As many of you have heard, the Vatican is conducting an apostolic visitation of women religious in the United States. Over the next several months, in turn, superiors general and major superiors in the US will be interviewed. A series of visitations will follow. Then the report is compiled and delivered to the Vatican.
Coming as it is, heels of the seminary study, there may be a bit of an unfortunate connection to the undercurrent of that visitation. It’s interesting that communities of contemplatives won’t be part of this visitation, only communities with apostolates in the secular world.
The web site (already nicely put together) presents the mission clearly and without the undercurrents. Three aims:
• look into the quality of the life of apostolic women religious in the United States,
• learn more about the varied and unique ways in which women religious contribute to the welfare of the Church and society, and
• assist the Church to strengthen, enhance and support the growth of the more than 400 congregations to which the approximately 59,000 women religious in the United States belong.
There’s lots of chatter about the decline in numbers of women religious. One aim seems to be concerned with “quality” above quantity. Do large numbers of women religious have a particular advantage over smaller ones? In history, religious life accorded women freedoms unknown in most all cultures. They were free to pursue interests and abilities that would not have been supported in roles as wives and mothers. In most of the West, women now have that freedom. They can serve in any number of careers, with or without a spouse and family, and take it to the limit that the sexism of the culture allows–which has significantly expanded in the last forty to fifty years.
What would be of interest to me would be a timeline of women religious and their orders over the scope of US history. Which is the unusual circumstance: greater than usual numbers post-WWII or fewer post-Vatican II?