The precipitous decline in the number of women in religious life and what it means to the Church has people thinking about how to prepare for the future.
Their actions stem from data gathered by the National Religious Retirement Office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that projects an estimated 300 women’s religious institutes will likely phase out of existence in the next decade.
The estimate is fuelled by the fact that the overall number of women religious has declined by 75% since 1965 with no change in the trend expected.
Bishops, women religious, canon lawyers and others discussed the future of religious life in a two-day workshop on Sept. 25-26 in Oakbrook, Illinois, outside of Chicago.
The workshop, “Fidelity to the Journey: Together in Communion,” was sponsored by the Resource Centre for Religious Institutes under a grant from the GHR Foundation.
The number of women religious in the United States has declined from a peak of 181,421 in 1965 to 47,160 in 2016, National Religious Retirement Office statistics show. About 77 percent of women religious are older than 70.
As many as 300 of the 420 religious institutes in the United States are in their last decades of existence because of aging membership and declining vocations, officials said.