The following comes from a December 10 Crux article by Michael O’Loughlin:

An estimated 250,000 young women in the United States have given serious thought to joining religious communities, but if sisters and nuns hope to attract new members, they’ve got to do a better job explaining the benefits of such a counter-cultural lifestyle — and get Catholic parents, laypeople, and benefactors on board.

“In general, women religious can do a better job of explaining who they are,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame and the author of a report released Wednesday about the current state of nuns and sisters in the United States.

If these communities fail to “develop an identity that can be easily and clearly articulated to the outside world, both in Catholic settings and in the wider culture,” the report says, “they will not attract many new members.”

About 2 percent of all unmarried Millennial women — those born after 1981 — have “very seriously” considered becoming a nun or a sister, translating to more than 250,000 potential recruits. Young women are most persuaded to join religious life by seeing the joy among current members firsthand, the report found, but they must also be invited and encouraged.

The report, “Understanding US Catholic Sisters Today,” notes that the total number of nuns in the United States continues to decline, a trend in the works for about 50 years.

But it calls the huge numbers of nuns in the 1950s and 60s “an anomaly in the history of US women’s religious life rather than a standard to which sisters could or should return.”

The report found that there are currently more than 1,200 women preparing to enter religious communities, equally split between orders perceived to be liberal and conservative.

In addition to the lack of encouragement from parents and lay Catholics, educational debt remains a big challenge in fostering new vocations.

About a third of all women who take steps to join a religious community have student loans, usually totaling more than $20,000, the study found. This leads to about half of all applicants being turned away. Wary of tightening budgets and skyrocketing healthcare costs, communities are hesitant to take on new members with large amounts of debt.