January 30, 2015


Year of Consecrated Life

As we reported at the time, the Year of Consecrated Life began last Nov. 30, the first Sunday of Advent, and will continue until Feb. 2, 2016. When he announced this a full year before it began, Pope Francis said that it was a call for religious sisters, priests and brothers to “wake up the world” and share the joy of consecrated life with their testimony of faith, hope and service.

Shortly after the year began, on Dec. 16, the Vatican published a 5,000-word report summarizing the problems and challenges women religious in the U.S. see in their communities. It was the result of an apostolic visitation to U.S. communities of women religious carried out between 2009 and 2012. The report encouraged the women to continue discerning how best to live the Gospel in fidelity to their orders’ founding ideals.

“Consecrated life” usually refers to men and women who live in communities recognized by the Church, and who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Technically, though, it also includes secular institutes, consecrated virgins, hermits and societies of apostolic life.

One of the problems of attracting more people to religious life is that the dwindling number of religious has prevented many Catholics from getting to know religious priests, sisters and brothers. That’s why some of the religious communities in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will have open houses this year. Of course, The Criterion will let you know when they are scheduled.

And if you feel a call to devote your life to God in a more exact way than you can as a layman or laywoman, there are many different religious communities from which to choose. If you check them out in the archdiocesan directory on the archdiocesan website, www.archindy.org, you’ll find 12 orders of men religious and 26 communities of women religious represented. (That includes the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorists, represented only by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin.)

All of these communities have their own particular charism, the gifts and mission that prompted their founders to establish the order. Men and women who might be attracted to the Benedictines, for example, might not be interested in the Franciscans (or vice versa). Some women might be attracted to the cloistered life of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, while other women prefer working with the elderly as a Little Sister of the Poor.

In our archdiocese, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the order founded by St. Theodora Guérin near Terre Haute, is the largest religious community, with 212 women religious living or working in the archdiocese. The Sisters of Providence founded Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

The second largest is the Congregation of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Oldenburg, with 161 professed sisters. This community founded what is now Marian University in Indianapolis.

For men, the largest community in the archdiocese is the Benedictine Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad. It operates Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, which oversaw the formation of most of the priests who serve in central and southern Indiana. It currently has 35 priests and 17 brothers.

The second largest is the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, whose provincial headquarters and friary are located in Mount St. Francis. It has 21 priests, eight brothers and one permanent deacon.

For the universal Church, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) is the largest community of men religious, but there are only nine Jesuits serving in the archdiocese.

The Benedictine communities for men and women are the oldest, founded by St. Benedict and his twin sister, St. Scholastica, early in the sixth century. The Franciscans and Dominicans were founded early in the 13th century, the Jesuits in the 16th century, and the Redemptorists in the 18th century. (St. John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, both of whom served in the U.S., were Redemptorists.)

Of course, there are more recent communities, including Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity (six of them are in Indianapolis).

Whatever community they’re part of, men and women religious live a life of prayer, work or service, and community. Each is an important part of the consecrated life.

During this Year of Consecrated Life, we hope that more Catholics will become familiar with the work of men and women religious. Get to know them. They’re remarkable people.

—John F. Fink

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