The Apostolate

For Research On Consecrated Life

Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is an Apostolic Visitation?

An Apostolic Visitation is conducted under the auspices of the Apostolic See. A visitation is a formal but personal meeting with the superiors and members of a religious community which offers an opportunity to comment on various aspects of community and religious life.

2. Who is the Apostolic Visitator?

Mother Mary Clare Millea, Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was appointed to oversee the entire Apostolic Visitation.

3.  What has prompted this Visitation?

The Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life exercises oversight in relation to all religious institutes throughout the world. Like other vocations in the Church, religious life has passed through challenging times. The Congregation for Consecrated Life is aware that many new congregations have emerged in the United States while many others have decreased in membership or have an increased median age. Apostolic works have also changed significantly because of societal changes.  These and other areas need to be better understood and assessed in order to safeguard and promote consecrated life in the United States.

In a press statement eleased on November 3, 2009, Cardinal Rodé indicated that for many years his dicastery “had been listening to concerns expressed by American Catholics – religious, laity, clergy and hierarchy – about the welfare of religious women and consecrated life in general, and had been considering an Apostolic Visitation as a means to assess and constructively address these concerns.” He expressed his hope that “the Apostolic Visitation will not only provide the Holy See with a thorough analysis of the condition of religious life in the United States, but also be a realistic and graced opportunity for personal and community introspection, as major superiors and sisters cooperate with this study.”

4. What is the process for the Apostolic Visitation?

The process was carried out in four chronological phases: input voluntarily offered by superiors general; documentation and information requested by the Visitator; on-site visits by visitation teams; and the compilation of findings into a report to the Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

5. Why were cloistered contemplative communities not included in the Visitation?

Since the life style and needs of contemplative communities are very different from those of apostolic communities, this study is limited to focusing on the quality of life of the nearly 400 institutes in the United States engaged in apostolic activities.

6.   Why were congregations of male religious not included in this Visitation?

Various congregations of male religious were interviewed during the recent United States Seminary Study. In addition, this Visitation is guided by the scope of the mandate given to the Visitator.

7.   Were the United States bishops responsible for funding the Apostolic Visitation?

No. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is ultimately responsible for funding the project. The bishops have been invited by the Holy See to voluntarily contribute their financial support to help offset the expenses incurred by this work for the future of apostolic religious life in the United States.

8. How was data collected in the course of the Apostolic Visitation used?
Data gathered through the personal interview of the superiors general with the Visitator, the responses to Parts A, B, and C of the Questionnaire, individual correspondence, and site visits were used to provide a comprehensive and composite profile of the congregations in light of the charge given to the Apostolic Visitator.  Religious congregations are complex organizations so a broad spectrum of data helps the Apostolic Visitator assess the strengths and concerns for the congregation.

9. With whom was congregational data shared? 
The Apostolic Visitator used the data gathered to prepare her report for Cardinal Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life and Societies of Apostolic Life.  The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) will prepare an aggregate report of the quantitative data collected from all reporting institutes in Part A of the Questionnaire. Individual Congregations were not identified in any way. Cardinal Rodé authorized the public release of this report.

10. What happened to the documentation submitted in response to Parts A, B, and C when the Apostolic Visitation was concluded?
All documents and information received in response to Parts A, B, and C of the questionnaire are to be returned to the major superior or destroyed once they have been studied and are no longer needed.  No copies of these documents are to be retained by the Apostolic Visitation Office. 

11. Do the religious institutes have to submit financial information?
Mother Clare’s letter of November 5, 2009 to the major superiors indicated that this requirement had been withdrawn.

12. Will I get a response back from the Apostolic Visitation if I send them a confidential letter?
The Apostolic Visitation Office will not normally respond to confidential letters, but each one is carefully considered. The Office continues to welcome and appreciate correspondence from sisters or anyone else who would like to share their concerns, hopes, or stories.

13. Is the Apostolic Visitation connected to the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious?
The Apostolic Visitation is independent of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR. The Apostolic Visitation was initiated by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It is concerned with individual congregations. The LCWR study is an initiative of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is being carried out by that dicastery.

14. How are visitors chosen for the visitation teams?
Many fine religious were recommended as potential visitors by their major superiors, bishops, priests, and sisters. From these nominees Mother Clare invited representatives of various congregations, ministries, and areas of expertise to serve on visiting teams.

15.  On what basis were congregations chosen for an on-site visit?
Once the questionnaires and other materials gathered about the individual congregations were evaluated by a core team of religious who are aiding the Visitator, Mother Clare chose a representative sample of congregations to be visited. The size of the congregation, its principal apostolic works, and its geographical location were considered. On-site visits were made to both diocesan and pontifical right congregations.

16.   When did the visits take place?
The on-site visits took place in the spring and fall of 2010.

17.   What was expected of those visited?
The congregations were asked to provide lodging and meals for the visiting team and, if possible, to cover their transportation expenses. More specific details were sent to the selected congregations in a timely manner.

18. Did all the sisters who are visited have to make the profession of faith and the oath of fidelity?

No. The sisters who were visited were not be asked to make a public profession of faith and an oath of fidelity.  Only the members of the visiting teams pronounced an oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See made by those assuming an office exercised in the name of the Church. This profession carries with it a special grace which to strengthen the Visitors in their delicate task. It assisted them to faithfully carry out their role in communion with the sound teachings and practice of the Catholic Church and not according to their own private judgment or subjective ideology.

19. The media, as well as other sources, offered widening opinions about the Apostolic Visitation.  The sisters were confused at times.  How can the Apostolic Visitation Office help?
As Mother Clare stated in a letter to the Major Superiors, he Apostolic Visitation has been initiated so that religious life and the life-giving works that flow from it will continue far into the future. It is widely acknowledged that our witness to Christ and our works of love have in large measure built up the Church in the United States and continue to contribute to the vitality of its faith. The Apostolic Visitation seeks to listen to and affirm the dignity of all women religious who serve the Church with exemplary love.

In addition, as Cardinal Rodé recently stated, “this Apostolic Visitation hopes to encourage vocations and assure a better future for women religious.” It offers women religious a valuable opportunity for prayerful and thoughtful self-examination to discern and foster avenues of growth and vitality in their congregations.