Nuns on the rise... Number of women entering convents hits 25-year high


Nuns are not so much on the run as on the rise.

The number of women seeking solitude and silence with God has increased six-fold in ten years in England and Wales, latest figures show.

Although still relatively low, the number of women entering Catholic convents in England and Wales has hit a 25 year high, reaching 45 last year compared to just seven in 2004.

"Religious life is an attractive choice for an increasing number of educated and dynamic young and older women," a Catholic spokeswoman said.

Sister Cathy Jones, the church's promoter of religious life vocations, said: "A key reason for this increase is the growth of a culture of vocation in the Church. Young Catholics are asking themselves 'What is God's plan for my life?' and they are availing themselves of opportunities to meet with experienced guides to consider their future in the context of prayer, discussion and scripture.

"It is also significant that in recent years many religious congregations have grown in confidence in proposing their way of life, both through offering taster weekends and by participating in youth festivals, enabling potential 'discerners' to easily encounter religious and take the first steps to find out more about religious life."

Father Christopher Jamison, the Benedictine monk and former Abbot of Worth Abbey who achieved international recognition outside the Church through the BBC TV series The Monastery, and who is currently the Church's director of vocations, said: "There is a gap in the market for meaning in our culture and one of the ways in which women may find that meaning is through religious life."

One example is former academic Theodora Hawksley, 29, who was until recently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh and who joined the Congregation of Jesus a couple of months ago. She is now living in their house in north London and is taking the first steps towards making vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

She said: "Entering religious life was a decision born of love. It was an acknowledgement that my life has slowly and concretely rearranged itself around the love of God, and around that relationship is the one I prize above all else."

The Congregation of Jesus, which works in education, healthcare and evangelisation, is an apostolic order meaning it is not silent or enclosed. But both enclosed and contemplative vocations are on the rise, as well as apostolic vocations. There has been a ninefold increase in the number of active religious sisters and a fourfold increase in the number of enclosed sisters in England and Wales.

Sister Jane Livesey, General Superior of the Congregation of Jesus, an Englishwoman based in Rome, said: "We have been delighted in the English province to have admitted a postulant at the start of this year and to have a further candidate actively discerning her vocation with us at the moment, both attracted in particular by our Ignatian charism and by our foundress the Venerable Mary Ward, the pioneer of women's apostolic religious life, who as long ago as 1612, told her earliest members that 'women in time to come will do much'."

Pope Francis has called for women to play a more "incisive" role in the Church. He has said: "The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess." Recently, he wound up two years earlier than expected the investigation into nuns in the US set up under his predecessor.

Nuns in the UK and the US are among the most dedicated in terms of social and other contributions to society, education and the "common good" as taught by the Church.

Sister Jane said: "It is historically the case that it is religious life that has given women a clear and recognised place in the Church and an opportunity to contribute very fully to the Church's mission to be at the service of the people of God – whether 'churched' or 'unchurched'. In our case in this country our current ministries include university and seminary teaching, hospital chaplaincy, spiritual accompaniment of all kinds, child psychotherapy and others besides. And we are only one group – there are many other congregations making equally significant contributions who are as grateful to God as we are that he continues to call women and men to follow him in the consecrated life, which, at the invitation of Pope Francis, the Church is honouring and celebrating in particular during 2015, the 'Year of Consecrated Life'."

The figures were released in time for Vocations Sunday this weekend.