The Center for Catholic Studies at Durham University, in collaboration with the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge, England, conducted two independent, comprehensive research studies aimed at fostering a deeper social, theological and spiritual understanding of the contemporary landscape of consecrated female apostolic life and related indicators of the vitality of religious congregations of Catholic Sisters in Europe and Africa.

Through a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Catholic Sisters Initiative, the Religious Life: Discerning the Future study focused on the lived experiences of women in the United Kingdom and Ireland who explored a religious vocation or entered religious life since 2000, both on those who currently remain members and those who subsequently left. The Religious Life for Women in East and Central Africa: A Sustainable Future study focused on Catholic sisters’ understanding of the essence, and the key challenges to hinder that essence, of current religious life in Africa and into the future. Over 600 women religious representing 79 congregations from five countries in East and Central Africa (Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) participated in the study.  

Both studies were designed to incorporate and reflect on the authentic voices and experiences of women religious on issues that are fundamental to them and their experiences of religious life. Topics explored include: the expectations and challenges of religious life for new entrants; how respondents define, interpret and live their charisms; the importance and perception of initial and ongoing formation; the relationship between religious consecration and missionary life; and, the apostolic role and contributions of women religious as they serve in the world. Findings from the studies call attention to the complexities and richness of religious life; and the ways in which religious life is evolving within the construct of the Catholic Church and an ever-changing socio-geographic context.

Results of the findings of the Religious Life: Discerning the Future study were presented at two symposia in October 2019, the first at the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome and the second at the University of Notre Dame international center in London.  The Religious Life for Women in East and Central Africa: A Sustainable Future study became available in early 2020 and will be disseminated formally among Catholic sisters in Africa once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.