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Apostolic Visitation of US Nuns Prompts New Collaboration, Says Woman Religious Behind Report (Exclusive Interview)

Jeffrey Bruno

Diane Montagna - published on 12/16/14

Mother Mary Clare Millea, ASCJ, shares inside story, influence of Pope Benedict XVI

The Vatican Tuesday released the final report on the apostolic visitation of institutes of women in the United States. A press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office to present the report. 

In her comments at the press conference, Mother Mary Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., the American religious sister appointed as Apostolic Visitor, explained that although the Apostolic Visitation was “met by some religious with apprehension and suspicion,” it ultimately resulted in “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 at first expressed resistance 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 laypersons, which has sparked new energy and resourcefulness among us and awakened a renewed interest in the promotion of vocations to the religious life.”

Cardinal Franc Rodé, then Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, commissioned the Apostolic Visitation in December 2008, in order “to look into the quality of the life of women religious in the United States.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Archbishop Jose Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, Secretary for the Congregation for Religious, presented an overview of the final report and outlined the daunting task faced by Mother Mary Clare and her team. 

“The Visitation took place between 2009 and 2012 and was divided into four phases. In the first phase, 266 superiors general (78% of their total number) voluntarily engaged in personal dialogue with the Visitor. Subsequently, all major superiors were asked to complete a questionnaire requesting empirical data and qualitative information regarding the spiritual, community and ministerial life of the individual institutes. On-site visits were then conducted in a representative sample of 90 religious institutes, representing about half of the apostolic women religious in the United States.”

Archbishop Rodríguez further explained: “In a final phase of the Visitation, the Visitor submitted to our Dicastery a final General Report on the major issues and trends in women’s religious life in the United States. The Visitor also provided the dicastery with a brief overview of each of the participating institutes, using the data submitted by major superiors as well as impressions gleaned from personal interview and written documentation submitted to her by major superiors and their councils, members of the religious institutes.” 

Aleteia’s Rome correspondent spoke with Mother Mary Clare following the press conference about her hopes for the report, and the person who inspired her most in the daunting task of listening attentively to over 50,000 women religious. 

Mother Mary Clare, do you think that today’s release of the final report on the apostolic visitation to institutes of women religious will mark a new beginning for the revitalization of women’s religious life in the United States?

I do. Just among congregations we’ve gotten to know one another. And on a local level our sisters work together in many social projects. The Holy Father is saying: “Work together for the poor; celebrate your consecrated life together but also work together,” and we do that—in soup kitchens and in all sorts of outreach programs. And it will grow now, it will grow.

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