We are pleased to announce that the GHR Foundation has awarded the Resource Center for Religious Institutes (RCRI) and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) grants for a joint strategic planning effort designed to assure a future for US women’s religious life. The GHR Foundation assists organizations providing sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.
With the grants, LCWR and RCRI will assist orders of women religious in this unique moment in history when their demographics include very large numbers of elderly members. The grants will be used by the two organizations to fund cooperative efforts to accompany religious institute leaders through difficult decision-making processes, provide information on the practical aspects of planning and preparing for the future, and offer pastoral care to the members of communities that are in the midst of significant change.
Over the past year, LCWR and RCRI have worked with the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) to assess the assistance needed by US women religious institutes in the next several years, particularly those that are now in their last generation.
“LCWR has a responsibility to support its members in navigating these next years – to downsize in order to become what religious institutes have been through the centuries: small, liminal groups seeking God, serving the needs of society at the margins, and raising up for the church unaddressed needs,” said LCWR executive director Janet Mock, CSJ.
“RCRI, LCWR, and NRRO have studied the trends among institutes of US religious and recognize that a number are now completing their journey as an institute,” added RCRI executive director Sharon Euart, RSM. “We also believe that a number of institutes have viability, but are in need of assistance now to plan for a very different future.”
With the GHR grants, the two organizations will implement programs specifically targeting institutes in serious need. Currently, there are more than 200 women’s religious institutes that have fewer than 100 members and have a median age of 75 or older. Additional institutes will reach this stage in the near future.
GHR awarded LCWR $1,125,000 over five years to hire a woman religious who will assess the needs of these religious communities and form teams of religious who can accompany the leaders during the discernment and decision-making processes that need to occur in order to avert crises. The teams will also provide pastoral care to institute members as decisions are made and implemented.
RCRI received a grant of $350,000 to provide practical assistance to leaders with the governance, managerial, and financial decisions facing these religious institutes. RCRI will develop models and resources for use by the institutes, and will train individuals who can assist institutes with the implementation of the resources. RCRI will offer its services through major workshops at the annual RCRI conference, regional workshops, webinars, and online resources.
LCWR and RCRI have created this initiative to strengthen US women’s religious life. “The project is designed so that a religious institute can continue to control and govern its own future,” explained Sharon. “We also hope women religious will understand that many of the duties now performed by leaders can be transferred to management, freeing the leaders to attend the mission and ministry of their institutes. We believe that in the future there will be fewer religious institutes, but these will be vibrant with sufficient membership.”
“The program will assist religious institutes in planning for and celebrating their legacy and making wise decisions about the care of their members,” added Janet. “It also has the potential to release new energy that frees younger religious to focus on mission and carefully discern how religious life may move into the future.”
On behalf of RCRI, the Project Team consists of Sister Pam Chiesa, PBVM, as Project Coordinator, Sister Linda Orrrick, SNJM, and Claire Blohm, with Rev. Dan Ward, OSB, as legal consultant and Sister Sharon Euart as Project Director.