Discerning Woman:

“It affirms my experience that women are hearing the call and answering it.  Not in huge numbers, but they are coming both to communities that belong to LCWR and communities that belong to the CMSWR.  In other words, some women are attracted to a more “progressive” flavor of religious life.  Others are attracted to a more “traditional” flavor.”

I encourage readers to “spread the word” about this assessment of U.S. religious life so that we might begin to unseat the misinformation and truly appreciate the gift of religious life and of God’s calling.