According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 90 percent of Catholic sisters alive today are over the age of 60; most are closer to 80. The majority are white. Many younger religious sisters, who reflect the increasing diversity of the general population, have no peers in their home congregations.
These women often feel invisible. They aren’t part of a trendsetting organization like Nuns and Nones, in which aging religious sisters partner with secular Millennials to share resources and work for social justice. Their stories don’t seem to attract the same media attention as their peers who discern in the more “traditional” orders or those who wear the full habit and don’t work outside of their convents.
These women usually come to their congregations with careers they will continue. Sister Dela Paz is a program coordinator at the University of San Diego. Others are counselors, teachers, lawyers, and full-time students. But they’ve also chosen a radically countercultural life of service to the church and those most in need.
The dominant narrative of vowed religious life has for decades been one of diminishment and scarcity. Those are words younger religious sisters are tired of hearing. It’s true, however, that women such as Dela Paz struggle with being minorities in their aging home communities. “It’s difficult to talk about your hope for the future of religious life when you don’t see the young faces,” Dela Paz says. “It’s easy for younger religious women to think ‘I’m the only one.’ ”