• image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
Thursday, 04 August 2011 03:02

Older, fewer but doing new things

Rate this item
(0 votes)

Leaders of Religious orders gathered in Sydney on 15 November for the launch of 'See, I am doing a new thing', the report on the 2009 survey.

Commissioned by Catholic Religious Australia (CRA), the survey was undertaken on CRA's behalf by the Pastoral Planning Office of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). Its authors, Stephen Reid and Robert Dixon from ACBC and Father Noel Connolly SSC, Regional Director of St Columbans Mission Society, Australia/New Zealand, joined with Religious leaders at CRA's Annandale office to mark the report's release.

CRA commissioned the survey 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.

Key findings were that in 2009 there were 8422 Religious in Australia compared with 17,029 in 1976.  Religious Sisters make up just over 70 per cent of the cohort. In 2009 there were 5,927 Religious Sisters, 884 Religious Brothers and 1,611 Religious order priests. The median average age of Religious in 2009 was 73.

While the survey shows that Sisters, Brothers and clerical Priests are ageing and decreasing, 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, parish work, pastoral care, healthcare and aged care, media, publishing and the arts, overseas mission, social services and spiritual direction such as retreats and further study.

Other key findings are as follows:

* 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.

* 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%).

* 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.

* More than one-quarter of Religious are retired (26.1%).

* 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.

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

* 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.

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

* 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.

Pathways, November 2010

Have your say...

"Thanks for this important work. It could be interesting to consider it in light of 'Choosing Life - Evolutionary Trends in Australian Religious Life Today', 2001, a project of the then ACLRI initiated by Mary Cresp RSJ. It offered some sharp and timely insights, I think."
- Caroline Ryan RSM, 22-11-2010

"Thanks to those who initiated this project and to Stephen, Robert & Noel who have produced such a fine document. I really resonate with Anne Derwin's insights in this issue of Pathways. I would also like to see some comment on the ministries of the 26.1% of retirees! In my expression retired religious provide oases of contemplative wisdom-much needed in a fractured world. "
- Veronica Lawson rsm, 24-11-2010

"I would like to add to Veronica's comment on the 65 - 85 age group. it is a 'new generation' on Earth, healthier, better educated, better connected (electronically), and far more numerous than their predecessors. I expect great things! Another question I have of the survey is whether the 'globalisation' of religious life has meant that western religious are playing a significant and new role in congregations that now span the world."
- moy hitchen, 10-12-2010

"I am responding to this post in Have Your Say....."I would like to add to Veronica's comment on the 65 - 85 age group. it is a 'new generation' on Earth, healthier, better educated, better connected (electronically), and far more numerous than their predecessors. I expect great things! " - moy hitchen, 10-12-2010 For most of my life I have wanted to be a nun...at the age of 11 I had my name picked out... Sr Mary Luke. Even though Life had other ideas and I lived a regular secular life, the desire did not go away, I knew the Lord had me in His sights. My career was spent in retail advertising and Newspapers. I am an only child; my father left our home when I was around 7. I guess I've always felt a responsibility to be around for Mum and to take care of her when she was older. For the last 26, up to July last year when she passed away, I had her living with me; ight years of that was as her primary carer. Since that time I have had the growing conviction that the Lord is throwing pebbles on my window pane. I have been praying about this vocation and making retreats. In 1987 I was professed as a Secular Franciscan and am currently the formator for my local fraternity...we have 5 novices about to be professed this year. Now the big question is...are there any Australia convents (preferably habited) who will accept a healthy, active 71yr old? Blessings, Wendy"
- Wendy Stringer, 03-02-2011