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Issue Date:  February 22, 2008

Orders find new lifeblood with laity

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are hardly alone in finding new lifeblood through associates. The trend is in full swing, thanks to training programs in dozens of orders that see passing on their values and mission to laypeople as essential to survival.

“It’s a reality that many orders realize -- that for their ministries and charisms to continue, they have to empower laypeople,” said Peggy Maguire, director of associations for the Carondelet sisters.

If that mandate is true -- which dwindling numbers of religious seems to indicate -- then the face of these orders may look very different in the future.

A two-part study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, released in 2000 and 2003, has estimated that close to 30,000 lay associates are affiliated with a religious order.

But the demographics of the studies, commissioned by the North American Conference of Associates and Religious, is more telling. Women outnumber men seven to one. And younger vowed religious are more likely to work with associates than older religious.

But perhaps the most important statistic found in the study was the level of commitment to mission expressed by the lay associates.

“As they gain familiarity with the religious institute,” the report states, “90 percent of associates report a growing desire to serve others and to become involved in various forms of ministry.”

-- Michael Humphrey

National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2008

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