Vatican releases final report from Apostolic Visitation

December 16, 2014 by  

For a PDF of the Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation, CLICK HERE.

 

 

BACKGROUND: Six years since Apostolic Visitation began

December 16, 2014 by  

Compiled from NCR and other news sources

The Vatican launched the Apostolic Visitation in December 2008, at the command of Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The American sisters learned of the visitation in a news release issued by the Vatican in January 2009.

Rodé initially said its aim would be to study the community, prayer and apostolic life of women’s orders.

But almost a year into the study, Rodé told Vatican Radio the investigation was in response to concerns, including “by an important representative of the U.S. church,” regarding “some irregularities or omissions in American religious life.”

“Most of all, you could say, it involves a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain ‘feminist’ spirit,” Rodé said then.

News of the visitation was followed by reports that Rodé had asked the U.S. bishops’ conference to help cover the cost of the visitation, which was estimated at about $1.1 million.

To undertake the visitation, the Vatican appointed Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as an official “apostolic visitator” charged with visiting and surveying the multitude of separate orders of U.S. women religious.

The visitation process began with meetings between Millea and 127 heads of women’s orders in the United States. A questionnaire was sent to the leaders of the orders asking them about the orders’ identity, governance, vocation promotion, formation policies, spiritual life and finances.

Concerns about the extent and intent of the investigation led congregations into deep discussion about how to respond to the questionnaire. Communities prayed together and talked through the meaning and practical implications of that document. Their responses took many forms; however, the result was a deeper understanding of their charism, their transformation since the Second Vatican Council called for them to renew themselves, and the strength of their bond as women religious.

After collection of the questionnaires, teams of visitors coordinated by Millea traveled across the country in 2010 to meet with congregational leaders as well as individual members of religious orders. Dozens of volunteers visited about 90 congregations.

As the investigation continued, a marked change in tone seemed to occur as personnel at the Vatican’s congregation for religious changed. The secretary — the “number two” man at the congregation — Archbishop Gianfranco Gardin, retired in 2009, and Rodé left in 2011.

When Archbishop Joseph Tobin took over the secretary post at the congregation in 2010, the rhetoric of the visitation shifted. Tobin, an American, met with U.S. women religious to discuss the process. He told the Catholic News Service in August 2011 that the initial phase of the visitation “didn’t really favor” dialogue and said he hoped to heal rifts between sisters and the Vatican.

In early January 2012, Millea announced in a news release that she had presented an overall summary of her findings to Tobin. In addition to the comprehensive report, she said she submitted most of the individual reports for each of the nearly 400 religious institutes that were a part of the Apostolic Visitation, and expected to have the remaining reports completed by that spring.

In the epilogue to “Power of Sisterhood,” the newly published book about the visitation, Mary Ann Zollman wrote, “It is now more than two years since the release of that statement, and there has been no communications from (the Vatican), either in a general report or in the form of a report to individual institutes, about the visitation and its results.”

In October 2012, Tobin was reassigned, and is now the archbishop of Indianapolis. Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, a Spanish-native and Franciscan, succeeded Tobin as the congregation’s secretary.

Brazilian Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz replaced Rodé as head of the congregation in early 2011.

Speaking at a gathering of the leaders of global women religious orders in 2013, Bráz de Aviz said he was seeking a “new attitude” of cooperation between women religious and bishops.

“We have to reflect on the fact that both charism and hierarchy are two dimensions essential in the church,” the cardinal said then, at a meeting of the International Union of Superiors General.

“Neither is greater than the other. Both the prophetic and the governing dimensions form the church,” he continued. “But a new attitude must govern us – not competition but an attitude of welcoming.”

Pope Benedict retired in March 2013, and Pope Francis was elected to head the worldwide Church in April 2013.

There was also a second Vatican review of American Catholic sisters, started about a year after the Apostolic Visitation.

That “doctrinal assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main umbrella group for the leadership of women’s congregations, focused largely on the organization’s adherence to Catholic doctrine.

In April 2012, the Vatican appointed a commission of three US bishops, headed up by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, to promote a reform of the organization. That “oversight” is expected to continue for up to five years.

 

Sign up now: Sisters’ lives in troubled times

July 30, 2010 by  

As both the Church and women religious face complex and troubled times, Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kan., has developed an intensive program for sisters who are earnestly searching for deeper meaning in their lives.

“I believe this program can make a significant contribution in awakening our awareness of both the mystical and the prophetic nature of consecrated religious life,” explains Bette Moslander, csj, who has helped develop “Deepening the Mystery of Religious Life” and who will be one of the presenters.

“Deepening the Mystery” is a four-week intensive retreat at Manna House this fall, designed for women religious who are “moving into a time when they’re thinking about the rest of their lives,” Sister Bette adds.

The program is designed specifically for women religious who entered their communities before 1990.

“Women get into their stride in ministry and works, and can lose sight of their original reasons for choosing religious life,” says Janet Lander, csj, another of the program’s presenters. “This is 30 days to step back and refocus.”

It is also an opportunity to see the “traps of complacency and workaholism,” adds presenter Marcia Allen, csj. “We get so caught up in what we do that we forget who we are.”

The presenters and spiritual directors — all staff members at Manna House — want to give participants the opportunity to remember, and to feel again the love that grasped each heart in her original consecration. To that end, the subtitle of the program is “A Renewal of Heart.”

Questions at the center of the program include:

  • Are you competent and successful and yet feel there’s something more to be gained from your life?
  • Has your work these last 20 or more years dampened the fire of your passion for God?
  • Are you at an impasse in how to live your religious life?
  • Are you yearning for a deeper relationship with God?

For the last dozen years, Manna House has hosted the “Sarah Sabbatical,” a much-recognized program for women religious making the transition from active ministry to retirement. Most of the sisters who developed the new program have also been leaders in the Sarah Sabbatical.

But “Deepening the Mystery” is not simply a Sarah Sabbatical for younger women; rather, says Carolyn Teter, csj, “This is about our lives, as we live them today, and the mystical and prophetic nature of religious life. This is about the questions we ask ourselves.”

“The substance of this program pertains to all women religious,” Bette adds. “This is about the passion that brought all of us into religious life.”

The program is from Sept. 13 through Oct. 10, with an optional 10-day directed retreat following it. Registration is $500. Room and board at Manna House, a nationally recognized spiritual retreat center in northwest Kansas, is $1,400 for the four-week program or $1,900 for the program and directed retreat.  The maximum number of participants is 38, and the registration deadline is Aug. 15.

For more information on “Deeping the Mystery of Religious Life,” go to www.mannahouse.org or call Manna House at 785-243-4428. You may also CLICK HERE for a printable brochure.

Sister Julie Christensen

June 11, 2010 by  

As a child in Concordia, Julie was familiar with several of the Sisters of St. Joseph. “We’d come help (Sister) Annie (Glatter) in the garden sometimes, and my mom was good friends with (Sister) Margaret Schreck,” she recalls.

“But sisters were all old and not relevant,” she concludes with a laugh, “and I wanted to be relevant.”

By the time Julie had reached high school, she knew she wanted to be of service — perhaps as a social worker — and while at Kansas State University she had a chance to visit Mexico and see religious women doing social justice work.

While there the students visited a convent and even played volleyball with the sisters, “And I thought, ‘Huh! These nuns are pretty cool!’” Julie says.

But, she adds quickly, “I also thought, ‘Me? A sister? Religious life? What’s that all about?’”

Yet she started going to vocation talks at St. Isidore’s Church in Manhattan and meeting younger women who were interested in religious life. And she got to know Sister Anna Marie Broxterman, who at that time was vocation director for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“It spiraled from there, but it was a very slow spiral,” Julie explains, laughing. “Anna Marie was relentless — but it was relentlessness in helping me find my way.”

After Julie graduated from K-State in 2004, her restlessness took hold: She lived for 10 months with Anna Marie and Sister Carolyn Teter, then completed a graduate certificate in conflict resolution. But she started and stopped work on another graduate program, and then she and a friend moved to Portland, Maine, for three months.

On one hand she was living the reasonably carefree life of a young college graduate who has not quite found her place in the world; on the other hand she was increasingly drawn toward the Sisters of St. Joseph.

She says now, “I was pretty certain I was called to religious life when I was 18 — but nothing about it made sense. The majority of sisters were elderly, the minority were in their 50s and 60s; there was nobody in her 20s. It didn’t seem normal for a 20-something.

“It wasn’t a fun and crazy atmosphere — in fact, it seemed almost the opposite of what I was used to.”

And at the same time, she says without laughing, “It felt so right, but I couldn’t explain it.

“It took a while for me to own this; this is what I’ve been called to be.”

So in the fall of 2007, Julie became a postulant of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. A year later, she began her two-year novitiate.

It was also in 2008 that she joined with seven other novices from congregations of St. Joseph around the country to take part in a formation program in Orange, Calif. When that 10-month program ended in May 2009, Julie returned to Concordia to prepare for her temporary profession this Sunday.

Today she lives at Manna House of Prayer, where in August she will become a staff member. She expects to lead confirmation retreats at parishes throughout the Salina Diocese, and will continue work on a master’s degree in Christian spirituality through Creighton University.

“I am always restless, always looking for something that will capture all of my energy, and my spirit,” she says as she looks toward Sunday’s ceremony. “This is it; this captures all of me.”

January 2010: ‘Renewal’ leads to a God-driven movement

January 12, 2010 by  

EDITOR’S NOTE: In each issue of The Messenger, we’ve tried to keep our friends informed about the apostolic visitation that was announced in January 2009. As this issue goes to print, we are in a “holding pattern” — we responded to the Phase II questionnaire by the Nov. 21 deadline and have not heard back from the visitation office as to whether they received our response. As we wait to learn what the next phase will hold, Sister Marcia Allen — president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia — offers her thoughts on the history of our community and who we are today.

By SISTER MARCIA ALLEN

The apostolic visitation of religious communities of women in the United States has initiated a good deal of soul-searching on the part of those communities.

Have we failed in the single enterprise to which we are committed? Have we not advanced in our commitment to union with God and neighbor through works of service to humanity?

Those questions quickly segue into another: How has our concern for both God’s desire for creation and our living out that desire actually created in us adaptations that make us recognizable to ourselves, but not necessarily recognizable to the general public whom we serve or to Rome, which authorizes our existence?

In the 17th century, the only au-thorized religious life for women was within a cloister. It was a closed world in which women pursued holiness through the severe discipline of isolation from the world. Yet small groups of women in southern France began to gather together in order to feed the hungry, counsel the fainthearted, visit the sick and bury the dead. Many of these tiny groups — including the Sisters of St. Joseph — developed into religious communities of women.

A Jesuit, Jean-Pierre Medaille, passed on to the first Sisters of St. Joseph much of his Jesuit heritage in the “Rule” he wrote for the fledgling congregation of women, enabling them to lead a life of service in their world and yet be “real” religious. This was unheard of in the official tradition of the Catholic Church at that time. It was an adaptation for which there was little precedent and certainly no permission.

But conditions among the people of south central France were so dire that the bishop where the Sisters of St. Joseph emerged could see that these groups of women would guarantee the survival of the culture in which they lived. Some 150 years later, these same French sisters were invited to the United States to provide Catholic education and health care for a burgeoning immigrant population. Government did not provide any type of services, and schools, hospitals and orphanages were viewed as the responsibility of private agencies and organizations.

Six Sisters of St. Joseph came to the St. Louis area in 1836 to begin schools. Their first assignment was a school for the deaf. They quickly drew new members from the American population. They spread throughout the United States and by 1851 were even in Canada. Their institutions became models for the establishment of comparable secular institutions. Their success continued well into the 20th century.

As state governments began to develop and implement certification requirements, many sisters advanced their education and training to meet those requirements. That professionalism began to vie with, if not replace, the apostolic thrust of many of the religious institutes of women.

By the 1950s it was clear that most religious institutes of women needed to revise their approach to their educational and health care institutions. They needed lay boards, additional financial support and educated women for staff. At the same time, the United
States was beginning a cultural revolution that shifted the vision of women. They increasingly found new choices for a successful, fulfilling life of leadership. They no longer had to choose a religious life to find those possibilities.By the 1960s and 1970s it was
clear those factors were contributing to the decline in the number of women entering religious communities. Ultimately, they did not have enough members to continue staffing their own institutions; they began to move the administration, governance, and often the ownership to other entities, many of which were secular. At the same time the Second Vatican Council — Vatican II — decreed that religious communities must renew and adapt. We were to examine our original charism, study the Gospel and adapt to the needs of the times.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia took this mandate seriously and in 1969 had what was called a “renewal Chapter.” This included in-depth study of the charism and the original inspiration from the 17th century. It also included serious study of Sacred Scripture. All of this necessitated a deeper spiritual life — one that could support the new professionalism that the members had achieved.

As a result, our sisters became even more serious about the deepening of our original commitment — union with God and others without distinction.

Forty years later, what has happened?

The community has changed. We have adapted. The Congregation is now more faithful to our original purpose — meeting the needs of a world that is searching for meaning. This leads to a multitude of different services — ranging from care for the earth to advocacy for the unborn, from local engagement to global concern, from work within the
Church to the Church at work in the world.

Yet we are united in our one mission — to enable people to retain their dignity, their relationship with God, self and others, and to be truly human.In adapting like this, we have left our institutions to the care of others and have become relevant in today’s world by reconstituting ourselves as a “social movement organization” (to borrow the phrase from sociologist Patricia Wittberg).

In fact, author Mary Cresp titled her description of the worldwide Communities of St. Joseph “The Joseph Movement.” She describes us as flexible, tensile, adaptable, as finding strength and unity in diversity. Easily responsive to need, we move to where we can most effectively respond to what it is that people and earth need. And we accomplish this through attention to what is happening locally and globally. Ours is a pragmatic approach — counseling services, spiritual direction, food distribution, rent and medicine subsidies, child care, education in schools or parish or civic programs, public free clinics, immigration reform, justice advocacy, energy conservation, organization of civic forums, advocacy for public policy that addresses life issues, and many other services to meet specific needs.

Today, we are diversely engaged in our world. We understand ourselves as one with the world, not removed from it. We suffer its pain and we are glad participators in its triumphs. We partner with others who share our dreams to create projects that we can turn over to them and then move on to new partnerships.

All of this makes us look very different than the religious community of the 1940s and ’50s when we were at the height of our institutionalized form.

So, in this second decade of the 21st century, Rome asks: What has become of you?!

We respond: We have become who we are meant to be in our contemporary world — a religious movement that answers a call to be completely given to what God desires, a self-giving community of love. We do this in our limited human way, but we do it with our whole heart.

Nov. 23, 2009: History, and the here & now

November 23, 2009 by  

This synopsis was prepared by the Leadership Council for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and our family and friends, to address questions you may have about the “apostolic visitation.”

For many American Catholic sisters, 2009 may very well be called “the year of the apostolic visitation.”

As we near the end of the year, we want to recap what this has meant to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and let our family and friends know where we stand now. This is a very brief outline; links to more detailed information from throughout the past months may be found at the bottom of the next page.

EVENTS THIS YEAR

➣ In January 2009 we learned that the Vatican had begun an “apostolic visitation,” or comprehensive study, of women’s religious orders in the United States. The action was initiated by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The announcement said the visitation would examine “the quality of the life of women religious” in the U.S.

➣ Appointed as “visitator” was Mother Clare Millea, a Connecticut native who is Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international religious institute headquartered in Rome.

➣ The visitation applies to the nearly 400 apostolic religious congregations of women in the United States, which include about 59,000 vowed sisters. (Communities of cloistered, contemplative nuns and monasteries are not part of the study, unless they do apostolic work.)

➣ In the spring, Mother Millea interviewed the heads of more than 125 American orders, including an in-person interview with Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, in Chicago on June 9. Another 50 or so congregations responded by letter to this first phase of the visitation.

➣ Mother Millea also began soliciting volunteers to form teams for on-site visits to selected congregations. In a letter dated May 19 and sent to orders’ leaders, she asked each to give her up to three names of sisters or members of other religious orders to serve on the team. Mother Millea’s letter noted that those who take part in the work “will be acting in the name of the Apostolic See” and for this reason “they must be willing to make a public profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See.”

➣ During the summer, the congregation received the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or working document of the visitation. The Sisters of St. Joseph ensured that all sisters received copies.

➣ Phase II of the visitation began in late September, with the arrival of an in-depth questionnaire.

The first section of the questionnaire delivered to leaders of congregations across the coun¬try requires 36 detailed answers that “quantify” membership in women’s religious orders — everything from how many vowed members, when each entered the congregation and her age at the time, to specifics on any facility that provides care to infirm sisters.

The second section is made up of more than 80 essay questions, ranging from some that are simple to answer (“Are your superiors elected or appointed?”) to many others that combine canonial and lay language and require theological and philosophical responses (“What are your hopes and concerns about the future of your religious institute in living its charism in the Church?” or “Describe your sisters’ commitment to praying with the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, to the practice of Marian devotion, and to communal and personal prayer.”)

The third section requires that each congregation provide copies of a wide range of documents, including its constitution, a list of all properties owned by the congregation and financial statements and cash flow reports. In mid November, however, Mother Millea changed the directions; she wrote:

“I have determined that documents number 5, 6, and 7, requested in Part C of the Questionnaire, are not to be submitted … The documents not to be sent to the Apostolic Visitation Office include:
5. A list of each sister, year of birth, address and type of ministry (full time/part time)
6. A list of properties owned and/or (co)sponsored by your unit.
7. A complete copy of the most recent independent audit of your religious unit or your last internal financial statement if an external audit has not been made. This should include a statement of financial position, statement of activity, statement of changes in net assets and statement of cash flows.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

➣ We are taking the apostolic visitation very seriously.

➣ We recognize that the results of the visitation may have a significant impact on women religious in the United States, now and into the future.

➣ We are a “pontifical institute,” approved directly by the Vatican. As called for by the Second Vatican Council, we began a “renewal chapter” in 1969; ultimately, that led to a new constitution based on our original mission from our origins in 17th century France. That constitution, which remains our living document today, was approved by the Vatican in 1987.

➣ An apostolic visitation means an official investigation by the Vatican — a “canonical document of inquiry” is the legal term. The Resource Center for Religious Institutes noted in March 2009 that an “apostolic visitation is not merely a ‘friendly visit’ (as the terms ‘visit’ and ‘questionnaire’ imply). While it may be framed within the context of a pastoral or paternal visit … it is being conducted because of a perceived need to correct or amend.”

➣ The legal term for that “need to correct or amend” is “cause,” and there has been no stated “cause” for this visitation. While that sounds benign — and some might argue that the “cause” is to consider the quality of life of American women religious, as stated by Cardinal Rodé and Mother Millea — “cause” has a specific meaning in the law: a charge that will be resolved in a court.

(As an example, in 2004 — in the wake of continuing sex abuse charges against numerous American priests — the “instrumentum laboris” for the apostolic visitation of American seminaries, said, “Special attention will also be given to the criteria for admission of candidates, and to the programs of human and spiritual formation aimed at ensuring that they can faithfully live chastity for the Kingdom.”)

➣ Because there is no stated “cause” for the canonical inquiry of apostolic communities of women, the reasons behind the visitation remain unclear.

➣ We are committed to live our lives as consecrated religious within the Catholic Church, according to Gospel values and the Catholic faith, as described in our Constitution.

➣ Just as we have since arriving in Kansas in 1883, we continue to love God and the dear neighbor without distinction. Today Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia serve missions in nearly 20 cities and towns in Kansas, plus others in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas and Brazil.

TO LEARN MORE

➣ The official web site for the Apostolic Visitation is www.apostolicvisitation.org

➣ Both the Catholic News Service and National Catholic Reporter have provided continuing coverage throughout the year. Search either of those sites for the word visitation. www.catholicnews.com and www.ncronline.org

October 2009 sidebar: A little background

October 10, 2009 by  

(Published in the October 2009 edition of The Messenger of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia)

Sisters of St. Joseph left our congregation in Rochester, N.Y., in 1883 to travel to the “frontier” of Kansas, and in 1884 established the independent Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

For the first 65 years of our existence, we were a “diocesan congregation,” meaning we answered to the Bishop of Concordia, and then the Bishop of Salina.

That changed in 1948 when we became a “pontifical institute,” approved directly by the Vatican.

As called for by the Second Vatican Council, we began a “renewal chapter” in 1969; ultimately, that led to a new constitution based on our original mission from our origins in 17th-century France. That constitution, which remains our living document today, was approved by the Vatican in 1987.

Our mission, as stated in that constitution and lived by our sisters every day, says, in part:

The life and works of our congregation are
directed to a single end:
The union of ourselves and of all people with God and with one another in and through Jesus Christ.
In order to fulfill this mission, we are willing to
be led by the Holy Spirit to undertake, in accor-
dance with our tradition, works which respond
to the needs of the times. We encourage and as-
sist those who desire to follow Christ more
closely, and we work with others to alleviate con-
ditions which cause ignorance, poverty, suffering
and oppression.

October 2009: $1.1 million inquiry probes all aspects of sisters’ lives

October 10, 2009 by  

(Published in the October 2009 edition of The Messenger of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia)

Sister Marcia Allen

Sister Marcia Allen

Phase II of the “apostolic visitation” of women’s religious orders in the United States arrived in late September, in the form of a massive in-depth questionnaire.

At the same time, sisters learned that the Vatican has budgeted $1.1 million for the inquiry, and has asked U.S. bishops to chip in to cover the cost.

The first section of the questionnaire delivered to leaders of congregations across the country requires 36 detailed answers that “quantify” membership in women’s religious orders — everything from how many vowed members, when each entered the congregation and her age at the time, to specifics on any facility that provides care for infirm sisters.

The second section is made up of more than 80 essay questions, ranging from some that are simple to answer (“Are your superiors elected or appointed?”) to many others that require theological and philosophical responses (“What are your hopes and concerns about the future of your religious institute in living its charism in the Church?” or “Describe your sisters’ commitment to praying with the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, to the practice of Marian devotion, and to communal and personal prayer.”).

The third section requires that each congregation provide copies of a wide range of documents, including its constitution, a list of all properties owned by the congregation and financial statements and cash flow reports.

The deadline for providing information to the “apostolic visitator,” Mother Clare Millea, is Nov. 20.

Sister Marcia Allen, president of our congregation, is beginning work on her responses.

“We have worked assiduously since our renewal to constantly adapt to the changing needs of the people we serve,” she said. “Our mission remains as it always has been: To live God’s love by serving our neighbor.”

Phase I of this comprehensive study — initiated in January by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, to examine “the quality of the life of women religious” in the U.S. — was a series of interviews with leaders of American congregations.

In late September, a letter from Cardinal Rodé to American bishops became public. In it, the cardinal asks each American bishop “for your help in offsetting the expenses” of the apostolic visitation.

According to the letter, the three-year projected budget for the inquiry is $1.1 million, and the “donations” should be sent directly to the cardinal’s office at the Vatican.

Cardinal Rodé was the one who appointed Mother Millea, Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as “visitator.”
She reported that by the end of July she had had “personal conversations with 127 superiors general” and had received letters from about 50 other congregational leaders. She met with Sister Marcia in Chicago on June 9.

There are nearly 400 apostolic religious congregations of women in the United States, with about 59,000 vowed sisters. (Communities of cloistered, contemplative nuns and some monasteries are not part of the study.)

Mother Millea was scheduled over the summer to be recruiting members of religious orders to help with on-site visits, which will be Phase III and was expected to begin in early 2010.

As of the end of September, the Sisters of St. Joseph had not received any information on those on-site team members.

Although there is no deadline for submitting a report to Cardinal Rodé, Mother Millea has said she hopes to complete the task by 2011.

That final report has been described as “comprehensive and confidential,” with information included on each of the congregations assessed.

One unanswered question, however, is how the information in the report might be used or if there could be action by the Vatican based on it.

When the Leadership Conference of Women Religious met in New Orleans in August, the group focused both on the opportunity offered by the visitation and some specific concerns with the way it is proceeding.

With about 800 leaders of American orders of Catholic sisters taking part in the LCWR assembly, they emphasized that they have remained faithful to the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and remain committed to what they view as the unique and needed role of religious life.

At the same time, the leaders expressed concern about a lack of full disclosure about the motivation for both the apostolic visitation and a separate Vatican inquiry into the LCWR itself.

The leaders also object to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them that are being submitted directly to the Vatican.

July 2009 sidebar: What exactly is an apostolic vistation?

July 10, 2009 by  

(Published in the July 2009 edition of The Messenger of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia)

In January the Vatican announced it had begun an “apostolic visitation,” or comprehensive study, of women’s religious orders in the United States.

The action was initiated by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The announcement said the visitation would examine “the quality of the life of women religious” in the U.S.

That phrase has attracted concern among many members of women’s religious orders because apostolic visitations have traditionally been launched in response to a perceived need for “corrections” within the church.

The last American apostolic visitation was completed in December, for example. In it, American seminaries were examined to consider root causes for the priest abuse scandals that erupted in 2002.

Then in March, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation of the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ after disclosures of sexual impropriety by the order’s late founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado.

As “apostolic visitator” for the study of women’s religious orders, Cardinal Rodé appointed Mother Clare Millea, a Connecticut native who is Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international religious institute headquartered in Rome.

Since her appointment, Mother Millea has interviewed representatives of more than 125 American orders. Included among the 77 in-person interviews was one with Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, with whom Mother Millea met in June in Chicago.

The interviews are Phase I of the process.

Phase II, due to begin in August, will include sending questionnaires to heads of religious institutes.

There are nearly 400 apostolic religious congregations of women in the United States, with about 59,000 vowed sisters. (Communities of cloistered, contemplative nuns and monasteries are not part of the study.)

This summer Mother Millea is also recruiting members of religious orders to help with the on-site visits, which will be Phase III and will likely begin in early 2010.

In a letter dated May 19 and sent to orders’ leaders, she asked each to give her up to three names of sisters or members of other religious orders to serve on the team.

Mother Millea’s letter noted that those who take part in the work “will be acting in the name of the Apostolic See” and for this reason “they must be willing to make a public profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See.”

Although there is no deadline for completing the visitation and submitting a report to Cardinal Rodé, Mother Millea hopes to complete the task by 2011.

That final report has been described as “comprehensive and confidential,” with information included on each of the congregations assessed.
One unanswered question, however, is how the information in the report might be used or if there could be action by the Vatican based on it.

The entire apostolic visitation has caused considerable uncertainty and alarm among many American sisters who see it as unnecessary, potentially divisive and intrusive.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 95 percent of the American orders, was surprised when the apostolic visitation was announced. But, in a statement in February, its board said, “We hope that the results of the apostolic visitation will demonstrate the vitality and depth of the life and service of women religious in the United States.”

Then, in late May, the Catholic church’s top women religious organization issued a strong supportive statement for American women’s religious orders under investigation by the Vatican. The International Union of Superiors General’s executive board praised U.S. women religious for living out the mandates of the Second Vatican Council.

“We affirm unequivocally our support for our sisters in the United States,” the statement read.

— Compiled from Catholic media news reports

July 2009: Sister Marcia meets with ‘visitator’ in Chicago

July 10, 2009 by  

(Published in the July 2009 edition of The Messenger of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia)

Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia surround Sister Marcia Allen with prayer during a June 2006 meeting at the Motherhouse.

Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia surround Sister Marcia Allen with prayer during a June 2006 meeting at the Motherhouse.

When Sister Marcia Allen first learned of the Vatican’s planned study of women’s religious orders in the United States, she resolved to be a part of the discussion about our “quality of life,” and the quality of our service to people in need.

As president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, and an acknowledged expert on the order’s history and missions, she talked about the “apostolic visitation” in terms of opportunity.

“This will give us the chance to talk about our lives and our community and our work,” she told the members of her order one day at lunch. “We can choose to be concerned — or we can choose to continue to be committed.”

When Sister Marcia returned from Chicago where she met privately with the “apostolic visitator,” Mother Clare Millea of the Rome-based Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she expressed the same quiet yet positive resolve.

“(Mother Millea) said she is learning how passionately we love our communities … how much we believe in our communities, and how selflessly we are applying ourselves to our mission,” Sister Marcia wrote in a letter to the Sisters of St. Joseph upon returning from Chicago in mid-June.

During her one hour and 15 minute meeting, Sister Marcia reviewed the report she had written for this phase of the apostolic visitation. Some of the highlights were:
• A brief synopsis of the order’s history, from its roots in France in 1650 to its arrival in the United States and founding in Kansas in 1883. Sister Marcia also briefly explained its tradition as a “far-flung enterprise” throughout the United States and, since 1963, in Brazil.
• The order’s decision in 2006 to remain an independent congregation rather than to join other communities of St. Joseph. The Concordia order believes this decision allows its sisters to remain better focused on the needs of rural areas.
• Establishment in 2006 of the agrégée form of membership, which dates back to the order’s 17th century founding in France, according to Sister Marcia. An agrégée has the full rights and responsibilities as a sister, except that she does not take the three canonical vows and is not financially dependent on the order.
• The creation in 2008 of “Circles of Community Life,” to which every sister must belong. The circles allow each sister a greater voice in order-wide decisions while also demanding more accountability and personal responsibility.
• A growing focus on spiritual renewal, with a specific emphasis on annual retreats for Sisters of St. Joseph from around the world that delve into the origins of the order and its original calling, or charism. The monthlong “Bearers of the Tradition” this summer has attracted sisters from seven countries and eight American states to Manna House of Prayer. (See related story, page 1.)
• Growing outreach to the broader communities where sisters live and work. As one example, Sister Marcia cites a series of civic forums in Concordia, where she and other sisters have worked to help residents identify local problems and seek realistic solutions.

In addition to the positive elements, Sister Marcia also included a shorter list of “challenges” facing the Sisters of St. Joseph. That list included:
• A new Leadership Council, which took charge just a year ago with a new governance structure.
• The global economic crisis, which has forced the order — like every other organization and institution — to be increasingly cautious about finances.
• The need to stay focused on missions and serving people in need while maintaining our own sense of “community” and life in communion with each other.
• Fewer young women expressing an interest in religious life as vowed sisters grow older.

Sister Marcia also included two “concerns” specifically addressed to the Apostolic Visitation.

The first raised the question of why such a visitation is needed, when the order is faithful to the Church, the sisters’ vows, the order’s Vatican-approved constitution and the mission of serving those in need.

The second, though, was Sister Marcia’s “personal concern” that Mother Millea and all of those involved in the visitation process would understand and appreciate the historical development of the order in the rural Midwest and its fidelity to the Church through its 125 years of history.

“As leader of this community,” I am constantly struck by the wholeness and holiness of the members of our (order),” Sister Marcia wrote. “Our 1694 constitution calls us the ‘Congregation of the Great Love.’ That is what we have committed ourselves to and what we pray daily to be.”