Monasticism is growing in the Catholic Church, thanks to a hunger for contemplative spirituality as well as an active marketing and recruitment campaign that has been waged for several years, reports the Los Angeles Times (March 16).
Although the ordained priesthood continues to show numerical decline, monasteries, from California to South Carolina “have seen such a surge in interest in the monastic life that they are renovating or expanding their structures to accommodate new members,” writes Claire Luna. Examples of such expansion include the Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Ore., where 11 have joined in 2000, leading the abbey to launch a multi-million dollar campaign to renovate its church and college. Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina is likewise involved in a building program due to membership growth and 15,000 tourist visits each year.
Observers note that there are several explanations for the new interest. Most important may be many monasteries’ extensive and innovative recruitment drives, including vocational retreats, Web sites providing virtual tours, and even employing secular “monk headhunters” and monastery “matchmaking” services that line up prospective candidates.
University of Southern California Professor Sheila Briggs says that monasteries are doing better than the parish priesthood because they provide spiritual companionship and community and are untouched by the problems surrounding the priesthood, such as scandals over clergy sexual abuse.