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Durham University

Centre for Catholic Studies

Religious Life Vitality Project

A research project funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and conducted by the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, and the Religious Life Institute and Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge.

Phase 1

Phase 1 of this project focused on helping female apostolic congregations in the UK, Ireland and the US to consider in depth what is vital to their mission. Three areas were in focus in this first phase of the project:

  1. Social interactivity including daily practice and resource allocation
  2. Theological transmission and reception in female apostolic congregations
  3. The ecclesial frameworks which support/diminish the capacity for vitality.

Key questions of Phase 1 were: What does vitality look like to the participant congregations? How do they deploy/expend resources (human, physical, financial, spiritual) in support of that vision?

Phase 2

Following the success of Phase 1, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation funded further research over three years from June 2016 to May 2019, involving:

  1. A study of the sustainability of religious life of women in East and Central Africa implemented in partnership with local researchers/religious sisters
  2. A study of new and potential entrants to women’s religious life in the UK and Ireland since 2000

Project team: Paul D. Murray, Maria Calderon Munoz, Yvonne Williams, Catherine Sexton, Gemma Simmonds

East and Central Africa

This project is led by Catherine Sexton and answers the questions: What are sisters saying is the essence of women’s Religious Life in Africa today and into the future? What are the key challenges that hinder this essence? What are the best practices for ensuring the understanding and living of it, and the communication of this to sisters in formation?

UK and Ireland

Gemma Simmonds leads on this project, and has formulated the research question in the hope of offering congregations the understanding needed to make better-informed policies, strategies and decisions about possible future membership or indeed the choice no longer to pursue or accept new vocations: Is religious life as currently lived by apostolic women religious in the UK and Ireland liveable for new members? Can it attract new members, or are structural and ideological changes necessary to make it translatable and fit for purpose for new generations?

Religious Life for Women: A Sustainable Future

The findings of Phase 2 of the project will be presented at two 2-day symposia in October 2019. Registration is open.

  • Day 1: The essence of religious life for women religious in East and Central Africa
  • Day 2: The future for entry into women’s religious congregations in the UK and Ireland
  • Rome: 3-4 October 2019
  • London: 24-25 October 2019