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Friday, 15 July 2011 04:41

Summary of the report on the 2009 survey of Religious Institutes in Australia

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They were also asked questions on changes in ownership, sponsorship or operation of institutions in the last 10 years and how they see their congregations in the next 10 years.  Questions in relation to partnerships with lay associations, agencies and other congregations were also canvassed.

Some of the key findings are as follows:

Numbers of Religious

The survey showed that in 2009 there were 8,422 Catholic Religious in Australia ¬– 5,927 Religious Sisters, 884 Religious Brothers and 1,611 Religious order priests.

Religious women make up just over 70 per cent of all Religious in Australia. They are followed by clerical Religious at 19.1 per cent and Religious Brothers at 10.5 per cent.

Forty-seven per cent of all congregations in Australia have fewer than 26 members, while a further 21 per cent have between 26 and 50 members. Although only 12 per cent of congregations have more than 100 members, the number of Religious in those 20 congregations account for almost half of all Religious in Australia.

Between 1997 and 2008, just over 400 people made their first profession, with just under three-quarters still members in 2009. In the same period there were at least 483 departures of professed members from Religious congregations and 2,531 deaths.

Age of Religious

Overall, the median aged of Catholic Religious in Australia is 73. By comparison, the most recent data from 2006 indicates the median age of Australian Catholics, 20 years and over was 46, while the median aged of Mass attendees, 20 years and over was 59. Over one-quarter (26.6 %) of Religious are 80 years of age and over, and 57.1 per cent are 70 or over. Only 8.2 per cent are aged under 60.

In comparison, in 1976 the median age of Religious was 49, which resembles the median age of the overall Catholic population over 20 today.

Religious women represent the oldest of Australian Religious with a median age of 74.  In 1976, the proportion of Religious women 60 years or over was 36.5 per cent. In 2009, 85.6 per cent were in that age group. Clerical Religious are the “youngest” group of Catholic Religious in Australia with 19.4 per cent under 50 years of age. Around 31 per cent are 75 years or over and the median aged is 67.

The median age of Religious brothers is 71 with just over half (51.8 %) aged 70 or over. In 1976, the age profile was vastly different with the largest number of brothers under 25 years of age (16.2%).

Birthplace of Religious

Overall, three-quarters of all Religious were born in Australia, which is a similar percentage to Australian Catholics as a whole (74.7%).  The remaining one-quarter of Religious born overseas came from 75 different countries. The largest proportion emigrated from Ireland, representing 5.8 per cent of the total population of Religious.

Apostolates (work the Religious are involved)

More than one-quarter of Religious are retired (26.1%).  Given the age of many Religious, it may have been expected that his figure would be higher. One reason why it is not is that many elderly Religious refuse to consider themselves as retired, but continue to see themselves as contributing to the work of their congregation and community through prayer and through the encouragement and support they offer to others.

Just over 10 per cent are involved in parish work, and a similar number are involved in other types of pastoral care.  In 2009 Religious are involved in a diverse range of apostolates from congregational leadership and administration, to chaplaincy, contemplative life, education, environmental work, formation, healthcare and aged care, media, publishing and the arts, work with migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, human trafficking,  overseas mission, social services, indigenous Australians, spiritual direction such as retreats and further study.

Apart from the diversity of apostolates, one of the most dramatic changes between 1976 and 2009   has been the decrease in the proportion of Religious working in education. In 1976, almost half (47.5%) of all Religious were involved in education, with the majority of these working as teachers in primary or secondary schools. In 2009, only 6.3 per cent of Religious are involved in primary and secondary education.

Location of Religious

More than two-fifths (44.4%) of all Religious live in the Archdioceses of Sydney and Melbourne

Organisational change

Sixty-five congregations wrote of the diminishment in numbers and their congregation’s capacity for ministry. Forty-two congregations indicated a movement towards, or interest in, integrating ministries, forming partnerships with other provinces, congregations, Church entities, lay people or other organisations, or aggregation or moving to union or configuration.

Seven congregations mentioned scaling back involvement in ministry, change to the breadth of ministries and one mentioned withdrawal from ministry altogether. Nine congregations indicated that members coming from overseas would be necessary to maintain or expand their present commitments.

At the same time, 40 congregations are not contemplating any withdrawal of their ministries or establishing new governance structures. Fourteen congregations have Boards as their governing structure and 19 had either formed a PJP or were considering doing so.

Lay associations

The majority of congregations have some form of loosely-connected or formal lay association.

Partnerships with other congregations

While 10 congregations indicated that they worked in formal partnership with other congregations at this stage there appears to be very few formal partnerships, but there is a wide variety of informal arrangements with members working together with other congregations in ministry.

Existing partnerships with other agencies

Some congregations listed partnerships with a number of different agencies, while others did not have any partnerships in place. More than one-third or 28 congregations has a partnership with a Catholic Education Office and 12 congregations had partnership with Centacare.


For more information contact Therese Spruhan, CRA Communications Officer on 0420 935 288 or email her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.