Canadian model offers hope in addressing challenges facing religious life

AMRI members at a recent webinar heard about Canadian Religious Stewardship, a charity created to assist religious across Canada manage the challenges they are facing like fewer members, an aging population, diminishing availability of people for leadership roles and maintaining their ministries. 
Religious life in Canada
There are just over 9000 religious in Canada with an average age of 82 years. The majority are women. Sr Bonnie MacLellan, a canon lawyer, said: “The current model of religious life is not sustainable.” The Canadian situation is similar to the situation in most Western countries including Ireland. 
She outlined the Vatican’s criteria for viability of a congregation: median age – 70s or 80s; no professions for 25 years; limited superiors or leaders for congregational works; and no diocesan bishop requesting members to assist with apostolates.
She presented a sobering analysis to the 125 participants at the webinar. Nevertheless, Sr Bonnie encouraged us to be hopeful, quoting Pope Francis “… be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods” (The Joy of the Gospel no. 30). It is about transformation, managing the challenges and creating the space for new initiatives to emerge.
She explained the role of a commissary, who can be appointed from outside a congregation to act in the role of the leader. As we become a synodal Church, there is scope for greater collaboration between and among congregations and with lay people in governance and leadership. 
Canadian Religious Stewardship
Canadian Religious Stewardship (CRS) is one such new model which has been approved by the Vatican.  Joanne Yelle Weatherall, CEO of CRS explained that ten congregations collaborate to form the new charity which provides a range of tailored services to their members to maintain quality of life and continue their mission and ministries. The services include ministry review, human resource management of ministries, spiritual and pastoral care, legal advice, property maintenance, communications, healthcare, housing, finance, and ethical investment. 
Governance and leadership are the responsibility of a board of directors comprising religious and laypeople. Joanne said: “Our job is to go where our communities need us most. We continue to build the infrastructure required to answer your call. CRS has grown from 1 staff person in 2019 to twenty employees in early 2023”. It is evidence of the need and demand for the services.
Irish Context
Religious life in Ireland faces the same challenges. Fr Aidan McGrath ofm and solicitor Ms Nicola Keogh outlined progress on a similar model for Irish religious life. A draft constitution for a new charity/company has been prepared to meet the requirements of Irish civil law.  A major benefit will be to streamline the administration on statutory governance requirements and reporting, for those congregations who will be part of the new charity.

Fr McGrath challenged participants at the webinar to get involved: “now is the time to jump before it is too late and the crisis becomes overwhelming”. Following the webinar, a number of leaders made contact expressing their desire to be involved in forming the new charity. For more information email Here