By Susan Gately - 18 October, 2013
Vocations to religious life in England and Wales have tripled in just eight years, according to recently released figures.
Last year, 64 people joined a religious congregation, compared to just 19 in 2004. The number is at its highest level since 1995.
The figures, from the National Office for Vocation, were revised this month to include data from enclosed female orders. They also show a big jump among entrants to orders of priests, from 19 in 2011 to 30 last year.
According to Sr Cathy Jones from the National Office for Vocation, the surge had been evident “across the whole range” of religious congregations, from Dominicans to Franciscans to Salvatorians. She said some communities had new members joining after a gap of 10 years or more.
The Society of the Sacred Heart, for instance, had three novices last year after 15 years without any vocations. Sr Cathy said one reason for the surge was that there were now “more processes to help people on their [vocations] journey.”
In Ireland, numbers joining religious orders have been “on an even keel” for some years, according to Director of Vocations Ireland, Ann-Marie Gallagher, averaging around 27 a year from 2006 to 2011, although the number for 2011, the most recent available figure, was down somewhat at 20.
The Director of Vocations Ireland believes the growth in the UK is due to its strong backing by the bishops through the National Office for Vocation which promotes all vocations – ordained ministry, consecrated life, marriage and lay single life.
From this office a push towards promoting vocations extends to parishes. “They would say that just as every parish in the country is involved in mission overseas, it should become unthinkable to have a parish without a vocations group,” Ms Gallagher told CatholicIreland.net
Asked if the bishops should be doing something more in Ireland for vocations, Ms Gallagher said everyone was responsible for “promoting a culture of vocation. As a lay person that was one of the reasons I got involved in Vocations Ireland. I felt a responsibility.”
She underlined the vital importance of the discernment process so much emphasised in programmes like “Explore Away” which provide an opportunity to young single, men and women to explore religious life over a series of weekends.
“They are small steps towards a culture of discernment,” said Ms Gallagher and “much appreciated by the Vocations Directors of all the religious orders”.