WASHINGTON — Just as websites and social media often help people looking for travel spots, colleges, doctors, or neighborhoods, online platforms can also help in spiritual searches. This is especially true for women considering a vocation as a sister when there are more than 400 orders of women religious to choose from in the United States.
In decades past, if someone wanted to know more about a religious congregation they would have to rely on word of mouth, maybe a pamphlet, and of course a personal visit, which is still important.
But today, potential vocation candidates can scroll through the websites for women’s religious orders -— or even see how they present themselves on Facebook, Tik Tok or X, the former Twitter platform — as they start to consider what order might best fit their personality and calling.
Mercy Sister Jenny Wilson, a vocation minister based in Buffalo, said the Mercy Sisters are strategic about what they put online for the very reason that the target group they want to reach — women 25-40 years old — are certainly there.
To that end, if someone searches “how to be a nun,” for example, the Mercy Sisters’ website link about joining their order pops up in the top 10 responses.
The sisters keep up their social media presence year-round, particularly with their monthly times of prayer open to guests via Zoom, but they also make a more concerted online effort, as do many other orders of women religious, during National Vocation Awareness Week, Nov. 5-11 this year.
During this week, Mercy sisters plan to host a Facebook Live event with two or three sisters talking about why women choose religious life today.
Sister Jenny pointed out that a sister who made her final vow last year came to the order through an online search, which can seem random, but is still effective. A bigger part of the way these sisters draw in new recruits, though, is through building relationships which frequently happens, as it did in her own calling, through service work.
The sisters are often thinking of new ways to reach potential candidates and are currently considering posting videos on social media of days in the life of a sister.
Recognizing that potential sisters find their calling online and in person, a group of women’s religious orders in the Chicago area is sponsoring its fifth annual Meet our Sisters Tour — c4wr.org/MOST23/ — with links to websites of participating congregation and details about their in-person and virtual events, discernment resources, and stories about the sisters’ work in Illinois and around the world.
The Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is hosting a Zoom gathering during National Vocation Awareness Week for people to meet some of the sisters and other community members. They will also be doing a social media campaign, posting videos about their congregation, favorite things about religious life, and fun facts.
The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are similarly planning a more active social media presence during the vocation week including an online question and answer session about “Why Franciscan Sisterhood?” They will also, like other orders, host visits to one of their convents for those interested in a potential vocation or just to learn more.
National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual weeklong event to promote vocations to ordained ministry and consecrated life. The U.S. bishops first designated this week in 1976 and since then it has been held at various times of the year before more settling, in 2014, on the November date to get Catholic schools and colleges to be involved in the effort.
List of religious orders with a presence in the Diocese of Brooklyn: dioceseofbrooklyn.org/vocations/vocations-office/list-sisters-brothers-priests.