Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Sisters in decline

January 16th, 2011, Promulgated by Mike

On January 1, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, Sister Anita Kurowski made her first profession of vows as a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph.  The ceremony, which marked the completion of the novitiate phase of Sister Anita’s  formation, took place at Our Holy Family Chapel in Rochester.  More details may be found here and here.

It struck me that the welcoming of novices or the profession of vows are infrequent events, not only for the Sisters of St. Joseph but also for DOR’s other larger order of religious women, the Sisters of Mercy, and this got me wondering how well the membership of these two groups is holding up.

Below is a graph showing the “Total in Community” (TiC) for each order, as reported by the Official Catholic Directory for the years 1997 through 2010.

There are two sets of data for the Sisters of Mercy (the red and yellow lines), due to a consolidation undergone by that order in 2008.  The bottom (yellow) line shows the TiC data for the Sisters of Mercy in Rochester from 1997 through 2007.  Starting in 2008 the Rochester community was consolidated into a larger group along communities located in Buffalo, Erie and Pittsburgh. (The Buffalo community also includes a community located in the Philippines.) Therefore the top (red) line shows the sums of the TiC numbers for those four congregations from 1997 through 2007, along with the TiC numbers for the consolidated congregation from 2008 through 2010.

The data shows that the membership of the Rochester Sisters of St. Joseph has been declining by about 3.5% per year over the 13 year period, while the Rochester contingent of the Sisters of Mercy was showing a 2.1% annual decline through 2007 and the consolidated New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific and West R.S.M. congregation has been losing members at the rate of 3.2% per year over the entire period.

These trends definitely do not bode well for the long term future of either organization.



5 Responses to “Sisters in decline”

  1. Jim R says:

    You don’t happen to have a breakdown on the age of the remaining sisters?

  2. Mike says:

    Jim R,

    No, I do not. The Official Catholic Directory does not list that information and I’m not aware of any other potential source.

    Many orders seem to treat that kind of information as top secret. Mother Mary Clare Millea, the person appointed by the Vatican to conduct the recent visitation of U.S. women’s religious orders felt it necessary to drop three questions from the questionnaire each order was asked to complete:

    … those regarding the demographic, ministry, and living situations of each member; the list of property owned; and the financial statements. Mother Clare did reiterate, “Our canonical and civil advisors concur that the Apostolic See has the right to all the information contained in the questionnaire.” (Source here)

  3. Jim R says:

    Thanks Mike.

    It’s indeed not easy to get that info. When you look at the Boston CSJ’s site, it indicates there are 408 members as of January 4, 2011. There are 13 celebrating their 50th anniversary; 17 celebrating 60 years, and 3 celebrating 75 years. 50 years ago was 1960 – just before the deluge. So let’s estimate you got about 10 celebrating 40 years.

    So we can estimate the numbers as follows assuming they became sisters at about 25 years old:

    (10+13)/2*10 years = 115 sisters in their 40th – 50th years: being about 65-75 years old
    (13+17)/2*10 years = 150 sisters in their 50th – 60th years: being about 75-85 years old
    (17+3)/2*15 years = 150 sisters in their 60th – 75th years: being about 85-100 years old

    Note that adds up to 415 sisters – not bad when the real number is 408. There probably are fewer older and a couple younger, but it’s pretty clear that the ranks are ancient.

    A little math and we can estimate the average age at a little more than 81 years old. Let’s say 78+/- to give the benefit of the doubt.

    Seems to me that the Boston CSJ’s are in real trouble.

    Don’t know if the same info is available for the Rochester SSJs. In any event, I bet the ages are similar.

  4. Mike says:

    Interesting analysis, Jim.

    My approach to a first approximation would be to make two assumptions (essentially no new members are joining and death is essentially the only way a member leaves) and then use a period life table to estimate median age.

    For instance, the SSJs are showing a 3.5% per year annual rate of decline in membership. This table from the Social Security Administration indicates that females aged 77 have a 0.034405 probably of dying within the next 12 months so, for what it’s worth, that would be my estimation of their median age.

    Using the same approach for the RSMs I come up with an estimated median age of 76 for the consolidated congregation and 72 for the pre-merger Rochester group.

  5. Jim R says:

    Using you table the Boston CSJ had 17 out of an initial 425 die – 4% which equates with 78.

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