17 April 2015
Young residents sit down for a meal at the Mother Mary Home for Girls, an orphanage run by Syro-Malabar Catholic Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The Economic Times recently reported that fewer and fewer women in Kerala are choosing to become religious sisters:
Shrinking family sizes and expanding career opportunities for women are posing a problem for the church. In Kerala … fewer women are now taking vows to renounce worldly pursuits and devote themselves fully to religious life. … Social activists say greater empowerment and the fact that churches are still male bastions are also making women look away from the cloistered life of convents. One of the problems this could pose to the church is in the running of institutions such as hospitals, schools and charity organizations that are managed by priests and nuns. …
In Kerala, “there is a 70-75 percent drop in the number of women who were joining convents to be nuns,” says Sebastian Adayanthrath, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church’s auxiliary bishop for Ernakulum-Angamaly.
The peak was in the mid-1960’s, when there were as many as two dozen newly admitted nuns every year in each province. It lasted for about a decade, and then, started to decline to about 20 by 1985 and 10 in the past decade, he says. …
Interestingly, there is no decline in the number of men who come forward to become priests. Church spokesmen say this may be because the priest’s job is more visible. He has a social standing because of the functions that he has to do, they said.
Apart from Kerala, the states that have historically sent large number of women to become nuns are Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Though Kerala still sends more women than any other state to convents, the northern states are catching up.
In early 2010, we shined a spotlight on Kerala’s decline in vocations:
In this fast-changing southeastern Indian state, literacy is nearly universal; education reigns king. Not long ago, conversation among villagers centered on crop rotation and seasonal rains. Today, rural and urban Keralites are preoccupied by which colleges their children will attend and which professions offer lucrative careers. No longer confined to rearing children and managing the household, women set their sights on horizons filled with diverse possibilities. …
This shift in the social landscape has impacted the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches, especially their ability to recruit men and women to serve as priests and religious, respectively. Observers sense an imminent decline in the ranks of vocations among these churches, which are centered in the state.
They point out that today’s candidates no longer come from wealthy or upper middle-class backgrounds, nor do they represent the highest performing students. Many lack the emotional maturity of their predecessors. …
For the first time in centuries, Kerala’s Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches are thinking twice about the recruitment and formation processes of their priests and religious as the culture around them changes.
Read more about Keeping Up With the Times in India, in the January 2010 issue of ONE.
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Catholic Vocations (religious)