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Pathways to Religious Life

Edited by Thomas Gaunt, SJ

Publication Date - 07 August 2018

ISBN: 9780190878153

208 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


The history of religious life in the Catholic Church has been filled with change: periods of membership growth and decline, shifts in the types of ministries, and changes in the ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds of the men and women who join. Today, as the numbers of new members diminish, some say that the very future of religious life is in jeopardy. What is the state of religious life in the United States today? Which institutes are increasing in membership and which are decreasing or ceasing to exist? From what ethnic and socioeconomic populations are they drawing their members? What new religious institutes and ecclesial movements are being founded and how successful are they? What influences a young man or woman to consider religious life today? How are religious from other countries shaping religious life here as they come to the US to minister?

Many of these questions can be addressed by data from studies of religious life in the US which the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has conducted over the last ten years. The impact of the individual's family dynamics and educational experience before their entrance into religious life is examined here, as well as the influence of an increasing number of Catholic volunteer programs. The emergence of lay associates in religious institutes and the birth of new religious institutes since Vatican Council II in the United States are investigated as new ways of living religious life. The increase in the number of sisters and priests studying and ministering in the United States from other countries is examined for its impact on religious life. The authors' findings yield valuable recommendations for religious institutes and vocation directors who wish to attract new members.


  • Grounded in current social science research
  • Utilizes extensive data on the associates of religious institutes and the emergence of new religious institutes in the US since 1965
  • Observations and conclusions drawing on survey data from dozens of research studies

About the Author(s)

Father Thomas Gaunt, S.J. is the Executive Director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Prior to CARA, he served in Jesuit governance as the Socius/Executive Secretary of the Jesuit Conference for nine years and the Formation and Studies Director of the Maryland and New York Jesuits for seven years. After ordination, he spent ten years as a pastor and as Director of Planning in the Diocese of Charlotte. Father Gaunt is actively involved with the L'Arche Communities in Washington, DC.


"For anyone who is curious about changes in Catholic religious institutes of women and men, Pathways to Religious Life is a treasure-trove, and its breadth and depth make it appealing and worthwhile for many readers. ... The book not only provides considerable insight into the Catholic Church, but also reveals a significant vision of the role and effects of religion in the United States. I find it to be a valuable resource and I highly recommend it." -- Katarina Schuth , Reading Religion

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: An Overview of the History of Religious Life in the United States
    Chapter 2: Population Trends among Religious Institutes since 1970
    Chapter 3: The Influences of Families on Religious Vocations
    Chapter 4: The Influences of College Experiences on Religious Vocations
    Chapter 5: The Influences of Volunteer Programs on Religious Vocations
    Chapter 6: Other Factors Influencing Religious Vocations
    Chapter 7: Associates and Religious Institutes
    Chapter 8: New and Emerging Religious Communities
    Chapter 9: International Sisters and Priests in the United States
    Chapter 10: Learnings for Vocation Directors

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