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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.
For years, the Catholic Church in America has struggled to find new clergy. The average age of priests and nuns is seventy and rising. But some Catholic orders are having more success than others.
The Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia are mainly a teaching order. They are based at a convent in Nashville, Tennessee. And they just celebrated their one hundred fiftieth year.
The sisters are active across the United States and in Australia. There, they teach more than thirteen thousand students in thirty-four schools.
Today, Saint Cecilia's has its largest number of postulants in many years. A postulant is a candidate for admission into a religious order.
Sister Catherine Marie, a spokeswoman, says the current group of first-year students represents ten percent of the whole order.
SISTER CATHERINE MARIE: "There are two hundred seventy of us and our growth of late has been rather extensive. This year we had twenty-seven young women enter. Last year, it was twenty-three. Great blessings to us."
Nearly one-third of the women in the order are under thirty.
Sister Catherine says she thinks these young women are looking deeper into their faith in reaction to changes in society.
Participation in organized religion is falling among Americans under age thirty. That was the finding of a national survey last year by the Pew Research Center.
A different group, the National Opinion Research Center, recently found that seventeen percent of Americans do not identify with any faith. And another poll found that this was true of almost twenty-five percent of first-year university students.
Sister Kelly Edmunds is a first-year postulant at Saint Cecilia's. She says she came to the order out of a desire to serve others. She had seen Dominican sisters serving at the University of Sydney.
SISTER KELLY: "Just to watch them, walking down the main boulevard of campus wearing their habits -- it was just such a powerful witness. I had friends in engineering who were, like, they knew I was Catholic so they would say to me ‘Who are these nuns on campus?’ And so it was a really great witness to me of the power of religious life."
Sister Victoria Marie is in her second year. She came to the convent with a degree in civil engineering. She says she had discovered that people were more interesting to her than roads or bridges.
SISTER VICTORIA: "So it was a big shift in my life to go from utility to relationship, from ‘What am I going to do? ’ to ‘Who am I going to be for the Lord?’ "
A postulant’s day includes work, study and prayer. Sister Victoria says it requires a lot of energy.
SISTER VICTORIA: "For a couple weeks after I entered, I thought, ‘I just want to lay on the couch for the day, and I don’t think they do that here, you know.'"
But Sister Kelly says she was surprised by how much time she has gotten to simply enjoy life.
SISTER KELLY: "There have been a lot of fun moments just to be outside and enjoy the beauty of the world and creation."
And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Steve Ember.
Contributing: Mike Osborne and Jerome Socolovsky