The number of women entering religious life has shown a slight increase in 2016, while the number of men entering the priestly formation has dropped, according to figures released by the National Office for Vocation in England and Wales.
Last year, there were 25 new entrants to the priesthood, down from 42 in 2015. However, the total number of men entering religious life rose slightly from 25 in 2015 to 29 in 2016. The number of women entering religious life increased from 29 in 2015 to 31 in 2016.
Sr Elaine Penrice, Religious Life Promoter at the National Office for Vocation said the approach of favouring spiritual discernment over a hard recruitment drive is more appealing to women thinking of entering religious life. “Recruitment puts people off and makes them afraid. Our society likes to feel free. It is not evangelical to think in terms of getting the numbers of the congregation up, instead we encourage people to see where the will of God leads them,” she explained.
She attributed some of this success to initiatives like the COMPASS groups and the Samuel Groups for single young adults in the 18-35 age group. Outreach on the internet and opportunities for women to spend time with sisters in Congregations are also proving successful.
Fr Christopher Jamison, the Director of the National Office for Vocation said although the statistics for men entering religious life are encouraging and have continued to recover “the number of men entering the dioceses is disappointing.”
“There is no silver bullet here,” he added. Fr Jamieson stressed the importance of local initiatives and said that the Vocation Office is hoping to develop the idea of parish weeks, which will consider and celebrate vocations in a broader context.
That was a point echoed by the Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole, in a pastoral message for Vocations Sunday last weekend, who called on Catholics in the diocese to be missionary disciples. The bishop highlighted the challenging situation of Catholicism in the region, where the total number of Church-going Catholics in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset is less than one per cent of the population.
“Each of us is called to be a ‘disciple-making disciple’. Further, a local Church which is not making disciples is failing in a fundamental aspect of its life”, he said. The question we must ask ourselves, he added, is “are our parishes places that make disciples?”