The findings come in the annual report of Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, summarized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Vowed religious had a median educational debt of $30,000 when they first applied to join their religious institute. Among the ten percent of respondents whose debt delayed their application to an institute, their average delay was two years.
The study surveyed men and women religious who professed perpetual vows in 2013. The survey received a response from 460 of 823 major superiors, who referred them to 107 women and men.
The professed religious who responded to the survey numbered 69 sisters and nuns and 11 brothers.
No religious brothers said they received assistance in paying down their debt. Several women religious reported assistance from family members, friends, or co-workers. Some reported assistance from their religious institute, their parish, or organizations like the Labouré Society, the Serra Fund for Vocations, the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations, or the Knights of Columbus.
Almost 90 percent of responding religious institutes had no professions of perpetual religious vows in 2013. About 10 percent reported one such profession, while three percent reported two or more.
In 2013, the average age of religious profession was 41. The youngest was 26 years old and the oldest was 73.
About 74 percent of respondents identified as white, 14 percent identified as Asian, and 12 percent identified as Hispanic.
More than 75 percent were born in the U.S. The second-most common country of origin was Vietnam. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanic respondents were born in the U.S.
Foreign-born respondents were 22 years old on average when they first came to the U.S. They lived in the U.S. for 17 years before making perpetual vows.
About 82 percent of respondents were Catholic since birth and almost as many had parents who were both Catholic. The 18 percent of converts converted at an average age of 22. They were more likely to have attended a Catholic high school and much more likely to have attended a Catholic college than the general Catholic population.
About half of respondents participated in youth ministry or youth group, while about 33 percent participated in college campus ministry. Respondents were active in faith formation or social service ministry, while ten percent taught in a Catholic school or served in hospital or prison ministry.
Almost all had a regular private prayer life, while 70 percent participated in Eucharistic Adoration. More than 50 percent regularly prayed the rosary or participated in spiritual direction.
Almost all took part in a vocation program or vocation retreat before entering their religious institute.
About ten percent of those who took perpetual religious vows in the U.S. in 2013 said that educational debt delayed their application to religious orders or institutes, a new survey says.
Religious Life, College Debt