CARA Religious Life Research

CARA conducts a variety of studies for religious institutes (congregations, provinces, and monasteries). Membership surveys and focus groups are designed to assess attitudes, priorities, and needs in areas such as mission, ministry, charism, prayer, spirituality, community life, vocation promotion, initial formation, ongoing formation, and retirement. CARA also conducts studies on sponsorship and mission integration as well as on collaboration with associates and colleagues in sponsored institutions and works. Studies for religious communities typically consist of some combination of member surveys, focus groups, membership projections, and ministry site studies. These studies are often used in strategic or pastoral planning processes. For further information about Religious Life Research, contact Mary Gautier by email or by calling (202) 687-8086. The numbers of religious priests, brothers, and sisters in the United States since 1965 are provided below from CARA’s Frequently Requested Church Statistics:

1965
1970
1975
1980
1985
1990
1995
2000
2005
2010
2014
Religious priests
22,707
21,920
22,904
22,771
22,265
18,010
16,705
15,092
13,305
12,811
12,010
Religious brothers
12,271
11,623
8,625
7,941
7,544
6,721
6,535
5,662
5,451
4,690
4,318
Religious sisters
179,954
160,931
135,225
126,517
115,386
102,504
90,809
79,814
68,634
57,544
49,883

Recent CARA reports on vocations and religious life that are publicly available are listed below:

This report presents a longitudinal study of women religious in the United States drawing on data reported by the religious institutes of women listed in the Official Catholic Directory (OCD). The contributions of women religious in the United States continue to be evident today in Catholic institutions of education and healthcare across the country, but there are, and have been, countless other contributions as well. Over the years, these valiant women have adapted to changing circumstances and forged ahead despite challenges to their way of life and ministry. The U.S. Catholic Church is indebted to the ministerial efforts and sacrifices made by women religious in the past and present. This CARA Special Report is an effort to disentangle the story of women religious in the United States that is hidden in the numbers.

This summary report from Boston College examines the variables that promote vocations to the Catholic priesthood and calls for a more interconnected approach from dioceses, parishes, and colleges to foster them. The report, College Experience and Priesthood, encompasses a CARA study of more than 1,500 men in the seminary or recently ordained, and the analysis of that study conducted at a national summit of bishops, college presidents, campus ministers, vocation directors and other spiritual directors.

Bridging The GapInternational priests bring their unique enthusiasm, talents, and pastoral care to parishioners all over the United States. Essential to the pastoral ministry of the Church, they find great joy in their work. But these joys come with challenges, ranging from language barriers to homesickness to cultural misunderstandings and more

The research on volunteer alumni suggests that volunteering for a year of service in a faith-based volunteer service organization may be an important step in a young adult’s discernment process. This is evidenced by the majority of the men volunteer alumni and one-third of the women volunteer alumni who have considered a religious vocation. Current and former volunteers may well be the most likely and identifiable group of potential vocations to priesthood and religious life.

New Generation of Catholic SistersThis book offers a comprehensive examination of contemporary religious life among women who have entered religious institutes in the United States since the end of the Second Vatican Council drawn from survey data and archival material.

This report represents findings from a national survey of ordinands to the priesthood in 2014.*

*This survey is conducted annually. Links for previous years can be found below:
2013
2012
2011

This report represents findings from a national survey of women and men religious who professed perpetual vows in 2013 in a religious congregation, province, or monastery based in the United States.*

*This survey is conducted annually. Links for previous years can be found below:
2013
2012
2011

The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) has compiled several CARA research studies in an easy-to-use fact sheet on vocations to religious life. Included on this sheet are statistics on the average age of entrance to religious life, numbers of men and women currently in formation for religious life, and challenges to pursuing religious life, including educational debt, encouragement and discouragement of vocation, and changing Catholic demographics in the United States.

This report represents findings from a national poll of never-married Catholics regarding their consideration of a vocation.

This book shares covers topics such as the challenges of ministry with fewer ordinations and larger parishes, ministering to an increasingly multicultural laity, collaboration with lay leaders, personal reflections on the sexual abuse issue, and the many satisfactions of being a priest using findings from five surveys.

This report presents findings from a study of the impact of educational debt on vocations to religious life in the United States that was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) for the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC).

This report presents findings from a national survey of women religious who professed perpetual vows in 2010 in a religious congregation, province, or monastery based in the United States.

This report represents findings from a study of recent vocations to religious life in the United States that was conducted for the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC). Findings were used to identify and understand the characteristics, attitudes, and experiences of men and women who are coming to religious life today as well as the characteristics and practices of the religious institutes that are successfully attracting new candidates and retaining new members.