About the Institute on Religious Life

Author: IRL



In 1974 under the leadership of His Eminence, John Cardinal Carberry, a number of bishops, priests, religious and lay people organized the Institute on Religious Life. Among the founders were: Cardinal Carberry; Most Reverend James J. Hogan, Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Father John A. Hardon, S.J., theologian and author, who was given the task of bringing interested people together to organize the Institute by the (then) Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes; Mother Angela Cettini, Superior, American Delegation of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence and former Mother General of the Congregation; Mother Mary Claudia Honsberger, I.H.M., Mother General of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Immaculata, Pennsylvania; Sister Mary Raphael, C.S.S.F.; and Mr. William J. Isaacson, Lawyer, Chicago, Illinois.


A Board of Directors and an Advisory Board were established to formulate the policy and programs of the Institute. At present eight Cardinals and twenty-five bishops serve on the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board, along with thirty-five priests, religious superiors, and lay men and women. The policies and programs are carried out through the offices of the Institute located at 3051 North Christiana Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, and 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive, Ann Arbor, Michigan, under the direction of the Executive Director, Father James Downey, O.S.B.

Bishop Hogan was elected first President of the Institute. Cardinal Carberry succeeded Bishop Hogan in 1980, but resigned for reasons of health in 1981. Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, followed Cardinal Carberry in 1981; in 1987 Bishop Hogan again took up the office of President. In September, 1992, Bishop James C. Timlin, Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, became President and remains in office at this time.


Concerned about the secularization of the life of many religious communities, the large numbers leaving religious life and the drastic drop in vocations, the organizers set a threefold purpose for the Institute:

a. to bring together bishops, priests, religious and the laity to work together to find solutions to the problems confronting religious communities, all in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Church and of Pope John Paul II and his predecessors;

b. to promote authentic religious life as taught by Vatican Council II in its Constitution "Lumen Gentium," Chapter VI, and the Decree "Perfectae Caritatis" and their implementation by the Holy See;

c. to encourage vocations to the religious life.

To carry out its aims, a six-point program was established, namely:

1. Prayers and Sacrifices of its members; 2. Study and Research; 3. Education and Information; 4. Advice and Consultation; 5. Publicity and Communication; 6. Regional and National Meetings of the Members and National Symposia and Congresses.


There are five ways of being a member: 1) Voting Members: persons who are actively involved in the organization, administration and operation of the Institute; 2) Associate Members: those who assist the work of the Institute by their services, whether spiritual, personal, professional, financial or any other. Associate Membership dues are $15.00 per year. 3) Auxliary Members: those who support the work of the Institute by their prayers and sacrifices. Auxiliary Membership dues are $15.00 per year. 4) Sustaining Members: local councils or chapters of Catholic organizations and individuals that endorse the purposes and programs of the Institute by supporting the works of the Institute financially. Sustaining Membership dues are $50 to $100 per year according to means. 5) Affiliate Members: religious communities or provinces or other Catholic organizations engaged in work or activities which are related to the Institute. These religious commmunities, provinces and organizations a) agree to assist the Institute on a continuing basis in carrying out its programs; b) must be approved by the Board of Directors for membership. Membership dues for Affiliates are $100 per year. The different types of membership were devised to encourage participation by both religious communities and by individuals, bishops, priests, religious and laymen. Members of the Institute subscribe in writing to its purposes.

At the present time there are 147 religious communities of men and women affiliated with the Institute with a total membership of about 20,000 with additional communities joining steadily. In addition, twelve Catholic Lay Organizations are affiliated with the Institute.

About 1,530 individuals belong as Associate or Auxiliary members, about half priests and religious and half lay men and women. There are 130 sustaining members. Most of the sustaining members are local Councils of the Knights of Columbus and local Courts of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. Members of the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board are voting members.


The prayers, support and encouragement of the laity are needed by religious so that they can remain faithful to their sublime calling. The laity need the example of religious to inspire them to live a fully Christian life. As the Constitution "Lumen Gentium" of Vatican II teaches, "AIl members of the Church should unflaggingly fulfill the duties of their Christian calling. The profession of the evangelical counsels (that is, religious life) shines before them as a sign which should effectively inspire them to do so" (No. 44).


First, The Institute is consecrated in a special way to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; second, the Holy Sacrifice is offered every Saturday and the principal feasts of the year for the intentions of members and benefactors; third, all share in the prayers and sacrifices of our Affiliated communities with a combined membership of approximately 20,000; fourth, all share in the prayers and sacrifices of all the members.


"Consecrated Life". This is the English edition of "Informationes-SCRIS," the journal of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life.

"Religious Life". This is the monthly newsletter of the Institute. It carries news of Institute members, talks of the Holy Father, articles on spirituality, book reviews, commentaries and reflections by noted writers on the Church's teaching and on spiritual life.


National and Regional meetings are held to promote the teaching of the Church on religious life and to foster vocations. Sixteen national meetings of the Institute have been held: 1975 in Kansas City, Missouri: 1976 in Chicago, Illinois; 1978 in St. Louis, Missouri; 1981, 1982, 1983 in Chicago; 1984 and 1985 on the campus of the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.; 1986-1993 in Chicago. Meetings have featured speakers of National and International repute. Regional meetings have been held in six regions of the country from the East Coast to the West Coast.


In 1986 the Institute initiated the Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award, conferring it on someone who has been outstanding in their faithfulness to the teaching of the Church in promoting religious life and defending authentic religious life. John Joseph Cardinal Carberry was the first recipient; Father John A. Hardon, S.J., Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer, O.S.B., Mother Mary Claudia Honsberger, I.H.M., Mr. William J. Isaacson, Esq., Mother Teresa, M.C., Most Reverend James J. Hogan, and Sister Mary Assumpta Long, O.P. have received the award in the succeeding years.


Two formation programs - in Chicago and Monroe, New York - are sponsored by the Institute. In these programs, religious can take classes from priests who are completely faithful to the Church and loyal to the Holy Father. Theology classes for the laity are conducted in Chicago and Ann Arbor.


In 1987 a summer school for Novice Mistresses and Formation Directresses was started at Good Counsel Retreat House in Waverly, NE, the retreat house of the diocese of Lincoln. The summer school is a four week session of study and prayer; the classes are accredited by the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Arlington, VA. Sessions were held at Good Counsel Retreat House in 1987 and 1988. In 1989 the summer school was moved to the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker convent in Walton, KY. The 1989-1993 sessions also were held there.


A one week summer school for Novice Masters and Formation Directors was started at the Fathers of Mercy, South Union, KY in 1989. The summer school also was held there in 1990-1993.


The need for an association through which the Superiors of the communities of Women Religious affiliated with the Institute could meet and exchange information, ideas, give each other support and encouragement was first discussed at the National Meeting of the Institute in 1986. As a result of that discussion Mother Mary Assumpta Long, O.P., then Superior General of the Nashville Dominican Congregation of St. Cecelia, was appointed chairman of a committee to explore the proposal and report to the 1987 National Meeting.

Mother Assumpta's proposal to the 1987 meeting was that an informal association be formed of the Major Superiors of communities affiliated with the Institute; that the association not be a separate organization, but that it have a distinct identity within the Institute. This proposal was adopted and Mother Assumpta was elected President, Mother Marilyn Renninger, O.S.F., Superior General of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Mokena, IL, Vice-President, and Mother Mary Ingeborg Rohner, O.S.F., Provincial Superior of the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George, Alton, IL, Secretary.

Meetings of the Forum were held each year at the National Meeting of the Institute; in addition meetings were held at Eternal Word Network studios in Birmingham, AL and at the Novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens Village, NY.

In 1989 Sister Mary Bernard du St. Esprit, L.S.P., Provincial Superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Baltimore, MD was elected President of the Forum; Sister Ellen Curran, S.J.W., Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker, Walton, KY, Vice-President and Mother Mary Ingebord was reelected Secretary.

Canonical approval was given June 13, 1992 by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. This Council -assisted in its formation by the Institute, the Forum and the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis - was formed under the guidance of His Eminence James Cardinal Hickey, who had been appointed to be a liaison with the Holy See for those Sisters who did not belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The Forum and the Consortium ceased their activities in favor of the new Council.


In the summer of 1990, hearing that the Institute was looking for new office space, Mr. Thomas S. Monaghan, owner of the Domino Pizza Co. offered the Institute free office space in his Domino's Farms office complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although it was not possible to move all the operations of the Institute to Ann Arbor, it was decided that Father James Downey, O.S.B., Executive Director of the Institute, would move to Ann Arbor and open another office there in hope of improving the Institute's ability to get its message across through the communications facilities at Domino's Farms. Father James opened the office in Ann Arbor in April, 1991.


For information on the Institute, contact:

Rev. James Downey, O.S.B. (Executive Director) Institute on Religious Life P.O. Box 354 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive Ann Arbor, MI 48106 (313) 930-7470 (FAX) (313) 668-2448

Rev. Dudley Day, O.S.A. (Associate Executive Director) Institute on Religious Life P.O. Box 41007 Chicago, IL 60641 (312) 267-1195 (FAX) (312) 267-2044

The Institute sells audio and video tapes of well-known individuals who have taught courses or spoken at Institute meetings. The Institute also sells books, pamphlets, and documents. Contact the Chicago Office of the Institute for a copy of its current catalog.


Send mail or messages [in "Priests, Religious, and Vocations" Section of the Catholic Resource Network Forum (GO CRNET)] to:

(Mr.) William Fairman, 72113,1517

Father James Downey, O.S.B. [ID to be posted soon]