Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Jesuit Demograghics Shifting

This post is by CARA Executive Director Thomas Gaunt, SJ and is the fourth post in a series (1, 2, 3) in which CARA tracks changes among the Jesuits worldwide.

The Jesuits are the world’s largest religious order with active ministries spanning across six continents. They steadily increased in number from their restoration in 1814 until 1965 when they reached their peak membership of 36,000. Since 1965 the total number of Jesuits worldwide has declined to 14,839 in 2020 but most notably the membership of the Jesuits has dramatically realigned by culture and ethnicity. Recent developments show a change in growth and expansion of the population of Jesuits: the largest national group used to be the Jesuits of the United States, but now is the Jesuits of India. Africa and Asia have numerous young Jesuits, whereas Europe and North America are challenged by a large number of elderly Jesuits.

Worldwide the changing number of Jesuits is driven by three factors: the number of men entering the novitiate, the number of men departing the Jesuits, and the number of Jesuits that die each year. A growth in the number of Jesuit usually implies entrance groups being larger in number than the groups who leave or die. A steady decline would be the reverse of this.

For administrative purposes the Society of Jesus is organized into 72 provinces and independent regions. They then grouped into six geographic conferences or assistancies:

  • Africa – All of Africa and Madagascar except North Africa.
  • Latin America – All of South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
  • South Asia – India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Bhutan.
  • Asia Pacific – Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, East Timor, New Zealand, and Myanmar.
  • Europe – Europe, Russia, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa.
  • North America – United States (including Puerto Rico), Canada, Haiti, Belize and Micronesia

Note: Canada used to be part of the European assistancy, and Puerto Rico used to be in the Latin American assistancy. Both are currently in the North American assistancy as of 2016. Data has been adjusted to reflect these changes.

Overall Numbers:
The Data below shows the total number of Jesuits at five-year intervals (2001, 2006, 2011, 2016, 2021).

Both Africa and South Asia are showing steady increase in the number of Jesuits, while both Latin America and Asia Pacific are decreasing in numbers. The Assistancies of Europe and North America show a steep decline in membership, nearly 50% over the same 20 years. In 2021 the South Asia Assistancy is the largest in number of Jesuits.

Entering novices:
The number of novices entering the novitiate of each province can vary significantly year by year, therefore a more accurate picture is provided if we look at how many men enter the novitiate over five-year intervals. The graph below shows the running five-year average in the number of novices entering in the Society of Jesus in each assistancy. Africa is the only assistancy with an increasing number of entering novices and Latin America shows the steepest decline in entering novices. In 2000 there were an average of 427 novices entering worldwide and that has declined to 325 in 2020.

The distribution of entering novices has two in five entering in South Asia (30%) or Asia Pacific (10%). One in four novices are entering in Africa (26%) and one in seven in Latin America. North America has about one in eight of the new novices and Europe one in twelve.

Departures from the Jesuits:
The Jesuits, like all other religious institutes experience a departure of a large number of the men who enter the novitiate, these departures usually occur in the years of formation before ordination (often ten years after entering) or final vows (often 15 to 20 years after entering). The general pattern of departures follows the earlier pattern of entrances for each assistancy, and the number of departures across the assistancies are close to what they were 5 years ago, and markedly lower than the past number of departures 15 or 20 years ago.

Entrants minus Departures:
The sustainability of the membership of a religious community relies on their being more entrances than departures over the course of years. The graph below shows the gain or loss for each assistancy of the Jesuits in five-year periods over the past 25 years.  South Asia and Africa have had large sustained gains in members in each period of time. Asia Pacific has shown a smaller, but diminishing gain, and Europe a diminishing gain that currently zeros out. Latin America has fluctuated between small gains and losses, whereas North America shows stable gains over the past 20 years.

Number of Deaths
The vast majority of older Jesuits who entered prior to 1960 are in Europe and North America, and there are fewer older Jesuits in Africa and Asia. The Jesuits in Europe and North America have consistently accounted for about two-thirds of all the deaths over the past 25 years while the proportion of European and North American Jesuits have gone from 52% to 39% percent of the Jesuit membership.

Entrances minus Departures minus Deaths: Net Gain or Loss
When the number of men leaving the Jesuits is subtracted from the number entering and then the number of deaths are subtracted from that figure, we have the net gain or loss in Jesuit membership. In combining these three basic demographic elements we see clearly the large and continuous impact of the declining number of Jesuits in Europe and North America, and to a lesser extent Latin America.  South Asia and Asia Pacific have recorded gains and losses and both are currently posting losses. Only Africa consistently records any net gain in Jesuits year over year, and that gain is dwarfed by the losses of Europe and North America. While Africa may have a net gain of 118 Jesuits over a five-year period, Europe, North America, and Latin America have a net loss of more than 1,500 Jesuits.

The membership trends observed three years ago have changed: the number of Jesuits is declining across the board in all parts of the world except Africa; there is a notable decline in the number of men entering the novitiate, accompanied by a small increase in the numbers of deaths, which makes for a greater net decrease over time.

The very large number of Jesuits in Europe and North America who die each year is the main demographic factor driving the geographic shift of Jesuits as the net decline in the number of Jesuits worldwide has increased slightly in the past five years.

The continued growth in the number of younger Jesuits in Africa and South Asia means that there will be a continuing re-alignment of where Jesuits are serving the Church. In 2021 61% of Jesuits are in South Asia, Latin America, Africa and Asia Pacific and only 39% are in Europe and North America. If the trends continue, the Society of Jesus will be defined more by the cultures and experiences of Asia and Africa, and less by Europe and North America.


Lay Ecclesial Ministry Formation in the United States

This post is authored by Michal Kramarek, Ph.D., CARA Research Associate. It is the third and final post in a series that explore trends in the enrollment, in Catholic formation programs, in the United States. The first post focused on the priestly formation (it can be found here). And, the second post looked at the permanent deacon formation (it can be found here). This post provides a brief preview of lay ecclesial ministry formation. It is based on a larger new study about Catholic lay ecclesial ministry formation in the United States. The full overview of the findings is available for free here. This research was commissioned and funded by the Catholic Communications Committee.

The role of the laity and their participation in the ministry of the Church has evolved considerably in the decades since the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, the number of formation programs to train lay people for professional church ministry has decreased. Specifically, the number of confirmed programs decreased from 265 in the academic year 1985-1986 to 234 programs in 2008-2009 (a decline of 1% a year). And, from 233 in 2009-2010 to 130 programs in 2020-2021 (a decline of 4% a year).

In 2020-2021 academic year, there were 13,631 lay ecclesial ministry candidates enrolled in degree and certificate programs. This was an increase of 2,264 candidates (20%) from the previous year. The number of candidates increased by 30% between 1985-1986 and 2020-2021 and decreased by 24% between 2009-2010 and 2020-2021. The largest number reported in formation was in 2002-2003, when a record 36,048 total candidates were identified. If the trend since 1994-1995 continues, there will be projected 10,576 candidates ±14,856 (CI=95%) in 2025-2026.

In terms of gender distribution, three in five lay ecclesial ministry candidates (61%) are women. This included women religious (2%) and lay women (59%). The remaining two in five lay ecclesial ministry candidates (39%) were men. This included religious brothers (1%) and lay men (38%). Based on the trend since 2003-2004, the share of women is projected to comprise 59% ±5% (CI=95%) of candidates to lay ecclesial ministry, in the 2025-2026 academic year.

In terms of age, one in five candidates in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs (18%) are 60or older, 28% are in their 50s, 30% in their 40s, 14% in their 30s and 10% are under 30 years old. Based on the trend since the 2002-2003, the share of youngest candidates is projected to increase to 13% ±5% (CI=95%) in the 2025-2026 academic year.

In terms of racial and ethnic background, Hispanics/Latinos and White/Anglo/ Caucasians make up two in five candidates in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs (44% each). Blacks/African Americans constitute another 3%, while Asian/Pacific Islanders make up 5%. Others (including Native Americans) make up 4% of enrollees in these programs. Based on the trend since the 2002-2003, the share of Hispanics/Latinos is projected to increase to 68% ±12% (CI=95%) in the 2025-2026 academic year.

If you would like to see more detailed break downs, how these break downs changed over the past decades, and how they are projected to change in the next five years, you can access the full overview of the findings for free here. If you are interested to see a listing of all the Catholic formation programs in the United States, in the academic year 2020-2021 (including priestly formation, permanent diaconate formation and lay ecclesial ministry formation), you can purchase the Catholic Ministry Formation Directory here.


Numbers of Sisters Rise in Africa and Asia but Vocation Rates Decline

Overall, the number of Catholic religious sisters is in decline but rising in Africa and Asia. In 1975, there were 968,526 religious sisters globally. In 2019, there were 630,099 representing a decrease of 35%. Compared to 1975, North America has 70% fewer sisters, Europe 60% fewer, and Oceania 60% fewer. At the same time, the number of sisters in Africa and Asia have more than doubled increasing collectively by 139%.  

The only other two areas where the number of sisters is increasing during the 1975 to 2019 period are in Central America (the Catholic Church includes the Caribbean and the countries from Mexico to Panama in this region). Yet the growth is slower here at 14%.

While one might assume the increasing numbers of women religious in Africa and Asia are signs of growing religious commitment among Catholics in these regions there is another factor to consider—population growth. As populations grow, increasing numbers of religious sisters doesn’t necessarily mean that the vocation rate is increasing. In fact, in most countries in these regions this has declined.

For example, in Tanzania in 1975 there were 3,033 Catholic religious sisters. In 2019 there were 12,242 representing an increase of 304%. Yet, the number of Catholics grew in this country during the 1975 to 2019 period by 476%. In 1975 there were 10.3 religious sisters per 10,000 Catholics and in 2019 there were 7.2.

One country in Asia has significantly boosted its vocation rate—Myanmar (this is also a country with a high vocation rate for clergy as well). In 1975, there were 570 religious sisters here among 320,000 Catholics (17.8 sisters per 10,000 Catholics). In 2019 there were 2,017 religious sisters among 687,000 Catholics (29.4 sisters per 10,000 Catholics). The Catholic population and the vocation rate for religious sisters is growing here.

One of the most interesting countries is India where there are more religious sisters than in any other country (16% of all the religious sisters in the world). The number of sisters in 1975 in India was 41,868 and this had grown to 99,282 in 2019. The number of sisters grew during this period by 137% as the number of Catholics increased by 145%. Thus, in 1975 there were 45.6 sisters per 10,000 Catholics in India and 44.2 in 2019. This represents a relatively stable vocation rate in a country with a lot of population growth.

Of all the countries the largest numbers of religious sister relative to Catholics has been in Japan. In 1975 there were 6,965 religious sisters and 370,000 Catholics resulting in 188.2 sisters per 10,000 Catholics. The number of sisters in Japan had declined to 4,743 in 2019 and the Catholic population had grown to 535,000. Thus, here the number of religious sisters per 10,000 Catholics in 2019 was 88.7—still among the highest ratios of sisters to Catholics in any country. Another way to think about this is that in 1975 there were 53 Catholics per sister and in 2019 there were 113.

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