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Religious life is dying out in Europe. But it’s surging in England and Wales. Here’s why

Vocations to religious life in England and Wales have tripled in just eight years. Here are four reasons why

By on Friday, 11 October 2013

A Sister makes her final profession (Photo: Mazur/

A Sister makes her final profession (Photo: Mazur/

The number of people entering religious life has tripled over the last eight years, according to revised figures from the National Office for Vocation. Last year 64 people joined religious orders, compared to just 19 in 2004. It seems like the long decline in vocations has been reversed.

In much of Europe, the decline continues. In France, for instance, the total number of novices fell by a third from 2004 to 2011 (from 311 to 204). So what’s the secret – what is Britain doing differently?

1. Pope Benedict XVI’s visit

Vocations officials say they owe a lot to Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain in 2010. Sister Cathy Jones, religious life promoter of the National Office for Vocation, says it strengthened people’s faith and pride at being Catholic. “People who had been discerning a good number of years thought, ‘I’ll give this a go’,” she says.

2. A culture of vocation

Fr Christopher Jamison, director of the National Office for Vocation, says that, in the early 2000s, “lots of different people woke up to the same idea” – that is, that everyone had a vocation, whether that’s to be a priest, a religious, a single or married person. “Vocation” simply means to live out the baptismal call to holiness. A “culture of vocation” is what Catholic culture ideally should be.

This is the idea that vocations ministry is built on. And it leads directly to numbers three and four…

3. Discernment groups

Discernment groups have sprung up all over the country. These help people decide what their particular path to holiness will be. They come in various forms, from the national Invocation festival to the Compass programme, run by religious orders, to local Samuel groups. Many religious orders also run their own “come and see” weekends, where interested people can get a taste of religious life.

Fr Stephen Langridge, vocations director at Southwark, says: “It’s not about trying to recruit people – it’s about making people better disciples.”

The Church used to act like a recruitment agency, with adverts on posters and beer mats. That seems to be a thing of the past.

4. Vocations directors

Vocations ministry has expanded enormously in recent years. Fr Langridge says that when he was thinking about becoming a priest years ago he saw his vocations director just once. Now, he says, “I wouldn’t let someone apply if I haven’t spent 100 hours with them”.

Fr Jamison says religious orders used to have the idea that they should only pray for vocations. “If you did more than that it showed a lack of faith in God,” he says. Now, he explains, a “significant number” of religious orders have full-time vocations directors. That means they can engage much more with people who are interested in religious life.

  • Julian Lord

    Not wine-producing — cider though, and you should find traditional French beer (“cervoise”) in that area.

  • teigitur

    French beer? that will be interesting.

  • NatOns

    So true!

  • NatOns

    ‘To be honest i would keep it simple.’

    Ah! would that this were possible for mankind, BMeA, even for those who believe they can make it so – by sheer force of will alone.

    With God’s loving grace, of course we all try to be perfect as He alone is perfect; however we shall have that grace in full only in the Beatific Vision.

    In the meantime, we must work and will according to His good pleasure; that is, to engage more vigorously with the hermeneutic of continuity – the seamless life of Faith.


  • Anna

    The Church is not an ‘organization’ – it’s the Mystical Body of Christ. (Basic Catholic Catechism, Part Five: The The Apostles’ Creed IX – XII, Ninth Article: “The Holy Catholic Church; the Communion of

  • Banmeagain

    Thanks for passing that recommendation on. I have not read it but i understand and agree with the gist of the content. It has also been recommended by many others whom i trust and respect.

  • Diane Louise Antoni

    While reading GOOD BYE GOOD MEN it was easy to see why
    vocations diminished. The enemy took full advantage of unfaith-
    ful clergy and religious. We are suffering the consequences of
    what occured during the sixties through this time. I pray and
    trust that the aboundance of good Catholic Literature will
    teach the truth to many who are looking for it.

  • Legatus

    Uh, he forgot to mention one major thing that has created vocations: the Traditional Latin Mass. Deo gratias.

  • David

    Then someone should teach the children how to behave if their parents are incapable

  • David

    And there was I thinking that vocations came from God …..

  • teigitur

    I think I would prefer he SSPX to the Church in the picture. Though I have only ever been to Mass in one of their Chapels twice, both times were a spiritual experience.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    For too long we had this “Religious Life” thing and “Priesthood” thing, (What they call serving God and people in parishes or other institutions like schools, hospitals etc. performing mere rituals and building Church economy under the diocesan Bishops or Religious Superiors and thus remaining merely as a worldly “Religious” or “Socio-Politco and economic” entity). Why not have a re-look at why we keep on calling them by such names and not by the name of “Following Jesus” or “Serving Jesus the Lord and the people whom he is calling” which will make a world of difference in bringing Salvation to ourselves and to the rest of the World : Here the Centrality of Christ or Church which we want to choose in terms of our only purpose in life is in question?

    Let us stop playing with empty words and thus stop ending up with empty lives. Instead of this let us choose what will produce ‘FRUITS” worthy of Jesus the Lord who calls us. For this the only inspiration we need to take is from the Church as seen in the “Acts of the Apostles”.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “…..religious orders used to have the idea that they should only pray for
    vocations. “If you did more than that it showed a lack of faith in God,”
    he says. Now, he explains, a “significant number” of religious orders
    have full-time vocations directors.”

    Called by Jesus the Lord for his own purpose and called by the need of “Bread that perishes”? Quality is what counts.

  • Julian Lord

    Well, you could always think about settling near Carpentras in the South — which would have the warmth, wine, and other local produce that you might enjoy — and although the Catholic Faith has become a very minority activity in that part of France generally, there is the traditionalist Benedictine Abbey of Sainte-Madeleine at Le Barroux, which is quite evidently a wonderful place though I have never visited it (and formerly SSPX — it did not follow Monseigneur Lefebvre after the excommunications, and came back into communion with Rome, whilst keeping its traditional Practice) ; Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once celebrated the Mass there with the monks.

    Not too far from there is the Cistercian Abbey of Notre Dame de Bon Secours which, while it is not traditionalist, is lively in Faith.

    Most of the local parishes seem sadly to be of the “parish zone” variety, with a group of priests doing their best with the bad job of trying to cover the needs of a large number of ex-parishes simultaneously, and a scattered flock, which is typical through most of France, though there is a lively parish in Carpentras of the youthful post-John Paul II post-WYD variety more and more common in France.

    So really, you’d have freedom of choice, if you were to find somewhere a little to the north and east of Carpentras, between the four kinds of French Catholicism that are not directly tainted by straightforward modernist abuses, as the parish church in Avrillé clearly has been, and the closer you were to Le Barroux, the easier it would be for you to attend the TLM there.

  • teigitur

    Thanks for that. I do not like too much heat, being from Scotland we are not used to it! I would like the chance to attend the Traditional Rite more often. Our Bishop never allowed one here and the nearest one is a distance away.
    I know roughly the area you are talking about, having spent many holidays in France. Lovely, but perhaps a little warm in summer.

  • Vicky Hernandez

    Just an FYI. Michael S. Rose wrote the above book and another with a similar title. They are Goodbye! Good Men: How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations From the Priesthood and Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church.

    I’d add Patrick Guinan’s excellent After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests to that list.

  • revolting ewe

    “Most isn’t good enough”. I wish we could even manage ‘most’ in the mainstream. Bearing in mind man’s fallen nature I would be quite chuffed at ‘most’. To be honest overall I find it much easier to trust SSPX priests. And I don’t mean that in a bad way towards mainstream priests….I mean it in the same way I wouldn’t trust my 11 year old to drive my car. I so regularly hear such nonsense from mainstream priests that whilst recognising their good intentions I seriously wonder at times if they’ve got a clue.

  • revolting ewe

    Wasn’t Guy Fawkes a Catholic terrorist? Mainstream too. Well, of course there wasn’t any SSPX back then….that was before the days of “Nice-Church”.

  • Benedict Carter

    He was, and he was wrong to do what he did (though part of me wishes he had succeeded!).

  • Benedict Carter

    Yes, as I said, they are friends.

  • Benedict Carter

    Excellent post.

  • Benedict Carter

    And the book, “The Rite of SO dom Y” which explains all one needs to know about the rampant active hom os xual infiltration of the priesthood.

  • Rhoslyn Thomas

    Reason No. 1 should be: SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM.

  • Rhoslyn Thomas

    It is much easier to hear God’s voice in the sacred silence of an old rite mass than over the din present in many modern masses.

  • John Fisher

    Yes you are correct. Many from the late 1960′s onwards were forced to leave because they were traditionally minded. Since religious life is traditional it ripped the heart out of it. Some already in left. In some groups it was the grass was greener in the lay world for others the loss of tradition and refusal to fit in made them leave as well. So the process of transmission of custom, experience and identity has been ruptured. The old wood from that time is being removed and groups that survive will restore that which was lost. My tale is true. I have known some removed for wearing a soutane, saying the rosary chapel. reporting the breaking of celibacy by other religious, not agreeing with theological studies. On and on!

  • John Fisher

    That’s enough to make anyone into an atheist. I could not even be a Mason in place like that as it disproves the existence of a supreme architect!

  • God’s ranger

    This can not be Roman, the “minister” looks to be female, or maybe not, it is hard to tell. If this is trying to be Roman then they are breaking every liturgical law in the book. This looks more Lutheran than Roman.

  • Benedict Carter


  • revolting ewe

    Indeed Rhoslyn, that says it all.

  • Jarmila

    BAD MUSIC, which exploded in the church after Vat II,( not because it was “misinterpreted” but beacause of extreme liberals taking over seminaries, parish after parish (those liberal priest, now in their 50´ -80´s ) and these priests are still trying to exclude ALL latin, ALL sacred and dignified music. All of this contibuted greatly to the loss of faithful and of vocations. The church is still suffering tremendously from this loss of great treasure, this extreme arrogance and ignorance in the field of liturgical music from not so few priets aged 45-80.
    And many bishops just seem to get along with this.
    I pray and hope that the crucial revival and renaissance of latin and the gregorian will continue to grow stronger; there are very hopeful signs that especially Young priests and Young faithful love and cherish this great treasure of the church.
    Hopefully, this will be reflected during the next WYD in Poland, since the pop, rock and banal and worldly night club music during WYD in Rio was a suffering altogether. A pity, especially since pope Francis was great wirth the Young.

  • Benedict Carter

    Oh, that awful “priesthood” thing!

    A priest forever in the line of Melchisadek ….. are you REALLY a Catholic priest?

  • Julian Lord


  • Julian Lord

    Well — it is fairly mountainous, so that altitude might offer some relief ; and one does, I can assure you, become easily accustomed to and even enamoured of the Mediterranean climate once one is down here for more than just holidays ; but if you did want a more northern France setting, you could also look towards the area near the border to Belgium, where the monastic and the diocesan as well as the traditionalist life all remain reasonably healthy.

    Easier access to the UK and across the border through Belgium to multiple other European countries, as well as Paris, is a not insignificant bonus.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    I find these posts incomprehensible or on other topics rather gushing, I am not sure they contribute much to rational discussion. Maybe I am missing something that is apparent to others more erudite?

  • Vicky Hernandez

    Yes. If the book you recommended is by Randy Engel, then it is very thorough. However, a hard copy is waaaaay expensive to get now-a-days [At least that's the case in the USA]. It’s availiable in five volumes as a Kindle edition at much, much, more cheaply.

  • Maurizio

    64 yes – but it is not mentioned that 50 joined Traditional orders!
    In France the only ones having vocations are the Traditionals.
    Traditionals are NOT ONLY the scismatic FSSPX !!!

  • Guest

    ” Why not have a re-look at why we keep on calling them by such names and not by the name of “Following Jesus” or “Serving Jesus the Lord and the people whom he is calling” ”

    Because the Church tells us that we should have priests and religious and the Church has been given to us to guide us.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    I wonder whether God has not been holding back on vocations as a result of looking at the product of seminaries in the last 50 years. Perhaps seminaries are becoming more traditional and there are new traditional seminaries and God has changed his mind and is inspiring vocations?

  • Martin

    “though at least the Government has stopped destroying churches and other houses of religion”

    No it hasn’t. Lots of mayors are destroying parish churches as they don’t want to spend the money to maintain them.

  • CatherineA

    The SSPX is notorious for its anti-Semitism. In Italy they recently provided the funeral for a Nazi, after the Church refused, on the grounds that he was an infamous public sinner (and unrepentant). Faithful Catholics should avoid them like the plague.

  • Julian Lord

    ah — good point.

    I stand corrected ; thank you.

  • Henry

    What’s this got to do with the article? Complete overgeneralization of the SSPX – you sound like a left-wing bigot!

  • Kate Jackson

    Shame on you! The man was repentant – he received last rites. Are writers aware of the sins of calumny, detraction etc?!?

    Spiritual and corporal works of mercy are for all sinners. A priest sins mortally if he does not respond to a request for the sacraments. I do know what the repercussions are for a priest, bishop or Pope who refuses to bury the dead. As a sinner in need of constant conversion, I am pleased to attend Mass at the SSPX. May God have mercy on us all.

    To Christ Through Mary
    Kate Jackson

  • Kate Jackson

    *** that should read

    “I do NOT know what the repercussions are for a priest, bishop or Pope who refuses to bury the dead. “