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.


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.


Catholic Permanent Deacons’ Formation in the United States

This post is authored by Michal Kramarek, Ph.D., CARA Research Associate. It is the second post in a series of three 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). This post provides a brief preview on permanent deacon formation. It is based on a larger new study about Catholic deacons’ 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 number of permanent deacons in the United States has grown steadily since the restoration of this ministry in the years following the Second Vatican Council. According to the Official Catholic Directory, there were 58 permanent deacons in the country, in 1972. This number grew to 18,291 by 2019. The last couple of years saw small declines (of 1% in both 2019 and 2020). Based on the trend since 2003, there will be projected 19,478 permanent deacons ±960 (CI=95%) in 2026.

However, the number of active permanent deacons can be expected to decline. According to CARA’s 2017 national survey of 3,166 active and retired deacons ordained between 1970 and 2017 (see chapter 4 in this book for a more detailed description), in comparison to those ordained more recently, deacons ordained longer ago first considered the diaconate, entered candidacy, and were ordained at younger age. The same deacons ordained longer ago retired or plan to retire at an older age. Consequently, the number of years permanent deacons are active is declining. Specifically, those ordained between 1970 and 1985 will serve/served as deacons for 37 years on average, those ordained between 1986 and 2005 for 25 years, and those ordained between 2006 and 2017 for only 18 years. So, deacons in the oldest cohort served twice as long as those in the youngest cohort are expected to serve. Consequently, even though the number of candidates and aspirants has remained relatively stable (albeit cyclical) in recent years, the number of active permanent deacons can be expected to decline.  

Those findings are supported by data collected on candidates to permanent diaconate in the past 20 years. Since the academic year 2002-2003, the share of diaconate candidates under 40 years old declined from 7% to 3%. The share of candidates in their 40’s declined from 37% to 19%. On the other hand, the share of candidates in their 50s increased from 43% to 45%. And, the share of those in their 60’s or older increased from 14% to 33%.

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.  

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