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The decline of religious life across America - What a Colorado Springs nun says needs to change

According to a Pew Research Center study, in 2020 it was estimated that people who are religiously unaffiliated, sometimes called religious “nones,” accounted for 30% of the U.S. population.
Posted at 11:20 AM, Oct 06, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS — Nestled between trees in Black Forest, Sister Mary Colleen Schwarz spends every single 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 to Benet Hill Monastery in 2001. She says she was the first nun to take her vows there in about 25 years.

Before she joined the sisterhood, Sister Schwarz was a Critical Care Nurse in Iowa. She was raised in a religious family but eventually started doubting her beliefs.

"When you leave home, you have your family's set of values, and it was like, it didn't resonate with me."

Sister Schwarz's experience is like many others across America; people below the age of 30 who are "religious switching," according to a Pew Research Center study.

Religious switching is defined by the study as, "a change between the religion in which a person was raised (in childhood) and their present religious identity (in adulthood)."

The Center estimates roughly 64% of people in America were Christian. The number of people who were religiously unaffiliated at the time accounted for roughly 30% of the American population, and all other religions made up the remaining 6%.

The study predicts that by the year 2070, the number of people in the United States who are Christians of all varieties could fall below 50% if people continue religious switching at the current rate.

"I think the Divine is up to something new, and if we're not willing to change something that's not working, we need to die," said Sister Schwarz, reacting to the study.

On the opposite side of town in southeast Colorado Springs lives Damien Mooneyham, who identifies as an atheist.

"Just the idea of some all-powerful being, never really sat with me very well," said Mooneyham.

Mooneyham was brought up southern baptist in Virginia. It was not until his 30s that Mooneyham called himself an atheist.

"I wouldn't say it was just because I went to college, or just because I moved out of state. I think it was maybe a combination of those things, that kind of opened my mind to different ideas," said Mooneyham, describing when his mindset shifted away from religion.

Both Mooneyham and Sister Schwarz experienced doubt surrounding the religious morals they were raised by.

However, the two took separate paths. 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 the Benet Hill to visit, she felt she was "home."

"I'm not the same person that I was in Iowa City as the critical care nurse," said Sister Schwarz.

Although becoming a nun has transformed her life for, in her opinion, the better, Sister Schwarz understands why fewer people find the idea of devoting their lives to the church appealing.

"You are a generation that is beginning to feel a little invisible and less understood, and that is because we aren't listening, and we need to listen. If we start listening, this can change," said Sister Schwarz.

The results of the Pew Research Center study are estimations, not guarantees, of what will happen to religious trends across America over the next several years. In Sister Schwarz's eyes, there is still time to get younger people on board with religious life.

"Until that attitude switches, it's going to be less invitational to bring someone in," said Sister Schwarz.
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