US Sister Charged With Being Visitor of Nation's Nuns Thanks Holy See

Says Vatican Has Given Wonderful Message of Hope Today

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In the wake of a Vatican-prompted visit and report of US nuns sometimes portrayed as a contentious battle between the sisters and the Vatican, women religious involved are saying it was nothing of the sort.

In fact, Mother Clare Millea, the sister designated by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life as the official «visitor,» stated that from the very beginning it was the Holy See’s priority to have an American religious head this «delicate mission,» which they would treat with much interest, care, and sensitivity.

This sister, who is Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was director of the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Apostolic Life of Women Religious in the United States. She offered her reflections this afternoon at a press conference aimed at presenting the final report on the pastoral visit to women religious in the United States.

Also speaking were Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life; Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the same dicastery; Sr. Sharon Holland, vice-president of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life and Chair of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR).

Occasion for trust

Mother Mary Clare Millea said, “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.»

She recalled that her moment 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,” she admitted.

Regardless, the sister noted she had no choice but to say yes out of her “loving obedience to the Church and to the religious life which I deeply love and tried to carry it out with unwavering faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the support of much prayer.»

Although throughout the entire visitation she admitted she felt “the weight of this responsibility,” she also said she felt “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,» she said.

The sister explained how he readily agreed to establish a first-ever visitation Web site to keep the women religious and the general public abreast of its developments. Each time she went to Rome, he attentively listened to her updates and encouraged their efforts, she said.

“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,” she stressed.

In addition to thanking him, she thanked current prefect Cardinal João Braz de Aviz and Archbishop Carballo, who, she continued, “have brought the visitation to its completion in a very pastoral manner.” She said they “have given us a wonderful message of hope today,” but also have “heard our voices, our concerns and our goodwill, 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,” she said.

The nun said the Holy See is affirming the “importance of our life and ministry in the Church,” and helping U.S. sisters with their “ongoing conversion essential to the effective revitalization of our vocation and life style.»

“May the affirmation and challenges of this final report impel us all to become – as Pope Francis urges us – joyful, Spirit-filled evangelizers,” she prayed.

Upon this visit’s conclusion, she said, “I now understand as never before how enriched and blessed the Church in the United States is.”

Moreover, she observed how religious congregation leaders, including those who expressed resistance initially to this initiative, have shared that the process has yielded surprisingly positive results.

Change of tone

“As the Report itself acknowledges, the Visitation was met by some religious with ‘apprehension and suspicion,'» Sister Holland of the LCWR stated, adding its expressed purpose: «‘to look into the quality of life of religious women in the United States’ was troubling.” 

The LCWR is subject of a separate visitation process that is still ongoing.

“Despite the apprehension, however,” she continued, “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.”

Once visited, she said, she and the sisters realized «these were sisters like us, to whom we could speak openly and honestly.» She said, «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.”

«The report we are receiving today reflects our reality—in its commonality and diversity,» she said.

«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.»


“While the overall trend may be towards aging and diminishment, apostolic Religious Life is not dying in the United States,” Sister Donovan of the CMSWR said, noting 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,” she continued, “It is the voice of Jesus, and the experience of His personal love continues to lead young women to our doors.”

«Those who enter our communities,» she said, «fully expect that the Church will, likewise, receive their ‘feminine genius,'» and recognize 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.”

Although these women know they could live quite well, and successfully, in the world as lay women, they have experienced the interior call to separate themselves from that world in order to serve it with and from the heart of Christ, she suggested.

“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,” she added.

“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,” Sister Donovan concluded.


On ZENIT’s Web page:

About the visit and report:

Discourses of US Sisters: http://www.zeni

Full Report:

On the NET:

Leadership Conference of Women Religious:

Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious:

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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