(Los Angeles) Sept. 6, 2016 – The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation today announced the results of a recent market research study that shows that Catholic sisters, while highly respected, remain a mystery to most Americans.
The survey reveals that Catholic sisters are trusted by a significant majority of Americans (73 percent), and even more said their work is important (83 percent). However, the research also showed that perceptions of Catholic sisters are somewhat dated, shaped primarily by fictional stories and the media versus interpersonal encounters. For example, 42 percent of respondents indicated the majority of Catholic sisters today wear habits, 21 percent believe they live in seclusion, and 37 percent thought their work has little or no impact on non-Catholics.
In reality, although some Catholic sisters wear habits and some live in cloistered communities, most Catholic sisters in the U.S. wear simple modern clothing and most are out in the world helping marginalized communities, advocating for social justice, and educating millions of young people and adults.
The Foundation commissioned the market research study in 2015 to better understand how the U.S. public currently perceives women religious. It showed that a strong majority of Americans (72 percent) and Catholics (87 percent) view Catholic sisters favorably, more so than the Catholic Church overall. Furthermore, learning about Catholic sisters has a “halo effect:” when respondents were given more information about Catholic sisters, perceptions of sisters, the Catholic Church, and priests all increased.
In response to the results of the survey, the Foundation has launched a Sister To All public awareness campaign to increase visibility and public understanding of the powerful work of Catholic sisters in the United States. Key research data findings, along with profiles of featured sisters will be shared on social media by the Foundation, its grantees and partners. The campaign honors the lives and works of Catholic sisters and is timed to follow the canonization of Mother Teresa on Sept. 4, 2016.
“‘Sister To All’ gives us an opportunity to reveal the positive impact of Catholic sisters in the United States, breaking stereotypes and clarifying misconceptions,” said Sister Rosemarie Nassif, SSND, Ph.D., Director, Catholic Sisters Strategic Initiative at the Foundation. “Conrad Hilton realized that wherever good things are happening for the marginalized and disadvantaged, there are likely to be sisters not just involved, but making a tremendous positive difference. We hope all who see this campaign will be encouraged to learn more and help us further promote the lives and works of sisters.”
The research revealed that one in four Catholic women has considered becoming a Catholic sister at some point in her life, with Baby Boomers (30 percent) the Silent Generation (33 percent), and traditional Catholics (32 percent) more apt to have considered this vocation. “We believe that sometimes the call to become a sister is stifled by competing noise within our culture,” said Sister Rosemarie. “It is our hope that this campaign overrides that noise and inspires women to take a next step in exploring religious life as an authentic option.”
“With shared sense of purpose and unwavering commitment, Catholic sisters improve the lives of millions in remarkable and unexpected ways,” said Brad Myers, Senior Program Officer of the Catholic Sisters Initiative at the Foundation. “The sisters had a profound impact on Conrad Hilton’s life, and we intend to follow through with his wish to support them as powerful agents for social change in today’s world.”
Conrad Hilton, the hotelier and the founder of the Hilton Hotels chain counted the Catholic sisters among his friends and supported their congregations throughout his lifetime. He ensured that his personal support for the sisters, and that of the Foundation, would continue through a provision in his last will and testament directing that the largest part of the Foundation’s benefactions would be dedicated to Catholic sisters in all parts of the world.
The research was conducted between Feb. and June 2015 and consisted of a series of focus groups in multiple markets along with a national telephone survey. Viewers will be encouraged to go to a campaign landing page, SisterToAll.org, where they can learn more about the Catholic sisters in the U.S. and read stories on each of the six sisters profiled. Learn more about the campaign on the landing page, www.SisterToAll.org.
About the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The Foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in six priority areas: providing safe water, ending chronic homelessness, preventing substance use, helping children affected by HIV and AIDS, supporting transition-age youth in foster care, and extending Conrad Hilton’s support for the work of Catholic Sisters. In addition, following selection by an independent international jury, the Foundation annually awards the $2 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to a nonprofit organization doing extraordinary work to reduce human suffering. In 2015, the Humanitarian Prize was awarded to Landesa, a Seattle-based land rights organization. From its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $1.4 billion in grants, distributing $107 million in the U.S. and around the world in 2015. The Foundation’s current assets are approximately $2.5 billion. For more information, please visit www.hiltonfoundation.org.