America’s religious population in steep decline

Sister Kelly Williams pictured with her roommates, who are also becoming nuns, in Chicago, Illinois. – ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Across the United States, young adults are becoming less religious.

A Pew Research Center survey from 2018 and 2019 found that the number of Americans who identify as Christians has dropped 12% over the past decade. The group that describes itself as Catholic, in particular, has also dwindled, leaving a crisis in Catholic fellowship. The nuns are aging and it is feared that there will be fewer young people seeking to join the fraternity.

According to a recent study, less than 1% of American nuns are under 40, and the average nun is 80.

Sister Joanne Persch has just turned 88. She said many of her friends who joined her in the service in the early 1950s have died. Throughout the painful pandemic and societal upheaval, she said there was still a great need for nuns in America.

“Well, I think it’s a big mistake to say religious life is dying,” Persch said. “And I look around me in our community and I see such vibrant and vibrant life. It’s changing and becoming something we can’t even imagine.

In 2022, there would be fewer than 42,000 nuns in America, a 76% decline over 50 years. At the rate the sisters are disappearing, one estimate said there will be fewer than 1,000 nuns left in the United States by 2042, according to the Center for Applied Apostolate Research.

Sister Kelly Williams strives to become one of the few surviving nuns. She is 34 years old and started her journey nine years ago. She said people are often surprised that she is so “normal”.

“I think people were surprised that I like listening to music and not everything is religious,” said Williams, who added that she and her housemates enjoy watching Netflix and Hulu together. “I don’t go to bars like I would when I was in college.”

Williams is a former college admissions counselor who lives in Chicago with four other sisters close to her age. She hopes to take her perpetual vows in a few years and officially become a Catholic sister with the Sisters of Mercy – one of the largest religious orders for Catholic women.

“God has big plans,” Williams said. “And I hope we follow them.”

One thing Williams has said she won’t give up is her Facebook, Instagram or TikTok accounts. She uses social media to publicize the lifestyle of young nuns.

“I started making videos every Saturday… It’s called Saturday Sister Surprise and every Saturday I hide something in my hair and pull it out. It was about religious articles and silly articles,” Williams said. “It’s something that has brought people a lot of joy.”

She said she was drawn to the stability of the church and felt a “calling” to be a part of it.

“It was a place where you could be educated, it was a place where all of these things could happen to you and I think there are so many options available,” Williams said. “But you have to want it. It is about God’s call and response.

Williams and her housemates said young people today are resistant to the structure of religious life and many have been put off by scandals in the Catholic Church, which they struggle to overcome on their own. They said they pray every day for their future as a sisterhood and ask for strength for more young women to answer the call.

“American memory is attached to the nun of yesteryear. It is very difficult for us now to break these stereotypes that have been established,” said Sister Jane Aseltine. “We’re still fighting this battle as young religious women to say what a typical American nun looks like in today’s world.”

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