Utilising qualitative and quantitative methods, the Pastoral Research Office of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference conducted a study of recent vocations to religious life in Australia between 2000 and 2015 to identify successful practices for promoting vocations and to understand the factors that assist in retaining new members. Congregational leaders from 34 male and 59 female institutions responded to a Leaders Survey. There were nine congregations with 10 or more new members, eight of agreed to be interviewed. The total membership of the 93 institutions was 4,427 at the survey date. A New Members’ Survey was completed by 55 religious (45 women and 10 men) out of a total pool of 254 members, with 12 joining one of four focus groups. This paper reports on the challenges facing new members and outlines the ways in which congregations addressed them via their policies, support strategies and other practices. Congregational leaders and new members detailed the challenges facing new members such as sharing space and meals, loss of personal freedom, cultural and social status differences, generational conflicts, and handling difficult personalities. Congregational leaders during the interviews said that they focused on three main areas to address new member’s concerns: establishing an integrated and well-resourced approach, offering a live-in experience – to test and see, and having a full-time vocation director or team. They claimed that their relative success in keeping members was largely due to providing new members with support and encouragement from community members and professional counsellors, with new members encouraged to talk openly about their concerns and challenges in an emotionally safe environment. They also gave them a voice in the community, listening to their views. New members appreciated having the opportunity to raise their concerns, being able to stay connected to their friends, family and interests, to have voice in community matters and having a defined role to play in the community.
In 2018, the National Council of Catholic Religious Australia commissioned the ACBC Pastoral Research Office (now the National Centre for Pastoral Research) to conduct a survey of all Institutes of Clerical Religious, Religious Brothers and Religious Sisters in Australia. Building on data gathered from the previous survey undertaken in 2009, this study aimed to record the demographic details of each congregation and the details of ownership or operation of institutions owned by each congregation. This paper presents the findings of the study particularly related to congregations of women religious. It reveals key membership changes occurring across congregations as well as discusses emerging changes occurring in ministry involvement and organisational structure, particularly in the areas of leadership and governance.
Today it is acknowledged that intercultural awareness is an important part of training for religious life and the priesthood. Countries experiencing an increase in the number of vocations are those areas where inculturation was accepted. In New Zealand it took until the 1970s and 1980s for this awareness to have an impact on the numbers of Māori entering religious congregations and the priesthood. Despite Catholic Church documents encouraging indigenous vocations and respect for Indigenous customs and traditions, young Māori Catholics wanting to become priests or enter religious life encountered many challenges, including institutional racism. The structure, training, lifestyle, living conditions, dress, and rules in seminaries and novitiates were transplanted from Europe. Indigenous candidates to the priesthood or religious life had, in effect, to become European or ‘brown-skinned Pākehā Catholics’. People with a rich and ancient spirituality of their own were expected to adopt a more prescribed, formal, ritualised, but equally rich and classical understanding of religion. The inability or unwillingness to adjust to meet the needs of, or acknowledge the vibrant nature of, the spiritualities of indigenous peoples resulted in lost opportunities for evangelisation. This research project considers the issues that hindered vocations to the priesthood and religious life and places them within the context of Church teachings and the experience of indigenous peoples elsewhere.