Editorial | Encourage, engage and pray our way to more women religious.

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St. Louis is losing an important ministry. On Aug. 24, the Little Sisters of the Poor announced they are leaving St. Louis after almost 150 years of serving the poor elderly. The reason? Too few sisters.

We've heard this before. Generations ago, many Catholic schools were run by a sister. Catholic health care ministries were run by religious, not corporations.

There has been a significant decline in religious vocations among women in the past 50 years. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the number of women religious declined about 75 percent between 1965 and 2015, when CARA reported 48,546 women religious in the United States.

The National Religious Retirement Office predicts that in 2025, there will be about 29,000 women religious in the United States, with the majority being over 70 years of age.

At an assembly in early August, the Leadership of the Conference of Women Religious addressed the challenge. LCWR president Sister Marcia Allen, CSJ, told about 800 members that "transformation is required."

That's a call we should all consider. Bolstering religious vocations isn't just the work of the community vocations offices, it's a responsibility all share.

CARA reports there is "no shortage of Catholics who very seriously consider a religious vocation." Their research showed that two percent of women surveyed said they'd very seriously considered a religious vocation. That appears small, but the actual number of women is significant — nearly 250,000 never-married women said they considered becoming a sister. A fraction of one percent actually enter a community, CARA reported.

So, how might we encourage young women hearing a call to religious life?

We can start by encouraging vocation discernment among teenagers and young adults. The CARA study found that 61 percent of respondents said they first considered religious life between the ages of 13 and 24, while 32 percent said they considered a religious vocation before becoming a teenager.

Volunteer service should be encouraged. Alumni of Catholic volunteer programs are more likely to consider religious vocations than never-married Catholics who don't volunteer, CARA stated. "The alumni of volunteer service organizations have an extraordinarily high proportion of individuals in ordained ministry or religious life."

Engaging women religious in modern evangelization sets an example for young women absorbed in social media. Tweeting nuns have a broad reach and remind the faithful that consecrated life isn't bland — it's a call to serve God. Some women are called to served Him digitally.

And of course, we must pray for increase of religious vocations and with those who are discerning.

The Little Sisters the Poor have done great work in St. Louis, and they will continue to serve Jesus and His Church in other communities. They deserve our sincere appreciation and support.

More than 1,700 women religious still serve in St. Louis. With our full support and prayer, we will see these communities flourish. 

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