Future of American Catholic Religious Orders

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Wed, 03/01/1989
End Date: 
Sat, 02/29/1992

In 1988, psychologists David Nygren, CM, and Miriam Ukeritis, CSJ, then of Boston University, began planning a comprehensive study of vowed religious life in the American Catholic Church. Seeking to identify changes that would revitalize religious communities in the United States and ensure their survival into the twenty-first century, they commenced work on their three-year project in 1989. In presenting their findings, Nygren and Ukeritis sounded a call to action supported by exhaustive research. Integrating the insights of social scientists and members of religious congregations, they also recommended responses to the challenges identified in their research. A national survey mailed to nearly 10,000 sisters, brothers, and religious order priests investigated their experience of religious life. The researchers investigated the characteristics of outstanding leaders of religious communities by employing a three-pronged strategy: they hosted conferences of leaders of religious communities, included questions about leaders on the national survey, and commissioned a behavioral event interview study comparing the characteristics of outstanding religious leaders with those of typical leaders of religious communities. The researchers also interviewed experts on religious life, raising questions about the nature and future of religious life. Finally, they commissioned Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, to write a theological monograph on religious life in the post -Vatican II years, and engaged John Padberg, SJ, to compose a historical postscript to Johnson's monograph. Overall, Nygren and Ukeritis concluded that religious orders have a ten-year window of opportunity in which to adopt necessary innovations after which American religious life will fall into irreversible decline. They urged that religious orders rediscover the ideals upon which they were founded and develop innovative ways of responding to pressing, contemporary needs.