Where Have All the Sisters Gone?
To Nashville, Indiana, Alabama, and Ann Arbor, apparently. The Sisters of Life are doing land office business in New York, and Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity (and the other three affiliated orders she founded) don't even need webpages to grow. Contemplative orders seem to be doing okay, in their lowkey way. But you won't see that in this article, though you will in Amy's comments.
I think the reason most orders are shrinking is that they're not out looking for members where they can be found. When was the last time you saw an order have a booth at a career day? How many hold retreats for college girls, or invite girls to visit on field trips?
Well, okay, that new order in Ann Arbor does booths at the Ann Arbor parishes. And they've got no trouble at all attracting warm bodies.
I've been a Catholic all my life, and I've only ever seen the inside of a convent once, for about a half hour, in fourth grade. The sisters got sent away at the end of the year after that (donors and parish council members' kids were being given higher grades and being disciplined less by some sisters than kids of us peons -- but nobody told us kids why). It was just as well, since the German nun was always getting mistreated by kids and none of the other nuns did anything about it. (Some sisterhood.)
I don't remember any nuns or nun programs affiliated with the campus parish, even though Lourdes College was right over the hill with tons o' nuns. I've never heard a nun talk about how much she loves her vocation and how every young woman should consider it. They assume you don't want to join, I guess. Maybe they assume you shouldn't even think about it unless you get a Call with a big neon arrow pointing to their place. But they sure as heck aren't doing anything of a serious recruiting nature. (Putting tiny ads in the back of religious magazines, or having dorky websites you can't find unless you already know all about the order, is not what I call a serious search for recruits.)
They say you have to believe in your own company and products before you can sell them to anybody else. Orders that know they're doing good work for the Lord are able to attract and retain members. Orders that don't believe or love what they're doing will of course fail to convince people to join them, unless God Himself takes pity on them and provides recruits with the aforesaid neon arrow.
There will always be plenty of women with vocations, just as there will always be plenty of men with them. It is sad that so many people who would love to spend their life serving God have been held back by the timid inaccessibility of so many religious orders. There's nothing sadder than women who act ashamed of the vocation God gave them and the legacy their own sisters handed on.