2017-07-12 / Front Page

Nuns reach out to younger generation

LIZ GOTTHELF
Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — They’re logging onto Facebook, scrolling on tablets, and making speaking engagements at colleges and pubs. Nuns are doing what it takes to reach out to young people in the modern world. 

The number of nuns in the United States has dropped about 72 percent in the last 50 years, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. 

In 1965, there were 180,000 nuns, and in 2014, there were about 50,000, according to the center’s research.

Locally, the number of nuns with the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, commonly known as the Good Shepherd Sisters, follows national trends.

In a 2012 interview, Sister Elaine Lachance, vocational director for the Good Shepherd Sisters, noted that in 1960, about the time she started religious life, there were 259 nuns with the Good Shepherd Parish in Maine and Massachusetts, and at the time of 2012 interview there were 56.  In an interview last week at the St. Joseph Convent in Biddeford, she said there are now 36 sisters, with the youngest turning 70 in October. 

About five years ago, the sisters turned to social media and sought assistance from a public relations firm to reach out to young women. 

Lachance reports that since then, the sisters have continued their outreach by advertising in church bulletins and meeting with young people at colleges.

There have been young women contemplating a religious vocation who have contacted the sisters in recent years. Though the outreach hasn’t resulted in any new recruits, the sisters say many good things have happened, including building strong relationships with college students. 

Lachance said she’s been a regular at the weekly meetings of the University of New England Campus Ministry.

“That really opened the door for them to come here,” said Lachance. 

Some students come for mass on Sunday, and may stay for coffee or lunch, others come over for weekly activities such as adult coloring, said Sister Dorina Chasse.

“We enjoy them, and they’re very friendly, she said. Chasse said the young people don’t seem to mind spending time with a group of older women, and the sisters are thrilled to have them as guests.

Lachance agreed.  “They bring so much to us,” she said.

Lachance has also met with students from the University of Southern Maine and Bowdoin College, and has also spoken to young people at Theology on Tap, a monthly gathering of young people at local restaurants and pubs to discuss theology.

Lachance said at a job fair she had a young woman approach her. The woman said she was interested in becoming a member of the Catholic Church, but she didn’t know where to begin. The woman is now in a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. 

The Good Shepherd Sisters are also in the midst of developing the Marie Fitzbach Volunteer Corps, through which women of at least 20 years of age will spend six to nine months doing mission oriented service work and live in the convent, receiving a modest stipend in addition to room and board. The sisters are currently seeking two volunteers to start, and have advertised in a national directory for Catholic volunteer programs.

One nun who left the order several years ago is now coming back, and will be making her vows in January. This is the first addition in 20 years, and the sisters are very thankful.

Lachance and Chasse have faith that they will find a young woman who is the right match for a religious vocation, in God’s time.

“Nothing’s impossible with God,” said LaChance. 

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribune.com. 

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