The future of religious life and the plight of young adult Catholic women

Every year, hundreds of young Catholic women graduate from universities, graduate programs in religion, divinity schools and seminaries. Many of them go on to be theologians, chaplains, nonprofit leaders, advocates, activists and social workers doing outreach with the homeless, the incarcerated and victims of domestic violence.

Their work is not only high-risk, it is often emotionally demanding and spiritually draining. If they are very lucky, they work in a supportive environment under a supervisor who is stable, competent and compassionate.

Unlike males who seek the priesthood, the institutional church does not support their education or their profession — even though they, too, spend their lives studying and serving the church.

Unlike women religious, they do not experience some of the securities that come with religious life. They have to find employment on their own, pay their rent, maintain a household on their own and, in some cases, provide their own medical insurance. If they lose their jobs, there is no safety net to carry them through until they find work again.

Perhaps most challenging of all, these young women do not enjoy the sustenance that comes with a life of prayer, contemplation and community. Young women are as in need of this support as any of the sisters engaged in similar work.

The number of young adult Catholic women who find themselves in this predicament is not small. And, I believe, they are most certainly called by God in a way very similar to women religious.

The difference is that these young women grew up in a culture that, in some significant ways, is radically different from society in which the majority of sisters in the United States were raised.

The bulk of the sisters ministering in the United States today entered their communities during or before the 1960s. They were raised in a social climate that did not discuss sexuality openly and in a church that demanded they bury their sexual feelings. Thankfully, most women religious in the past few decades have moved beyond these repressed beginnings. Nowadays, sisters are among our culture’s strongest advocates for sexual and gender justice.  Read more

Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for the National Catholic Reporter earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.


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