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    Monday, February 05, 2007

    Numbers looking not so bad

    "The inquiries in recent years have been coming from younger and younger women, most of them in their early to mid-20s," Sister Agnes Mary, mother superior at the Sisters of Life community in New York, told AFP.

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    The Catholic community, which counted seven members when it was founded in 1991, has grown to 52 women who live in six convents scattered throughout the New York area. A seventh convent is planned within the next two years.

    "I think young women are searching for something and culture is not giving it to them so they are turning to God," said Sister Mary Karen, 33, the superior at the Sisters of Life Formation House in the Bronx, where 18 women are being groomed for a life of obedience, poverty and chastity.

    They include a Yale graduate, a former navy officer, a former medical student, an opera singer and a Web designer.

    All have college degrees, are well-travelled and were more cosmopolitan than cloistered growing up.

    They have abandoned cell phones, I-Pods, daily Starbucks runs and, in some cases, fiances for dorm-like rooms, or "cells" as they call them, and a wardrobe that consists of a veil and habit.

    According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), there are currently 66,608 Catholic nuns in the United States compared to nearly 180,000 in 1965. Worldwide, there are an estimated 776,260 nuns as opposed to some one million in 1970.

    But despite the dwindling overall number, several new orders and communities, especially those founded during the 1978-2005 pontificate of John Paul II, say they have seen a surge of new blood in the last decade, a welcome turnabout for the church .

    "These women are looking for something deeper," said Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference. "They are looking to develop their Catholic identity and given our secular values in the United States where we promote sex, money and power, it is a very counter cultural thing to profess celibacy, poverty and obedience."

    Bednarczyk and others also credit the late John Paul II's charisma and his effort to reach out to younger Catholics for the mounting popularity of some communities.

    "The John Paul II generation is a generation of young people, a generation of authenticity," said Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, vocation director at the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, located in the midwestern state of Michigan.

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