With the acknowledgment that “our times need the credible and attractive witness of consecrated religious who demonstrate the redemptive and transformative power of the Gospel,” the Vatican today released the results of the Apostolic Visitation of women religious in the United States.
Overall, the report was quite positive, acknowledging the many ways women religious have served the Church, both historically and currently, and recognizing the myriad ways of living the call to religious life. It also recognized that “the majority of the religious institutes are intensifying their efforts to share their charism with lay collaborators and those whom they serve so that the charism might continue to enrich the life of the Church.” Indeed, the Society of the Sacred Heart has made this a priority for more than thirty years, as we count on our lay collaborators, particularly in Sacred Heart Schools, to continue the mission of Saint Madeleine Sophie.
“There are thoughtful calls and challenges in this report not only for religious in the United States, but also Canada and beyond,” said Provincial Barbara Dawson. “This reflection comes at an opportune time for those of us who are part of the Society of the Sacred Heart as we study and integrate the calls of our own formation document Life Unfolding and take the time during this Year of Consecrated Life to renew our own commitment to live our life fully, as individuals and as a community.”
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) initiated the Apostolic Visitation – a formal meeting between the leaders of religious institutes and Vatican officials – in December 2008. The announced goals of the Visitation were to:
- assess the quality of the life of apostolic women religious in the United States,
- learn more about the variety of ways in which women religious contribute to the Church and society
- inform the Church in order to enable it to be a source of support for women religious communities in the United States.
The Apostolic Visitation was led by American religious Mother Mary Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., superior of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was composed of four phases:
- Invitation to Superiors General to an interview with Mother Millea
- A questionnaire sent to all religious institutes
- Site visits to a representative sample of institutes by Mother Millea and other official visitators
- Final reporting to the prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which occurred in January, 2012.
The Society of the Sacred Heart viewed the Apostolic Visitation as an opportunity to tell the many stories of dedication and service by thousands of women religious in the United States. Superior General Kathleen Conan met with Mother Millea in May, 2009 and provincial leadership spent considerable time and care responding to the Instrumentum Laboris (the questionnaire). The provincial team found this time well-spent as they were able to see empirically precisely how Religious of the Sacred Heart were living the mission of the Society, according to our Constitutions. Some of the documents created in response have also proved useful in planning for certain aspects of province life, such as formation.
It is our hope that the end result of the Apostolic Visitation is improved understanding of the vitality and relevance of women religious in the United States. Let us all pray for religious women throughout the world and for the church. If we all do our part as prophets and pastors, we will respond to the call of Pope Francis to “wake up the world.”Vatican image by Doug Wheller on Flickr.com