REPORT ON SURVEYS OF THE
Introduction to the Survey
Introduction to the Survey
Religious surveys among Catholic college students in the 1920s and 1930s explicitly referred to
the "Blessed Mother," and the questions asked were direct. Has your devotion to Mary increased
since you came to college? Have you developed a personal love of Our Lady? How often do you
say the beads privately? How often do you visit the Grotto? The answers given to these questions
by students at Notre Dame in the late 1930s were also direct and showed great devotion: 84% of
the collegians reported that their devotion had increased; 91% had developed a personal
relationship; the majority said their rosary privately at least once a month, and, as the years went
by, the number of visits to the Grotto rose dramatically (information from an overview of fifteen
religious surveys, 1921-1936).(1)
More recent surveys dealing with the relationship between youth and Mary are considerably
less focused. The questions posed are fewer and less pointed; the devotional emphasis gives way
to broad psychological considerations. Andrew Greeley (1981),(2) and Fee, Greeley, McGready
and Sullivan (1981)(3) have studied attitudes toward Mary. Fee and
associates found that "the overwhelming majority of young Catholics
think of Mary as warm and comforting."(4)
the more common tendency of religious surveys of youth is to omit the figure of Mary altogether.
She may be part of sociological inquiries, where she is mentioned to explain why unchurched
people do not join the Catholic Church. (One reason given for not joining listed "statues, rosary,
incense, holy water, candles, medals..." [10%]; another, more explicit explanation indicated
"devotion to Mary and the Saints" [6%].(5)) Mary has her special status among Hispanics. Asked
about religious activities in the last thirty days, Catholic Hispanics mentioned "the rosary" (35%)
and "visit to a shrine" (15-20%), after activities such as "talked about religion," "read Bible," "lit
candle," and "went to Communion."(6)
Meanwhile, comparable youth surveys concentrate mainly on sex education, social values,
political beliefs, and career selection (7). Where the beliefs of Catholic youth are singled out,
and prayer, sin, Church and religion, the parish community, and even vocations to religious life
may be surveyed; however, questions about Mary are omitted. Should this be considered an
oversight, or is Mary simply absent from the religious beliefs and practices of youths? The latter
seems to be the opinion of some surveyors; one study concluded: "An interesting point is that
nowhere in this study did any student mention a single saint. Admittedly, no questions
addressed this subject, but the fact that no one brought it up, even in the course of extensive
comments and interviews, suggests that saints play little or no part in their lives. The role models
that Mary and the saints offer would seem to be lost to them." (8)
How does this compare to statistical evidence that religion in the United States is well, even
thriving? In a general characterization of "America's Faith in the 1990s," Gallup and Castelli
One of the most remarkable aspects of America's faith is its durability. Despite all of the dramatic social changes of the past half century depression, war, the civil rights movement, social unrest and technological change, the religious beliefs and practices of Americans today look very much like the beliefs and practices of the 1930s and 1940s. Church membership and attendance figures today are identical to what they were in the thirties; belief in God has held steady; the same percentage of Americans today as in the late forties believe in an afterlife.(9)
This assessment is generic, but it is Church-related, and does not deal in generalities only: "In the
1930s . . . 10% of Americans read the Bible daily; in the 1980s, it was 15%. In the decade
between 1978 and 1988, belief in the divinity of Christ and personal commitment to Christ
increased."(10) Conscious of the differences between Christ and Mary, it might nonetheless be
asked why students in the thirties valued Marian devotion, while in the eighties, Mary and the
saints seem to be lost to them, even though "Americans are even more religious today than they
have been in the past."(11)
We can think of a variety of reasons to explain the discrepancy between Mary's presence in
thirties and her absence in the late eighties. If it is at all true quod erit
demonstrandum! we could suggest at least two explanations:
The survey was administered to individuals between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five; all were
students at the time the questionnaire was presented to them. Through the affiliation of the
International Marian Research Institute with the Society of Mary (Marianists), the audiences
surveyed were students of Marianist schools (i.e., schools presently or formerly administered by
Marianists) in the U.S.A. and other countries (Austria, Canada, Ecuador, France, Ireland, Italy,
Japan, Korea, Peru, Spain and Switzerland). To offset and counterbalance the uniformity of the
population surveyed, a limited number of schools of non-Marianist affiliation were added (see
Appendix II: U.S. Schools Participating in Youth Survey). Questionnaires were administered in a
formal setting, usually during a religion class period of fifty minutes, and were normally
and collected by the teacher in charge. Although this survey was administered and evaluated over
a three-year period (1989-1992), in different countries and languages, the results presented here
are mainly those of American youth. As a complement to this primary focus, some averages
computed from the aggregate of all non-American sample groups are also included.
More recently, the International Marian Research Institute conducted a second survey, addressed
to U.S. Catholic institutions of higher learning and designed to explore the situation of Marian
studies in departments of religious studies, seminaries and theological faculties. While these two
surveys were entirely separate, a comparison of their results presents a challenge to those who
or will be entrusted with the religious education regarding Mary for youth of various ages.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Beliefs, Behaviors and Representations
The Socio-religious Profile of the Respondents
It is important to remember the religious traits of the overall population to which our
respondents belonged. Since the survey was conducted in forty-six Catholic schools (forty-three
high schools and three colleges), it comes as no surprise that the participants were predominantly
Catholic. Of the 3,631 American students surveyed, 80.6% (2,926) identified themselves as
Roman Catholic, 14.5% as Protestant, and 1.6% as non-Christians, while 3.3% stated that they
had no religious affiliation. Similar observations can be made on samples taken from other
countries (see Appendix III: Summary for Select Questions by Country). Respondents belonged
to predominantly Catholic student populations, oscillating between 89.3% (France) and 100%
(Ecuador) with Korea the exception (24.9%). To be specific, the average for the counterbalancing
remnant (i.e., the 3,223 respondents from non-American schools) showed that 82.8% identified
themselves as Roman Catholic, while 6.4% stated that they had no religious affiliation.
Although the survey was addressed to students in the age bracket of 15 to 25 years, the population surveyed in the U.S. were predominantly high school students (83.6%):
Less numerous were the college and graduate students who responded to the survey. They
represent a total of 16.4%, of whom 12.3% were twenty years or older. A similar imbalance can
be seen in the male-female distribution. Of all the respondents, 61.7% were male students and
38.3% female students.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Family, Parents and Religious Affiliation
Religious sociology commonly accepts that "the image of God is seen to develop in early
childhood from children's perceptions of their parents what they are and what they should ideally
be . . . The child spontaneously attributes to his parents the perfections and abilities which he will
later transfer to God if his religious education gives him the possibility." Deconchy (1968!) even
concluded that "the development of the idea of God in boys was more marked by the notion of
the Virgin Mary whereas the opposite happened in the case of girls."
It is usually thought that a strong correlation exists between parental religious affiliation and
the child's past and present religious affiliation. It appeared important to know whether the
indication of religious affiliation referred to the past, or if the respondents maintained some
relation with their stated religion in the present. Asked to characterize their present association
with the religion in which they had been raised, the following answers were given: 9.8% thought
they had a very strong bond with the religion of their youth; 29.8% thought they had a strong
bond, and 41% characterized their relation to their childhood religion as average.
Note that 80.6% of the respondents related positively and maintained a positive bond with the
religion in which they were raised. For 39.6% of the respondents, this relation was even
characterized as strong or very strong. On the other hand, 19.4% characterized this relation as
negative, or were not able to describe it: 7.8% said that it was weak; 3.7% said it was very weak;
2.3% rejected the religion of their family, 5.5% did not know how to characterize their relation to
the religion of their family.
The percentage of American youth who related positively to their families' religion is high
(80.6%). However, of these respondents, 41% characterized the relation as average. Obviously,
the nature and intensity of this relationship is subject to closer scrutiny. We are not privy to the
conscious or unconscious criteria motivating the respondents. We do not know whether the
understanding of religion underlying these answers is related more to family than to Church, or
whether it conveys a broad and nondescript concept of religion. We know, for example, from
other studies "that teens are clearly searching for spiritual meaning in their lives with a new
intensity," but despite this growing interest in matters religious, "many teenagers remain turned
off' by churches and organized religion." At present, however, we are leaning toward a different
The positive relation to religion probably contains a cluster of positive variables from childhood
memories, to affection for parents and teachers, and the personal assimilation of religion. Age
differences reveal little: the positive relation to religion increases almost imperceptibly between
age fifteen and twenty-one (from 9.2% to 16.1%, for strong association with religion). There is no appreciable
difference between male and female respondents on this point: 82.1% of the men and 79.8% of
the women relate positively to their families' religion. As a group, 69.3% of the non-American
respondents stated positive perceptions of their families' religion, while 3.0% claimed to reject it.
Positive association with religion is lower for respondents of other countries (e.g., 57.1% for
France, 60.3% for Ireland, 52.8% for Switzerland).
Positive association with religion is even stronger when we are dealing with the mothers of the respondents. As expected, the father's association with religion is perceived as being weaker. The following observations can be made:
Survey on Mary and Youth: The Catholic Identity of Respondents
To place opinions and beliefs about Mary within the context of the Catholic Church and its
religious and moral rules of conduct, the respondents were asked about the following five items:
papal infallibility, the Sunday Mass obligation, cohabitation before marriage, abortion, and
commitment to justice and peace in the world.
To a slightly different question ("Catholics are required to accept and do everything the Pope
says"), McAuley and Mathieson report 109 (out of 775) positive answers; 521 in disagreement.
Sunday Mass Obligation
Living Together before Marriage
A comparison with other countries on behalf of the "Catholic identity" of respondents shows similar patterns of rejection or resistance to institution (esp., infallibility and moral conduct). The following table shows the percentage of respondents (by country) who strongly agree or agree with the following Church teachings:
Survey on Mary and Youth: Learning about Mary
The religious influence of schools has repeatedly been questioned, studied, and reaffirmed.
Recent studies concur that parental influence has the greatest effect on children's religious
outlook. Schools also have an independent effect, but one less effectual than the parental
and related to social environment rather than religious education. The same studies confirmed
girls are more religious than boys (though the gap is narrower among Catholics); that religious
observance tends to decrease with age (except in the area of vocation interest among Catholics).
Catholics, especially those having attended Catholic schools, scored highest on religious belief,
practice and knowledge. However, in general, levels of religious knowledge were poor in all
samples, whereas belief and practice were better but still low.
Given this broad information about learning and the interaction of family and school, we
wanted to know how respondents were first presented with the figure of Mary and if the school
played a role in their knowledge about her.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Initial Information
Of the respondents, 80.6% indicated that they were raised Roman Catholic, and 99.2% of the respondents said they had heard of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. A significant number of respondents (43.2% of those who answered this question) did not remember who first spoke to them of Mary. A majority 56.8% remembered the person from whom they first learned about Mary: 26.7% from their mother; 1.9% from their father; 10.9% from their priest or religious education instructor; 13.6% from their teacher; 3.7% from another person (e.g., a grandparent).
Of the write-in answers to this question, a plurality indicated "grandma." Perhaps this
that older Catholics are more knowledgeable about traditional teaching on Mary and more
to pass on this knowledge. If true, this fact could have significant pastoral implications.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Religious Instruction on Mary
After obtaining this primary information, the survey proceeded to measure the role the school
had in imparting knowledge about Mary. To the very general question as to whether "something"
had been taught about Mary "at your school" within the past three years, 84% responded "yes,"
10.5% replied "no," and 5.6% could not remember. (In comparison, the non-Americans answered
in the affirmative 77.8% of the time.)
Further inquiry about the form or setting for this teaching about Mary (in the last three years)
revealed the following:
Survey on Mary and Youth: Marian Devotional Practices
A significant part of our survey dealt with the devotional practices of the respondents. Was
respondent aware of and did he/she have contact with some Marian devotion in the parish, at
school, within the family? Was the respondent open to the practice? Did he/she participate? What
did the respondent think of Marian prayer? Did this prayer have some part in his/her life? How
the respondent react to apparitions or the Rosary? Was the respondent involved with some
apostolic Marian work or some Marian prayer group? The respondents were not only questioned
about their opinions on the various expressions of Marian devotion found in the family, school
and parish, but were also asked to indicate their personal involvement with these practices of the
spiritual life concentrating on Mary.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Negative Reactions
A cursory reading of the results indicates that between 30% and 45% of respondents answered
negatively to various questions dealing with personal participation in Marian devotion: 44.4%
said they never participated in any Marian devotional practice in their parish (51.2% of
non-Americans never participated); 31.3% said they never participated in any Marian devotions
offered at school (n.b., 15.7% of the American schools and 9.6% of the others had no such
devotions); 68.8% of Americans (and 69.7% of the others) indicated some participation.
30.4% said that neither Marian prayer (23.1%) nor any prayer at all (7.3%) had a place in their
lives. Conversely, 69.7% of the American sample (and 63.3% of the others) ackowledged a place
for Marian prayer in their own lives. Among non-Americans the figure for "no prayer" (14.4%)
was nearly double that for the same American response (7.3%). 34.4% said they had learned
but never recited the Rosary (compared to 29.0% of the non-Americans); 45.3% in the American
sample said their families had no Marian devotions (close to
the 45.4% for the remaining group).
96.9% said that they were not part of any Marian group, apostolic or otherwise (the figure for
the non-Americans was 90.1%).
Survey on Mary and Youth: Presence of Marian Devotion in Parish, School and Family
It did appear though, that the majority of respondents thought that Marian devotion was
present and alive in their parishes, schools, and families. 55.6% said that they participated often
occasionally in the Marian devotions offered by their parishes. However, only 9.4% said that
participated frequently. On the other hand, it was difficult to measure the degree of occasional
participation which totaled 46.2% of the responses given. 68.8% of the respondents said that they
participated in the various forms of Marian devotion which were conducted at school. Here, the
rate of frequent participation was greater than that in the parish (22.6% at school, 9.4% in the
parish). 54.7% referred to some Marian devotion in the family, without indicating whether they
had participated in it or not.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Varioius Expressions of Marian Devotion
What were the Marian devotions to which the respondents referred? Questions 13-16 asked
which Marian devotions students participated in at home, in church, or at school (usually
Marianist). Since the range of Marian devotions in the parish was more or less limited and
we tried to ascertain the response of youth to Marian devotions in the school and the family.
The Marian devotions which take place within the family are necessarily limited. The survey revealed the following for Marian devotion within the family: 33.8% recite the Hail Mary; 25.5% pray the Rosary; 10.6% have some other Marian prayer; 5.5% recite the Angelus.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Preference among Marian Devotions
We find a similar pattern in answer to the question (no. 19) concerning the preference among
Marian prayers. For 69.6% of the respondents (the remaining 30.4% said that Marian prayer did
not have any place in their life), the following were listed as the preferred prayer: 78.4%
the Hail Mary; 51.8% the Rosary; 29.2% the Angelus; 25.7% the Magnificat; 12.0% another
Marian prayer (not specified). (The Hail Mary was also most frequently mentioned by the
non-Americans at 69.3%.)
The survey on the different forms of Marian prayer revealed that young people preferred the
simplest and most traditional forms probably because they were the best-known and the easiest to
learn and use. Although 20.1% responded that they were never instructed about the Rosary, there
were 45.5% who said they recited the Rosary often or sometimes. The most common write-in
answers regarding personal Marian devotions were the "Hail Holy Queen" and the "Memorare";
however, the "Our Father" was listed as often as any of the specifically Marian write-in replies.
This finding offered evidence for the recognized lack of knowledge about Mary, especially in
matters related to doctrine. It was further supported by the replies to write-in question 27:
"Besides the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, can you think of other Roman
Marian dogmas." A few samples from the responses: "May crowning," "Mary was born without
sin" (shows lack of understanding of Mary's Immaculate Conception, frequently confused with
Virgin Birth), "Good Friday," "The infalability [sic] of the Pope" (dogma, but not Marian),
born without original sin," and "Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived."
The most common replies for group devotions included: "May crowning" (quite frequent) and
"Mass," especially Marian masses (e.g., Immaculate Conception was mentioned several times,
perhaps since it occurred during the school year).
Survey on Mary and Youth: Importance of Marian Prayer
Another aspect of our sociological research dealt with what young people think about Marian prayer? The following table summarizes the responses to the questions on the importance and practice of Marian prayer in their lives.
Note that the percentage who thought that Marian prayer
was important (64.7%) was close to that for those who thought that Marian prayer
had a place in their lives (69.7.%). (The figures for the non-American group
were, respectively, 70.2% and 63.3%.) The difference between theory (those who
thought it important) and practice (those who actually prayed) seems slight. In
this matter, a slight difference between boys and girls may be noted: 74.4% of
the girls and 66.9% of the boys said that Marian prayer had a place in their
lives. Similarly, 65.6% of the girls and 63.6% of the boys said that Marian
prayer was important for them.
Here age seems linked to noteworthy differences. Of the
total, 69.6% practiced some form of Marian prayer: 72.4% of fifteen-year-olds,
71% of sixteen-year-olds, 65.2% of seventeen-year-olds, and 68% of
eighteen-year- olds. The percentage decreases at 19 years old (64.2%) and 20
years old (62.5%) and increases for those 20 years old and over (71.9%).
The importance given to Marian prayer declines with the
age of the respondent. The following gives the number within the age groups of
those who think Marian prayer is important: fifteen-year-olds 69.0%;
sixteen-year-olds 66.5%; seventeen-year-olds 60.2%; eighteen-year-olds 61.5%;
nineteen-year-olds 56.5%; twenty-year-olds 48.9%. For those twenty-one and
older, the percentage rises to 65.8%. Age differences must be considered in
interpreting the average (64.3%).
Generally, young people do not consider Marian prayer to
be an obstacle to prayer addressed to God. Only 11% of the respondents thought
that prayer to Mary is an aberration or a distraction from prayer addressed to
God, and only 11.7% held that prayers should be directed to God alone. (The
responses from non-Americans were similar: 10.2% and 12.1%, respectively.) The
reservations about Marian prayer are slightly higher among boys than girls.
As to the meaning of Marian prayer, two major interpretations were offered by the respondents. Marian prayer is important a) because Mary is a model for those who pray and believe; b) because Mary intercedes efficaciously and assists those who pray. Young people appear to prefer the image of Mary as model of prayer and faith (74.8%) over her image as one who intercedes and assists (57.4%). (The same pattern appeared in the non-American group: 66.1% vs. 52.7%.)
Survey on Mary and Youth: Knowledge about Mary
Survey on Mary and Youth: The Biblical Mary
The respondents were presented with nine statements (such
as "The Bible tells us that Mary was a Jew"), and were invited to express their
agreement or their disagreement. The nine statements consisted of two groups.
The first group was concerned with facts (e.g., "The Bible tells us that Mary
was the spouse of Joseph") which closely followed the information supplied by
the Bible. In the second group, we find deductive or interpretive statements,
that is, statements which, while based on the Bible, are not available as
ready-made formulas but must be deduced. We distinguished the two groups as
facts (formulas or expressions found in Scripture) and interpretations (formulas
or expressions not directly found in Scripture). Obviously, the second group of
statements require interpretive skills.
a) Group I (Facts)The expectation was that there would be agreement concerning the facts, whereas there would be less agreement on the interpretations. Actually, the distribution of responses was the following:
89.1% agree that the Bible presents Mary as the wife of Joseph (fact);We notice that the four highest ranked statements , independent of whether they were fact or interpretation, were directly linked to the event of the Incarnation: wife of Joseph, the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, the virginity of Mary, and her role as Mother of God. Although the formulation of two of the four highest ranking statements may appear more doctrinal than biblical, they are all grounded in Scripture. The salient feature or common denominator for all of them is the Nativity of Christ. We are here dealing with well-known truths explaining the mystery of the birth of Jesus, found in a general way in the infancy narratives. The same can be said for Mary's freedom from sin. The responses to the first four statements can hardly be interpreted as biblical knowledge. The "Nativity-cluster," as we may call it, seems to be indicative of some generic knowledge about Christmas rather than of precise information about the place of Mary in the Bible.
The more specific statements (Mary as
"servant of the Lord," 52.1%) and those not directly related to the Christmas
story (e.g., the event at Calvary 42.0%) were more difficult to interpret. The
statement about Mary's preoccupation with human problems (24.h.) was applicable
to various biblical events (Magnificat, Cana, Pentecost) and may have created
some confusion (52.6%). One must also have some powers of deduction to know that
Mary was a Jewish woman (44.2%).
By way of summary, what is known about Mary from the Bible
is limited and concerns chiefly the nativity of Christ. The dogmatic and
scriptural affirmations derive from this event. This conclusion is verified by
the finding that only 41.5% (and 43.4% of the non-Americans) say that they
sometimes read the Bible outside of Church or school (58.5% said they do not
read the bible at all). In this case, there were no significant differences
related to age or sex.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Mary of Tradition
May we assume that knowledge of Mary among young people is
more rooted in doctrine than in Scripture? The answer to this question must be
Divine Maternity: To the question whether Mary
was the mother of God, that is, the mother of Jesus Christ, true God and man,
81.3% replied affirmatively (72.3% of the non-Americans); 7.0% replied
negatively; and 11.8% admitted they did not know what to reply.
Mary's Freedom: Similarly, a significant majority
(i.e., 76.3% of the Americans and 70.5% of the others) believed that Mary freely
accepted God's invitation to give birth to his Son, whereas 9.3% denied the
liberty of Mary and 14.7% did not know what to think.
Mary's Virginity: Once again, the responses on
Mary's perpetual virginity (before, during, and after Jesus' birth) did not give
evidence of the difficulties which one might have expected. A majority (between
60 and 70%) apparently recognized the importance of this doctrine. Other
findings concerning this issue included the following: 61.3% think that the
virginal birth is important because it safeguards the divinity of Jesus (n.b.,
non-Americans: 50.7%), whereas, 70.2% see the importance of this doctrine in the
fact that the virgin birth underlines the particular grace which Mary received
from God in order to give birth to Christ.
As to the biological reality or the symbolic value of the
virginal birth, opinions are divided: 37.1% think that the virgin birth has a
symbolic value. They believe this doctrine is a way of saying that Mary was
totally consecrated to God. On the other hand, 63.0% do not accept this
interpretation: 35.3% reject it, and 27.7% have no opinion on the topic.
Opinions are similarly divided concerning the biological
reality of the virgin birth: 35.4% (and 22.1% of the non-American group) think
that it is important for a Catholic to hold that the virginal birth is a
physical and biological reality; 28.7% reject the notion, and 35.8% suspend
their judgment or have no opinion.
Reference to ecclesiastical authority does not necessarily
conclude the matter, as the following responses show. To the statement "I do not
understand the doctrine of the virginal birth, but I accept it because the
Church teaches it," 26.7% gave their agreement, but 49.0% rejected the
statement, and 24.3% were without an opinion. (29.7% of the non-American
respondents assented to the statement.)
Immaculate Conception and Assumption: Hesitation
was even more noticeable when dealing with these two Marian dogmas. 92.7% (and
92.0% of the non-Americans) believed that there were only two Marian dogmas the
Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. Familiarity with essential features of
these two dogmas was minimal, especially in the case of the Immaculate
Conception: 47.9% did not know what the meaning of this dogma is (37.0% for the
non-Americans); 40.0% gave an incorrect definition; and, only 12.0% gave a
correct definition of the Immaculate Conception.
Several definitions were suggested in a multiple
choice-type question. The 23% ratio of correct answers was very close to the 25%
to be expected from random chance. In this matter, there were no differences
between men and women, but the older respondents tended to have more knowledge
than the younger ones. With regard to the Assumption, 57.5% did not know the
meaning of the doctrine; 3.3% gave an incorrect definition; and, only 39.1% gave
a correct response (again, multiple-choice definitions were offered).
The difference between the correct answers for the
Immaculate Conception and Assumption is readily explainable. The doctrine of the
Immaculate Conception has frequently been confused with the conception of Jesus,
whereas it was relatively easy to give a correct response for the dogma of the
Assumption. Nevertheless, little was known about the whole area of Marian dogmas
terminology and content. In this regard, there was little difference between all
respondents male or female, old or young.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Mary of Apparitions
We also inquired whether or not the respondents were interested in apparitions. About 40% of the respondents showed no interest or concern in Marian apparitions, while 60% manifested some interest. (The figure for the non-Americans was higher: 65.2%.)
To the question whether apparitions are a primarily psychological phenomenon, only 16.3% agreed, 43.2% disagreed, and 40.5% did not know. A significant percentage 25% were "without opinion" on the subject of apparitions, and here again there was no significant difference in replies based on age or sex.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Beliefs and Opinions on Mary
There are many statements about Mary which are situated in a gray zone between established
doctrine and stereotyped opinion and belief. Some are the consequence of polemic
generalizations, others can be attributed to pious exaggerations. The question is often asked:
human really was Mary? For some it is a foregone conclusion that Mary is the rallying point of
Roman conservatism and a major obstacle to ecumenism. In this section we would like to
the beliefs and opinions of our respondents on some of these questions. And so, concerning the
place and importance of Mary, we note the following.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Mary-Human or Divine?
46% of the respondents viewed Mary as a woman and a creature, a human person; 27.1% said
that she "was more like us than God," and 18.9% thought that she was truly a "person like
ourselves." 37.1% (and 25.5% of the non-Americans) showed the tendency to make Mary similar
to God ("she is like God" . . . "she is more like God than us"); 17.0% had no opinion on the topic.
This somewhat astonishing tendency to make Mary divine was confirmed in another part of this
survey. 33.8% of the
respondents were in agreement with the following statement: "Mary is the goddess for Catholics
and should be venerated by
Survey on Mary and Youth: Mary and the Church
The great majority of respondents recognized the importance of Mary for the Catholic Church:
76.9 agreed, 2.3% disagreed, and 20.8% abstained (70.3% in the non-American group also
Survey on Mary and Youth: Mary-Symbol of Conservatism
At the same time, a large number 48.2% considered Mary as the symbol of traditional and conservative Catholicism; 13.8% disagreed, and 38% a large proportion had no opinion on the topic. Is Mary the woman who is to triumph over Satan and communism, or is she the one who shields us from the anger of Jesus, the Son of God? 21.8% connected Mary with the downfall of communism, while 38.3% did not make this connection. 28.6% saw Mary as the one who defeats Satan, while 34% did not agree with this opinion. 21.2% considered her as humanity s protectress against the anger of Jesus, whereas 45.8% were opposed to this view. In all three cases, the percentage of abstentions was high (39.9%, 37.5%, 33.0%).
Survey on Mary and Youth: Mary and Ecumenism
The respondents displayed some hesitation on the subject of ecumenism. When asked whether
Mary was an obstacle to Christian unity, 57.1% had no opinion on the subject, while 32.1% did
not think that there was a problem, and only 10.8% thought that Mary could be an obstacle to
Christian unity. Conversely, 49.1% of the respondents thought that it was important to know and
venerate Mary in order to believe in Christ. A high percentage (42.1%) had no opinion on this
topic, while only 8.8% thought that it was not important to know and love Mary.
To questions dealing with the intercession and mediation of Mary, respondents replied in the
following way: 48% agreed (61.6% for non-Americans) that Mary was the mediatrix between
God and humanity (18.4% disagreed, while 33.4% had no opinion). There was less agreement on
the subject of coredemption: 37.3% of the Americans (and 47.0% of the remainder) said that
Mary is "the coredemptrix of humanity, with Jesus Christ" (22.7% were opposed to this view,
40.1% abstained from taking a position). There was greater agreement with the statement that
Mary leads the believer to Jesus Christ (57.7% agreed, 14.6% disagreed, and 27.6% were without
Finally, it is worth noting that only a small percentage of the replies viewed Mary negatively. This was true even in replies to question 40: "Is Roman Catholic teaching about Mary an obstacle to Christian unity?" The vast majority rejected this view (perhaps since so few knew much about the Roman Catholic teaching beyond that Mary was Jesus' mother and that she was good and loving to him). But, 10.8% of the American group and 11.7% of the others affirmed the statement (no. 40). Some of the negative write-in replies were phrased in stereotypical polemic phrases: "Jesus is the one we worship. She was only an instrument like Moses," "she was just an instrument of God," "the main difference between Catholicism and other Christian religions is their view of Mary," "it cuts out the fact that since Jesus died for our sins . . . we can have a direct relationship with God," "Jesus saved the world not Mary." This may indicate that most negative reaction against Mary is reflexive and unexamined.
Survey on Mary and Youth: Representations of Mary
What images or representations do young people use when thinking of Mary? To answer this
question, we used two complimentary approaches: 1) a series of descriptions of Mary drawn
theological and spiritual literature (popular piety); 2) an open question asking the respondent to
list personal qualities of Mary, in addition to and in a way different from those listed in question
Survey on Mary and Youth: Affective Relation and Closeness
The results showed that the images of Mary rated most highly (in the list of 12 possibilities) were
expressed in statements and titles which suggest an affective relation and closeness
us. The preferred descriptions were the following:
83.3% of the American respondents (72.6% of the others) saw Mary as a mother who is concerned (warmth and caring) for the Church and for humanity (against 15.3% who do not have this view of Mary); 79.7% saw Mary as the Mother of God (9.6% could not identify with her in this way; 10.7% had no opinion). Despite the prominent theological note of this description, the maternal relation was present and indicated, at least indirectly, an affective relation. (70.0% of the non-Americans affirmed the title.)
The third preference was the following: 76.8% (but only 61.7% of the non-Americans) saw Mary as the one who loves the poor (8% rejected this image while 15.2% had no opinion). A note of maternal warmth and the possibility of identification with the poor make this an image not only of affective warmth and closeness to us but also one which in a certain way speaks of a maternal bond and of social concern. 70.2% saw Mary as our sister in the faith (10.5% rejected this image, while 19.3% had no opinion). Again, the note of "closeness" is present: Mary shares our lot and with us lives our faith. (62.7% of the non-Americans also accepted the image.)
Survey on Mary and Youth: Source of Inspiration and Ideal Figure
A second set of images statistically less often preferred can be interpreted within what might be
"the distant ideal" category. Here we are dealing with images of Mary which speak
her greatness and excellence, and, as a consequence, of her distance and separation from us.
These images may suggest an ideal figure and be a
source of inspiration.
60.4% of the respondents see Mary as the Queen of Heaven (against 19.5% who
could not identify with this image, and 20.1% who had no opinion). (Only 38.7% of the
non-American respondents agreed with the title).
58.6% (compared to 51.4% in the non-American sample) saw her as the chaste
virgin, an image which suggests both an ideal and Mary's distance from us pilgrims and
sinners (12.3% rejected the image, and 29.1% abstained from answering the question).
52.0% identified Mary as the ideal woman (20% disagreed, and 28% had no
a title which may somehow secularize the essentially religious significance of Mary, but which
contains the notion of her being a distant ideal (49.9% of the non-Americans also affirmed this
50.1% saw Mary as the powerful mediatrix who presents our prayers to God. (This
figure was identical to that for the non-Americans: 50.1%.) Although in this image, the idea of
closeness to humanity is evidently expressed, it appears
subordinate to the idea of power, grandeur, and mediation (22.3% could not identify with the
description, and 27.7% were without opinion).
The other descriptions (four in all) fell below the 50% level and cannot be classified in any
well-defined categories. However, the following observations can be made:
a) Traditional titles, which to our contemporaries denote little affective relation, such as servant of the Lord and coredemptrix ("co-redeemer of humanity with Jesus Christ"), are less well liked:
50.0% chose servant of the Lord (20.8% were opposed, while 29.3% had no opinion). (Non-Americans chose it 51.3% of the time.) 39.4% chose Mary as coredemptrix (22.5% disagreed, and 38.1% a significantly high proportion had no opinion). (The non-American group selected it in higher numbers: 50.5%.)
Survey on Mary and Youth: A Typology of Marian Representations
As to the approach involving an open-ended question inviting the respondents to describe their
own image or description of Mary, a minority of those surveyed (28.9%, or 1,013 individuals)
responded, whereas 71.1% (2,489 individuals) chose not to respond to this question.
The evaluation of the responses to this question allows us to develop further and more broadly
two categories previously established. Based on the study of about nine-hundred responses to this
open-ended question, we can distinguish seven types or categories of representations of Mary
favored by the respondents.
(1) The first type, and that which was most preferred (255 responses), dealt with the
affective relation of the respondent to Mary: Mary is present as a mother; she is
caring and concerned with our needs; she is a special friend, lovable and loving; she listens, has
patience, and pardons. Mary is a second mother, someone who makes one think of one's own
(2) A second type of response proportionately less important than the first type (215 responses)
referred to the
role and function of Mary. We are dealing here with a response which is more a
statement of fact or an impersonal idea, rather than an expression of a
loving relation or a challenge. Here, the responses underline the role and mission of
Mary in the history of
salvation. In these more theological descriptions of
Mary, the personal relation of the respondent to Mary is not accented, at least not explicitly. Thus
Mary is described as the person who gave us Jesus, as the Virgin-Mother of Jesus or the
mediatrix; Mary is the one who spreads peace, the one who has an impact on the faith of the
world, the model and epitome of all who say yes to the Lord.
(3) A third type (seen in 137 of the responses) dealt with expressions of admiration for
Mary's person. Rather than an affective and dependent relation, this type expresses a
respect and admiration for Mary. Here the accent is placed on the human person of Mary, rather
than on her function and role. For these respondents, Mary is a great woman "super," "cool,"
sensational, courageous, beautiful. She is "very special."
(4) A fourth type which is more of an antitype (104 responses) included all those who suggest
that Mary is not perfect. These responses indicate a direct or indirect correspondence
between Mary and ourselves. Generally, these responses have a democratic or leveling tone
them, a desire to bring Mary close to us and our world, without however expressing a personal
relation with her. This type, which wishes to reclaim the image of Mary as a person, questions
Mariology of privileges. For these respondents, Mary is a normal woman, a woman like others, a
woman not in need of special treatment. She is human but not perfect, full of "human goodness."
She is not the "ever-virgin" or the "mother of God." She is human, but someone special.
(5) The fifth type is the opposite of the fourth type. The qualities used to describe Mary come
perfection (ninety-four responses). Here are found the ideal and the absolute, the language of
superlatives. As a result, Mary's image recedes and becomes idealized. Here, Mary is described
the "divine dimension" who is in some way part of God, the woman of all women who now
complete and absolute happiness; she is the most perfect woman, the most perfect expression of
the faith. Her perfection puts her beyond the human.
(6) The sixth type less frequent numerically (sixty-six responses) presents Mary as the
model in the grand scheme and, more particularly, as a model of faith (twenty
responses). She is the person we ought to be: the model for Christian women, a model mother, an
example of goodness, a leader in the faith, someone whom we should imitate.
(7) In the last category are grouped all descriptions which indicate rejection, aggressiveness or
antipathy. Often, reactions of this kind towards Mary serve as an indication or signal of a
crisis -- a strained relation with or a rejection of the Church. The language used in these
was explicit and sometimes coarse. The descriptions ran the gamut from those indicating that
Mary had no importance to some saying that Mary was only a fictional character.
We can draw two sets of conclusions from these seven
Mary and Youth: The Existential Relation:
Is there a place for Mary in my life?
To further develop and explain the personal relation with Mary, that is, to measure its vitality or
existential bond, the
respondents were asked the following direct question: Does Mary have a place in your life?
1) Importance of Existential Relationship
59.4% (compared with 48.6% of the non-Americans) replied
affirmatively, while 14.5% replied negatively, and 26.1% did not have an opinion (or did not
know whether Mary was in their lives).
2) Profile of Experiential Relationship
As to the nature or significance of this relation, another open-ended question was presented to the
respondents. From the 1,843 responses received (which represent about half of the respondents),
we established the following categories:
620 young people said that Mary has a place in their lives because she assists them in their
prayer; 349 spoke of the maternal qualities (warmth, security) of Mary; and
300 considered her in a generic fashion as a model, guide, or "idol" (i.e., someone
admired). 238 saw Mary as a model of faith for themselves; 170 said that she has a
place in their lives because of her role in the history of salvation, whereas 71 said that she
this place because she is "like me" (has a resemblance). 54 simply stated the fact: she has a place
in my life.
3) Intensity of Existential Relationship
How is the intensity of this relation perceived? Is this a living relation, something close and
personal? To what degree? 64.5% (65.8% for the non-Americans) said that their relation with
Mary is very or somewhat close; 21.7% said that it is not close at
Among the different models proposed for religious identification, Mary occupies the third place
after God and Jesus. 87.0% of the young people said that their relation with God is very or
moderately close (the figure for the non-American sample was 75.9%). 83.7% (vs. 75.9%
for non-Americans) affirmed the same relation with Jesus.
Moreover, the bond which unites youth to Mary is stronger than their relation with the saints,
their parish, or with church groups. 57.9% said they maintain a very or moderately strong bond
with their parish (against 49.6% of the non-Americans); 39.6% (close to the 39.3%
figure for non-Americans) said they maintain a very or moderately strong bond with the
saints, whereas 35.4% said they are strongly or
moderately united to a group within their Church (the figure is almost identical for
non-American respondents: 40.3%).
Mary and Youth: Mary and the Feminine Archetype
Is there any relation between the respondents' image of the ideal woman, their own mother, and
Mary? For young people, is there some representation of the feminine which serves as the basis
for their image of the ideal woman, their own mother, and for Mary? In other words, can we
discern some archetype of the feminine? Without entering a discussion on the psychology of
archetypes, we can indicate some traits or characteristics of the feminine which are found in the
various responses given by youth. Generally speaking, there is a great deal of correspondence
among the three representations the ideal woman, one's own mother, and Mary.
To end this sociological study, we wish to state once again that the respondents in our survey
were young persons, mostly (two-thirds) students from Marianist Catholic schools. Does the
atmosphere of the Marianist school in some way determine their image of Mary? We think so,
while admitting that this affirmative reply is intended to encourage rather than to be a source of
The answers given to our questions on Mary suggest a steady but shallow transmission of
religious sentiments and doctrines, rather than the audacious construction of a new and different
Madonna. When speaking of Mary as young people (especially American youth) perceive her,
do not refer to a post-modern Madonna, rather we speak of the traditional image of the Mother of
God. If, as de Tocqueville suggested, the principal religious rule in American religion is that of
"private judgment," then religious tradition freely chosen, adhered to, and transmitted to the next
generation would indicate that the traditional image of Mary has been accepted by the
respondents without too many complications or difficulties.
The principal findings of our survey are reassuring to those devoted to Mary. American youth are
not wandering in some vast "Marian desert," because there is no desert. We have found that
60% of the respondents relate to Mary in a positive way, and that young people have a place for
Mary in their lives and maintain a personal relation with her.
The overall results from the non-American group were, in general, roughly comparable to those
from the American sample. Replies which required affirmation of elements relating to "Catholic
identity" (e.g., factual understanding about the Mary of Scripture and Church tradition, the
Church's normative teaching involving personal and social responsibility) were consistently,
though not dramatically, lower than in the American group.
However, the basic trends remained the same: an intellectual acquaintance about the person of
Mary was lacking, and a negative relation to the Church as institution was high. Similarities
appear to outweigh the differences.
(1) The difference between male and female, which usually plays a large role in sociological
surveys, is virtually nonexistent in regards to attitudes towards Mary. The same can be said about
differences related to the age of the respondents.
(2) Youth have not separated themselves from religion or rejected their families' religion. About
85% identify with it, in varying degrees.
(3) The parish, school, and family have not abdicated their traditional responsibility for the
transmission of Marian
devotion to youth. Young people participate to a significant degree in what the parish (56%), the
school (69%), and the family (55%) have to offer concerning Mary.
(4) There is no truth in saying that Mary is absent from the school. 84% of those surveyed said
there was at least some occasional teaching about Mary.
(5) Marian prayer seems to have an important place in young people's lives (70%).
(6) The different expressions of devotion to Mary are rather traditional, simple,
(7) In young people's attitudes toward Mary, one cannot find evidence of systematic and
(rationnalisme de rejet). Witness, for example, the positive attitude toward
apparitions and virginity.
(8) There is a certain hesitancy to identify Mary's nature clearly: the percentage of those who see
her as "created" and "human" (46%) ranks only a little higher than of those who see her as
"superhuman" and/or "divine" (37%). Survey
conclusions to be continued.
(9) The representations or images by which youth identify with Mary are complementary, even
while being on different levels. First, there are images which express an affective and close
relation with Mary; next, and less strong, are those images which suggest the notion of a distant
(10) Generally, spontaneously formulated representations of Mary are not highly individualized
unique. Usually, they reflect attitudes of affection, admiration, and imitation. Among these
and representations, the traditional image (e.g.,
"mother") and the recent image (e.g., "sister") hold the
attention of youth. Specific traditional images (e.g., "servant") or specific recent images (e.g.,
feminine face of God") are less appreciated and accepted.
(11) The representation which youths project of the ideal woman corresponds, in large measure,
to the images which they have of their mothers and of Mary, and vice versa.
(12) Young people expressed hesitation when asked about Mary and the problem of Christian
unity. While only a few of them think that Mary presents an obstacle, a large percentage have no
clear opinion on the subject.
(13) Youth are virtually unaware of the existence of Marian apostolic works or Marian prayer
(14) Is there a rift between morality and spirituality? We have noted an indifference, a tension, or
a break between the moral teaching of the Church and the spiritual values, including Marian
values, it presents. In other words, there is a rather strong Marian tradition among youth, but, to
an important degree, it seems independent of the Church.
(15) Finally, everyone (99%) knows at least something about Mary; the great majority have
received some teaching about her, and many love her and make a place for her in their
But do young people really know her? For a great number of them, is she not someone unknown
someone who is loved, but who remains unknown? Can one really love someone about whom so
little is known? It is true that love of Mary does not necessarily require exegetical and doctrinal
depth and precision, but when an
adolescent loves someone who is unknown, could it not be a projection of his/her own
The image of Mary, even when beloved and cherished, is subject to a threefold deformation:
psychological projection, based on personal needs; religious sentimentality, based exclusively on
some romantic Madonna from an idyllic nativity scene; and, finally, a radicalization of the
mythic image of Mary, separated from its sources in Scripture and tradition. When faced with these
potential shortcomings of a "Madonna well-loved but unknown," we feel compelled to present a more complete biblical image of Mary (Annunciation,
Nativity, Cana, Calvary, Pentecost), a more specific image (model for the disciple and for the
believer), and a more generic image (one based on the Church's doctrinal teaching on Mary). We
must also rediscover Marian dogma as an expression of the Church's continual reflection on
Personal relationship and ideal representation, together with affection and admiration for Mary
all converge toward a more wholesome image of Mary. When head and heart touch faith and cause
it to grow, the image of Mary cannot help but be one which is both known and loved.
[Charts to follow next week.]
* Fr. Roten is currently Director of Art & Special Projects at the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. He conducted the survey during his tenure as director of the Institute.
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