Women entering religious life continues to drop dramatically - KCTV5 News

Women entering religious life continues to drop dramatically

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Decades ago, seeing nuns in cities across the country was common. For example, if you went to Catholic school, you were probably taught by sisters. Today, that is not likely the case. (KCTV5) Decades ago, seeing nuns in cities across the country was common. For example, if you went to Catholic school, you were probably taught by sisters. Today, that is not likely the case. (KCTV5)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Decades ago, seeing nuns in cities across the country was common.

For example, if you went to Catholic school, you were probably taught by sisters. Today, that is not likely the case.

The number of women entering religious life has dropped dramatically. So, KCTV5 News wanted to know if that is happening locally, and we spoke with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

This peaceful place has a humble beginning. In 1858, Mother Xavier Ross founded the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. They were a small group. Today, inside the motherhouse, the past is still present.

Over time, the women who were once given religious names and wore habits evolved. However, they have always stayed true to their mission.

"Basically our charism is what needs to be done right now," Sister Diane Steele said. "What are the needs in front of us? What are the critical needs of Gods people, that we need to answer right now?"

Steele was one of five women who joined the community in 1983.

"I do tell our students that I haven't seen a paycheck since I was 21," Steele said.

She is still a sister, and today is the president of The University of Saint Mary.

Sister Amy Willcott grew up in Leavenworth and attended Saint Mary. Willcott and her family members were taught by the sisters.

"There are young people who have never met a sister because there are fewer sisters," Willcott said. "And probably there’s the stereotypic sister that is portrayed on TV, and that is not who we are or what we do."

What the women do varies.

Sure they pray and give spiritual guidance, but they’re social workers, educators, and advocates. They work in healthcare, housing and are leaders in their ministries. They have missions across the country and around the world. However, today, the reality is, there are fewer of them.

In a recent study from The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, researchers wrote that there are more Catholic sisters in the United States over the age of 90 than under 60.

There are currently 203 Sisters of Charity. The median age is 79 years old.

Back in 1965, they had 998 members. It was a record-setting year. In 1960, 52 women entered at one time. Today, one woman may enter every few years.

Even with the number of sisters dwindling both locally, and across the country, the women in Leavenworth say they are not concerned.

"It's a number," Willcott said. "I believe wholeheartedly that our mission and our charism is going to continue whether the sisters of charity continue it."

"I think it’s God’s way of re-inventing us," Steele said. "What we'll look like, I don't know. To me, it’s a waste of energy to spend too much time worrying about it, because it’s in God’s hands. God called us to be here, and if God wants more people here, God will call people here."

For younger women who do feel called, they are doing important work.

Sister Melissa Camardo is part of an anti sex trafficking ministry in New York.

"This issue of trafficking in our world today has come to the forefront more in the last 10 to 20 years," Camardo said. "So it’s a wonderful fit for us to dedicate our resources today."

Sister Rejane Cytacki, a 44-year-old Notre Dame graduate, is running an eco-justice center in Wisconsin.

"We have about a 1500 acre farm with lots of animals," Cytacki said. "From alpacas, chickens, goats, geese, guinea, foul, rabbits, cats, lots of garden space, and renewable energy."

The sisters hope that young women who enjoy giving back will think about religious life, even if that means giving up marriage and having a family.

"I would say I’ve never regretted my choice," Cytacki said. "But I would say yeah, do I have thoughts? Sure. I'm a human being. We're biologically programmed to mate and be with someone. It is a very different call."

"There were times that I did ponder what it would mean not to have a family and not to have a spouse," Camardo said. "But the essential sense in my own heart, was that I was being called to something that was very much of living a life of love in the world and that was what I wanted to do."

Even if the group continues to decline in numbers, the women are focused on the future.

"We don't need to be a workforce," Camardo said. "We just need to bring light and love to the world in a way that is needed. And for me, that doesn't depend on necessarily how many of us there are."

"God can do amazing things with very few of us," Steele said.

The sisters also know that the internet and social media is a great tool for them to connect with women who may think about religious life.

They also collaborate with other communities on important projects not only locally, but also across the country and world.

To learn more about the Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, click here:

Copyright 2018 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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