COLORADO SPRINGS — Nestled among the trees of the Black Forest, Sister Mary Colleen Schwarz spends every day devoting her life to her faith.
“I listen more. I’m much more compassionate, inclusive,” Sister Schwarz says, comparing her life as a nun to her life before taking her vows.
Sister Schwarz came Benet Hill Monastery in 2001. She says she was the first nun to take her vows there in about 25 years.
Before joining the fraternity, Sister Schwarz was a critical care nurse in Iowa. She was raised in a religious family but eventually began to doubt her beliefs.
“When you leave home, you have all of your family values, and it felt like that didn’t resonate with me.”
Sister Schwarz’s experience is like many across America; people under 30 who “change their religion”, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
Religious change is defined by the study as “a change between the religion a person was raised in (in childhood) and their current religious identity (in adulthood).”
The Center estimates that about 64% of people in America were Christians. The number of people who were not affiliated with any religion at the time made up about 30% of the US population, and all other religions made up the remaining 6%.
The study predicts that by 2070, the number of people in the United States who are Christians of all varieties could fall below 50% if people continue to change their religion at the current rate.
“I think the Divine is up to something new, and if we don’t want to change something that isn’t working, we have to die,” Sister Schwarz said, responding to the study.
Across town, in southeast Colorado Springs, lives Damien Mooneyham, who identifies as an atheist.
“Just the idea of an all-powerful being never really sat well with me,” Mooneyham said.
Mooneyham was raised a Southern Baptist in Virginia. It wasn’t until he was 30 that Mooneyham called himself an atheist.
“I wouldn’t say it was just because I went to college or just because I left the state. I think it was maybe a combination of those things, it made me kind of opened her mind to different ideas,” Mooneyham said, describing when her mindset shifted away from religion.
Mooneyham and Sister Schwarz had doubts about the religious morality with which they were brought up.
However, the two went their separate ways. Sister Schwarz eventually found her way back to religion through Catholicism after meeting a nun during her time as a nurse. She says the first time she came to visit Benet Hill she felt “at home”.
“I am no longer the same person I was in Iowa City as an intensive care nurse,” Sister Schwarz said.
Although becoming a nun has transformed her life for the better, in her opinion, Sister Schwarz understands why fewer people find the idea of dedicating their lives to church appealing.
“You’re a generation that’s starting to feel a little invisible and less understood, and that’s because we’re not listening, and we have to listen. If we start listening, that can change,” Sister Schwarz said.
The results of the Pew Research Center study are estimates, not guarantees, of what will happen to religious trends across America in the coming years. In the eyes of Sister Schwarz, there is still time to embark the youngest in religious life.
“Until that attitude changes, it will be less inviting to bring someone in,” Sister Schwarz said.
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