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The Leadership Council invited me to speak about “vowed Religious Life” following an earlier and complementary presentation on the subject of Associates. In a sense, this is a bit like talking about “wet water” because the terms “vowed” and “Religious Life” are mutually implicating though not co-extensive. As all water is wet but not all wet things are water, so all Religious Life is vowed life but not all vowed life is Religious Life. Furthermore, there are many forms of vowed Religious Life such as monastic, mendicant, or apostolic and much that applies to one does not apply to another.

So, to focus our discussion, I am going to circumscribe the topic in the hope of better contributing to our community project of meaningful discussion about our identity and relationships. My precise focus, therefore, will be on Religious Life, in 2009, of women who have made (or are preparing to make) perpetual public profession of the vows of consecrated celibacy, poverty, and obedience in the IHM Congregation, and who live out its charism, as articulated in the 1982-1988 Constitutions, in community and ministry.1 So, our topic is vowed Religious Life in the IHM Congregation in 2009.

In what follows I have two objectives which will be given different amounts of space and emphasis but which will also intertwine throughout. First, I do want to supply a certain amount of data that might be useful in our ongoing discussions and which will already be well known to some people but perhaps less familiar to others. A colleague of mine once pointed out, as he reached for a dictionary, how much discussion time would be saved if people agreed not to argue about facts, but to look them up. So, I’ve tried to do some of the “looking up” for us and to include the results in this presentation. However, my second and more important objective is to interpret the data in a way that will illuminate our current experience and supply resources and energy for what lies ahead. I will do that interpretation as responsibly as I can within the limits of my own areas of competence but this is where you have to be the judge of what seems to flow legitimately from the data and to match your own experience. Any interpretation is only as good as it is persuasive.

Two further points will affect these remarks. I am focusing this talk on IHM experience but very little of this experience is absolutely unique to us. Our current process of development is fairly common to many if not most Congregations of women Religious in the so-called “developed world”2 and much of my reflection is influenced by that common experience. Finally, we are working under tight time constraints this afternoon and Religious Life is one of those phenomena in which everything implies everything else. There is not time to make all the interconnections, much less explore them, so this presentation is necessarily selective. Please keep track of what needs to be brought up in later discussion.

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