Discourses of US Sisters at Vatican Press Conference

«Through participation in this process, we have deepened spiritually, reaffirmed our belief in our religious life and renewed our commitment to our mission in the Church and the world. «

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Here below are some of the discourses from today’s press conference for the presentation of the Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States of America.

The Vatican-provided speakers’ discourses below include: Sr. M. Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., director of the Apostolic Visitation in the United States; Sr. Sharon Holland, I.H.M., president of the «Leadership Conference of Women Religious» (LCWR); Sr. Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., coordinator of the «Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious» (CMSWR); and Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., assistant to the Visitation Committee.


Opening Remarks of Fr. Thomas Rosica

Thank you, Fr. Lombardi.

Your Eminence, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz,

Your Excellency, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo,

Reverend Mothers and Sisters,

Good morning to all of you here present in the Vatican Press Centre. Welcome to this very important and historic Press Conference at the Vatican dealing with the release of the Final Report of the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious in the United States of America.

I especially greet the major superiors and representatives of Religious Congregations present in Rome as well as the many religious women who are joining us through the live streaming feed provided by Vatican Television and the Holy See Press Office. I also greet the many journalist colleagues here present- those permanently accredited to the Holy See as well as the many following us from afar. I remind you that for those who are unable to view the conference live due to different time zones, the entire conference is stored on the Vatican You Tube site: https://www.youtube.com/user/vatican.

Today I have the triple role of one who has accompanied this visitation from the beginning as one of the few male visitors; as moderator of this panel, and also assistant for English language to the Holy See Press Office. Before inviting our distinguished panel to begin their individual presentations, I simply wish to situate this conference in the wider context of the Year of Consecrated Life which the universal Church began on the First Sunday of Advent this year.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis, who is very aware of today’s conference and report, chose as the aims of this year the same ones which Saint John Paul II proposed to the whole Church at the beginning of the third millennium,»You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished!»

The Year of Consecrated Life and the Final report invite us to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to examine our fidelity to the mission entrusted to us. The Year of Consecrated Life and the Final report invite us to embrace the future with hope.

In order to keep our focus on the Apostolic Visitation and do justice to this very important event in the life of the Church, our reflections today will only address this important theme that is the competency of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and no other themes or topics. During the ample time for questions from our audience, I would ask you to kindly refer only to the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious of the United States.

I now invite His Eminence Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to address us.

He will be followed by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, O.F.M., Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

They will be followed by the three sisters whom I will present individually.

Mother M. Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Director of the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes ofApostolic Life of Women Religious in the United States of America.

Sr. Sharon Holland, I.H.M.,Vice President of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and President of Leadership Conference of Women Religious(LCWR).

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Superior General of the Sisters of Life and Chair of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR).

[02072-02.01] [Original text: English]

Statement of Sr. M. Clare Millea:

I imagine that each of the women religious here present and those who are following this press conference via internet remember the moment we heard the announcement of the Apostolic Visitation. For me, it began with a totally unexpected phone call from Cardinal Franc Rodé, then Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life. I immediately felt overwhelmed by such an enormous task and keenly aware of my own limitations. At the same time, I knew there could be no other response on my part but yes, in loving obedience to the Church and to the religious life which I deeply love. I tried to carry it out with unwavering faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the support of much prayer.

Throughout the entire Visitation, I not only felt the weight of this responsibility but also the deep trust of the Dicastery. From the outset, Cardinal Rodé clearly wanted an American religious to be the Holy See’s envoy in this delicate mission, giving me free rein to choose my own collaborators to assist in the Visitation’s design, the formulation of its strategies and the ongoing evaluation and modification of the process. He readily agreed to let us establish a first-ever visitation website to keep the women religious and the general public abreast of its developments. Each time I returned to Rome from my U.S. office, he attentively listened to my updates and encouraged our efforts. From the time of Archbishop Joseph Tobin’s appointment as Secretary of the Dicastery in 2010, he always showed great sensitivity to the women religious and intense interest in the process. I thank them as well as Cardinal João Braz de Aviz and Archbishop Carballo, who have brought the Visitation to its completion in a very pastoral manner and have given us a wonderful message of hope today.

My core team of dedicated religious offered invaluable voluntary service to the Apostolic Visitation. Their commitment to the Church and to the values of religious life, as well as their belief in the sacred dignity of every human person enabled the Visitation to take place with profound respect for each individual religious and congregation. I am happy for this opportunity to publicly thank them for their great contribution. I also gratefully acknowledge the wise counsel of various other consultants and the fine service rendered by nearly eighty religious from forty-six congregations who conducted the on-site Visits.

My personal contact with many of the dedicated leaders and members of the religious institutes in our country has filled me with joyful gratitude. I now understand as never before how enriched and blessed the Church in the United States is because of the myriad experiences and gifts of its current fifty thousand women religious and the multitudes of dedicated women who have preceded us.

The Apostolic Visitation provided many opportunities for reflection, dialogue and communion among women religious in the United States as well as with the Church’s pastors and lay faithful. Congregation leaders, including those who expressed resistance initially to this initiative, have shared that the process has yielded surprising positive results, such as:

– honest confrontation with the transformative power of the Word of God,

– deep spiritual conversations with our sisters about the life, witness and message of our foundresses and founders,

– earnest delving into Church documents about consecrated life,

– increased solidarity among women religious and renewed desire to move beyond attitudes which prevent us from being in communion with one another,

– a wonderful outpouring of loving gratitude expressed to women religious by bishops, clergy and lay persons which has sparked new energy and resourcefulness among us and has awakened a renewed interest in the promotion of vocations to the religious life.

Like the major superiors present here today, I too, as superior general of an international institute, have been eagerly awaiting the response of the Congregation for Consecrated Life at the conclusion of the Apostolic Visitation. As the person who conveyed the complex reality of our religious congregations to the Holy See with as much integrity and reverence as was possible, I affirm that the report given to us today reflects my findings in a concise and accurate manner.

I thank Cardinal Braz de Aviz and Archbishop Carballo for hearing our voices, our concerns and our goodwill, and for responding to us with sensitivity, respect and clarity. Your message to us today shows that you do understand our ongoing struggle to faithfully serve the Church in challenging times, despite our shortcomings and limitations. While you affirm the importance of our life and ministry in the Church, you challenge us with clear guidelines for an effective metanoia, the ongoing conversion essential to the effective revitalization of our vocation and life style. Thank you for inviting all of us to continue our open and honest dialogue with one another, with our pastors and with you, so that whatever remains of uncertainty and hesitancy among us might be transformed into collaborative trust and effective witness.

I sincerely hope that the positive energy generated by the Apostolic Visitation will continue to bear fruit in the ongoing revitalization of the vocation and ministry of women religious in the United States. The Visitation has given us a priceless opportunity to renew our commitment to the consecrated life and to place our unique gifts at the service of the Church, as together we confront new and emerging threats to human dignity, religious freedom and conscience protection. May the affirmation and challenges of this final report impel us all to become – as Pope Francis urges us – joyful, Spirit-filled evangelizers who cultivate in prayer the interior space which gives a Christian meaning to our commitment and activity (cfEvangelii Gaudium 262). In true synergy with all other vocations in the Church, may we spread the spirituality of communion in our own communities, in the ecclesial community and in the existential peripheries of a world looking for a purpose in life, thirsting for the divine (cf Pope Francis, Apostolic letter for the Year of Consecrated Life 3-4).

Thank you.

[02075-02.01] [Original Text: English]

Statement of Sr. Sharon Holland, I. H.M.

Thank You.

First of all I would like to express thanks to Mother Mary Clare. The organization, preparation and carrying out of this enormous undertaking was truly amazing. The training of the team of religious who visited our institutes resulted, when the time came, in a great sense of freedom.

As the Report itself acknowledges, the Visitation was met by some religious with «apprehension and suspicion» (n. 11). The expressed purpose, «to look into the quality of life of religious women in the United States,» was troubling. Some congregations reported that their elder sisters felt that their whole lives had been judged and found wanting. Despite the apprehension however, today we are looking at an affirmative and realistic report which, we know, is based on the study of written responses and on countless hours of attentive listening.

A reflection on my own experience of the visitation may put in perspective some of what happened in many of our U.S. religious houses. A large number of Sisters gathered in our Motherhouse chapel; they were Sisters who live there and others living near enough to come for the opening of the visitation. There was a certain anxiety in the air.

After our two visitors were introduced, one began to explain the purpose of the visit and how they would proceed. It was clear that they would observe the official process as it was entrusted to them, but their tone and the quality of their presence began to change the atmosphere. It was evident that these were sisters like us to whom we could speak openly and honestly. The personal visits took place in open conversation, sharing the joys and hopes of post conciliar renewal; the anxieties, concerns and hopes for the future. We spoke of a deepened life of prayer rooted in Scripture, of the enthusiasm for our charism and fidelity in mission, often in collaboration with other institutes and with laity.

The Report we are receiving today reflects our reality—in its commonality and diversity. Perhaps because so many voices were heard and a remarkable synthesis made, Institutes will easily recognize their own truth, and also respect the diversity among us. Our achievements have been recognized with gratitude, and the nature of our challenges reviewed. We are urged to reflect, to strengthen, to take up opportunities, to discern, to act in extending the Church’s evangelizing mission, according to our distinctive but complementary charisms.

I am very aware that, in addition to the media, I am speaking to American religious, about whom and for whom this report was written, but who have not yet seen it. Soon all will have it in hand. It occurred to me that as the Report is read, many may recognize expressions in the document which could have been copied from their Institutes’ Chapter documents.

In a particular way, it is the realism of the text which appealed to me first. For example, in the section on vocation promotion and formation, there is the common concern for the dramatic decline in vocations. However, the Report goes on to recognize that the vocational peak of the 1960’s was unusual, and not a norm to which we can return. Rather, the focus is on providing the formation needed for today’s candidates who often are highly qualified professionally, but lacking in theological formation.

The section concerning Financial Stewardship likewise shows our complex current realities. Religious are praised for wise stewardship, socially responsible investing and strategic planning for the needs of members and ministries. Simultaneously, there is a very concrete acknowledgment of many causes contributing to our financial problems: years of undercompensated ministry, a diminished number of earners, volunteer ministries of elder religious, work with the poor and disenfranchised and the fact that sisters serving in ecclesiastical structures receive relatively low salaries and have sometimes lost their positions due to downsizing.

I mention these factors simply to emphasize again how much has been heard and understood. There is an encouraging and realistic tone in this Report. Challenges are understood, but it is not a document of blame, or of simplistic solutions. One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.

The Year of Consecrated Life is seen as an opportune moment, for all – religious, clergy and laity – to take steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation in witness of ecclesial communion. It offers «an opportunity to transform uncertainty and hesitancy into collaborative trust…» in service of mission. Using the words of Pope Francis, the need for a «more incisive female presence in the Church» is repeated.

Written by those who listened deeply to many sisters, to many stories, experiences, fears and hopes, the Report tells with integrity, not only the «what» of our contemporary reality, but also much of the «why».

As our members read, study, pray over and discuss this Report, I believe they will feel affirmed and strengthened. Through participation in this process, we have deepened spiritually, reaffirmed our belief in our religious life and renewed our commitment to our mission in the Church and the world. We have benefitted anew from the experience of collab
oration and communion among institutes, with pastors, and with laity.

In this Advent Season, we claim one more reason to express the joy of the Gospel.

[02076-02.01] [Original text: English]

Statement of Sr. Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V.

When the Apostolic Visitation of Women’s Religious communities in the United States was announced, the Members of theCouncil of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) welcomed the invitation from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) to prayerful self-reflection, self-evaluation and dialogue. We were genuinely confident that we would be both affirmed and challenged in the process.

In speaking with Religious Superiors, Pope Francis has said, «… it is not possible that a consecrated woman … not ‘feel’ along with the Church. A ‘feeling’ along with the Church which was generated in us in our Baptism; a ‘feeling’ with the Church which finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the pastors and the Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome, the visible sign of unity.»1

The Apostolic Visitation offered us a tangible opportunity to ‘feel’ along with the Church. In the words of one member Superior of the CMSWR, «from the beginning preparations to the closing prayer, (the Visitation) was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience.» Another was grateful that the process opened up «community-wide study and discussion, providing each sister the opportunity to reflect on fundamental areas of our life and apostolate, and to share with one another.» The on-site visit for a third was «refreshing and gave me a deeper sense of joy in the Holy Spirit working within our charism…» Another Superior summed up her community’s experience by stating, «We were not disappointed during any phase of the Visitation.»

As we welcome the Final Report, we are particularly grateful for those who have given countless hours of thoughtful labor to this effort, hopeful that, in time, it will bear fruit for the good of religious life and the Church.

The Final Report acknowledges the fact of the «widely diversified expressions of apostolic religious life» in the United States while focusing on the overall trends evident in the majority of communities. Underneath that broad brush stroke, there is another trend. It is a quiet one and small, but nonetheless significant, and one which has consistently grown over these first 15 years of the new millennium. While the overall trend may be towards aging and diminishment, apostolic Religious Life is not dying in the United States. There is reason for hope. The same voice of love which called women to courageously and selflessly tend the poor, weak and young in the past is still calling young women today. It is the voice of Jesus, and the experience of His personal love continues to lead young women to our doors.

Within the 125 communities of CMSWR members, nearly 20% (almost 1,000) of the Sisters are currently in initial formation (in the years prior to final vows). The average age of Sisters is 53 years — well below the overall trend.2 There is cause for wonder, here, and gratitude. Our culture can be quite antagonistic towards the faith, and skeptical at best towards religious life, and yet from this milieu the Lord is surprising women with His love, His mercy, and the possibility of a new and beautiful life consecrated by public vows.

Those who enter our communities have benefitted from the avenues opened to women over the last 50 years. They are educated, and have been formed in family, school and work environments that have encouraged and developed their native capacities and gifts as women. They fully expect that the Church will, likewise, receive their «feminine genius,» their voice on behalf of the poor and vulnerable Jesus in our midst, and their thoughtful contributions to the concerns of the Church at large. These women know the power of vowed religious to spark new life in weary hearts, and anticipate giving themselves in the apostolate to bear this life to those most in need.

Women enter religious life out of a world they know well in order to follow and give themselves totally to that which the world cannot give. They are responding to an invitation from the Lord that holds a Divine promise confirming the goodness of their identity as women and their purpose in life, their essential mission of spiritual, maternal love. These women are looking to live – concretely and definitively – in a manner which confirms what they have first experienced in their hearts. The CMSWR has assisted the formation of these young religious that they may, for a lifetime, live religious life «from the inside-out», i.e., not so much from rule as from the principle which the rule manifests.

The observations of the Final Report and the findings of the 2009 Center for the Applied Research on the Apostolate (CARA) study on candidates to religious life ring true to the Members of the CMSWR.3 These candidates are seeking a way of life which includes elements which have always been core to the identity of religious life, and yet they do so without the influence of a culture where such elements – or even religious life itself – is prevalent or familiar. What are some of these elements?

– They have encountered the living Lord in prayer and begun to follow Him in a new life in the Spirit. Young women look, above all, to live a religious life founded on the Sacraments and which includes a rich, robust and daily common and personal prayer life as an irreplaceable means of personal growth and of spiritual communion in community.

– They know precisely through experience that to follow the Lord means to not be alone, and they want to walk this path closely together with others who share the fire of their love for the Lord. They want to be assisted and held accountable in a community where all are sincerely, even if imperfectly, striving towards perfect love.

– These women know they could live quite well, and successfully, in the world as lay women. The call they have experienced interiorly is to separate themselves from that world in order to serve it with and from the Heart of Christ. They want to be externally recognizable as tender mothers in the Church – so they can be found and approached at any moment, in any circumstance, with confidence, by the poor and needy who are often hidden on the margins of society or in the darkness of fear.

While we cannot but rejoice to see the initiative of God in the lives of the young, the Church and the world look for the witness of mature women religious who, by the radiance of their lives, communicate the fact that God’s promises are true and trustworthy. There is no act so powerful, no act that can «wake up the world,»4 as much as a consecrated woman who says in her very being, «It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.»5 That’s precisely what women religious have been saying and living since the earliest days of our Country’s founding, and to prodigious apostolic fruitfulness. Today, this legacy continues.

As regards the apostolates of women religious in the United States, the communities associated with the CMSWR share in some of the overall trends of the Final Report, and again we note distinctions from these trends. Professed Sisters in our communities (81% of the members are in active ministry) labor in a variety of corporate apostolates. The greatest number of Sisters are dedicated to the care of the sick and elderly in health-care facilities and hospital settings; the second largest number of Sisters are serving in a ministry of education, teaching in every academic setting from nursery and pre-schools to university/seminary programs; and the third largest number bring the Gospel to people of all ages by way of evangelization, catechesis and religious education (outside of school settings). These most common forms of apostolate have long-standing and venerable histories among religious co
mmunities of women in the United States. Our gratitude and admiration for those who have gone before us grows with each passing year, as does our desire to give to those religious who will follow after us an inheritance «incapable of fading or defilement.»6

Vita Consecrata reminded us that, «The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world.»7 It is to this end, in faith, that the Members of the CMSWR and our communities renew our love and commitment to give our hearts, our love, our lives to Jesus in His Church, echoing the words of Blessed Mother Teresa, «We try to pray through our work by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus.» Our small but significant numbers eagerly give the little we have – our five loaves and two fish – that Jesus – who can do so much with so little, so long as we give Him everything – may multiply our small offering into «something beautiful for God.»8 For «with God nothing will be impossible.»9

We consider it a providential blessing that the Final Report of the Apostolic Visitation comes at this moment of grace: the beginning of the Year for Consecrated Life called by Pope Francis. This year shines a spotlight on religious life not just in our country but across the globe, not just for religious but for the whole Church. We were happy to initiate a nation-wide, collaborative endeavor in celebration of this year of grace – together with all US women and men religious and with the enthusiastic support of the nation’s Bishops – of three theme specific Open House Days at convents and friaries throughout the US. The first Open House Day will take place on Sunday, February 8, 2015. The second, a Service Day with religious, will be held during the summer of 2015, and a Day of Prayer with Religious on Sunday, September 13, 2015.

It is a beautiful time for religious life in the Church and we look to all Religious Sisters in the United States that together, we may give witness and encouragement to one another as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, in the pattern of Our Lady, in love and ever increasing holiness.


1 Pope Francis, Address to the International Union of Superiors General (UISG); May 8, 2013 http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-s-address-to-women-religious-superiors

2 CMSWR, internal demographic survey, 2013.

3 Sr. Mary E. Bendyna, O.P. and Mary L. Gautier, «Recent Vocations to Religious Life: A Report for the National Religious Vocation Conference,» Washington, DC: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 2009.

4 Pope Francis, meeting with Union of Superiors General of Religious Men, November 29, 2013; published on January 3, 2014; http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articoli_download/extra/Wake_up_the_world.pdf

5 Gal. 2:20

6 1 Peter 1:4

Vita Consecrata, 20

8 Malcolm Muggeridge, title of 1967 BBC Interview and later book: Something Beautiful for God: Mother Teresa of Calcutta(HarperCollins, 1971)

9 Lk 1:37

[02077-02.01] [Original text: English]

Closing remarks of Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

I wish to thank the participants in today’s Press Conference and all of you have joined us here in Rome and those in the United States and elsewhere via the Internet. In his letter to Consecrated women and men a few weeks ago, Church, Francis reminded us of the old saying that will always be true: «Where there are religious, there is joy». He is counting on us «to wake up the world», since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. It is our hope that today’s conference from the Vatican and the release of the final report be an Advent sign of joy for the Church and a prophetic awakening for the world.

All of the texts of today’s Press Conference, including the full report, will be available shortly on the Vatican website as well as on the websites of the LCWR and the CMSWR and other websites. Three filmed interviews with the three sisters here present may be found on the Vatican YouTube webpage and on the websites of the two conferences of women religious.

Thank you.

[Original text: English]

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