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Friday, 15 July 2011 04:45

New report on Religious in Australia: older, fewer but doing many new things

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‘See, I am doing a new thing!’, the report on the 2009 survey of Catholic Religious Institutes in Australia was commissioned by Catholic Religious Australia (CRA), the peak body for leaders of religious orders and institutes in Australia. The survey was undertaken on CRA’s behalf by the Pastoral Planning Office of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC).

The authors of the survey and the report were Stephen Reid and Robert Dixon from ACBC and Father Noel Connolly SSC, Regional Director of St Columbans Mission Society, Australia/New Zealand, who was a member of the CRA National Council until July 2010.

The survey was commissioned by CRA to get a picture of the membership at the present time, to consider trends for the future, and to understand more fully the important role that Catholic Religious play in the Australian Church and society.

The last time a similar survey was conducted was 34 years ago.  While the 1976 survey was completed by individual priests, brothers and sisters, this survey was with religious congregations. One hundred and sixty one congregations, orders, societies and associations responded to the 2009 survey, which could be completed online or in print form.

‘See, I am doing a new thing!’ contains statistical information on Religious in Australia including numbers, age, locations, areas of work, as well as ownership and operation of institutions, and partnerships with other congregations and organisations.  It also includes seven personal reflections on the findings of the report from leaders of religious institutes.

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. The median average age of Religious in Australia in 2009 was 73 with Religious women making up just over 70 per cent of all Religious.

While the survey shows that Australia’s Religious are ageing and decreasing in numbers they are broadening the type of ministry they are involved in, with a movement away from institutional ministries like education to the more social and pastoral work found on the margins of society.

Today, many Religious are working with refugees and asylum seekers, indigenous Australians, as prison chaplains, for organisations against human trafficking, and for the environment.  Other apostolates include congregational leadership and administration, contemplative life, healthcare and aged care, media, publishing and the arts, overseas mission, social services and spiritual direction such as retreats and further study.

Sister Anne Derwin RSJ, CRA President said:  “We can rejoice that there are nearly eight and half thousand Religious women and men still faithfully living their commitment to Christ and generously living the Gospel in our country today.

“There are challenges arising from the data such as numbers, age, and the future of the good works we have begun. Our changing demographics invite new questions, new possibilities; there is cause for hope in our openness to what God is doing now.”

‘See, I am doing a new thing!’, the report on the 2009 survey of Catholic Religious Institutes in Australia, will be launched at 5pm on Monday, 15 November at Catholic Religious Australia’s (CRA) offices at 36 Collins Street, Annandale, Sydney.

If you would like to attend the launch of ‘See, I am doing a new thing!’ please email Sister Veronica McCluskie, CRA Executive Director at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 10 November.


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.