From the Monastery to the Margins on Mission. Women Religious in an Outgoing Church.

From the Monastery to the Margins on Mission. Women Religious in an Outgoing Church.


The text of sr. Patrcia Murray, ibvm, UISG Executive Secretary, published in the UISG Bulletin 184/2024.


It is not possible to examine the changes that have taken place in female consecrated life during these past decades without looking back to Vatican II, examining how its deliberations and subsequent documents have shaped contemporary consecrated life. At the time of Vatican II, there were over one million women religious worldwide and while today the number is around 630,000, this is still a sizable number. On the final day of the Council, December 8th, 1965, the Council Fathers signed the decree which approved the creation of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) of female congregations of diocesan and pontifical right. This creative structure would enable women religious to network and communicate worldwide and to reflect together on the signs of the times and to discern together how women religious could respond to the needs of the Church and the World.


Several Vatican II documents have had a marked effect on the evolution and development of female consecrated life. While the documents are addressed to all consecrated persons, the majority are women. Women religious have reflected on all aspects of their congregations in the light of these and more recent documents, continually discerning God’s call. In a recent article Fr. Michael Czerny SJ stated that “the Council Fathers redefined religious life on the basis of the category, “consecration” thus laying the foundations for the post-conciliar development of a “theology of charism” and a focus on the “mysticism of the consecrated life.” As women religious began to study their founding charisms they began to reimagine their life and ministries as a result. Lumen Gentium, published in 1964, placed emphasis on the common priesthood of the baptised and the universal call to holiness. It also saw the identity of a religious being defined in terms of being conformed to Christ rather than of doing. The significance of this distinction will be seen as the decades pass and as women religious in many parts of the world, began to find new ways to handover their large educational, health and social welfare institutions, in order to enter new ministry fields where their presence, their “being with the people” was vitally needed.

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