Analysis of survey about Apostolic Visitation

Power of Sisterhood: Women Religious Tell the Story of the Apostolic Visitation was initiated by a group of women religious who were the elected leaders of their communities during the Apostolic Visitation. They recognized the importance of capturing and telling the story from the perspective of the women who experienced it.

In 2010, with the assistance of Margaret Cain McCarthy, Ph.D., they designed and conducted a qualitative and quantitative survey of presidents or major superiors whose communities had undergone the visitation.

A review of the whole book can be read here. Below is an outline of what the survey found.

Analysis of the survey

Chapters four and five of the book delve into the survey itself: its design, the questions, a sampling of responses to each question and McCarthy’s analysis. An invitation to participate in the survey was sent to 328 presidents or major superiors through LCWR. The response rate for returning the survey was 44 percent.

The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) was also contacted and asked to extend the invitation to their member communities, but they declined. Without that participation, readers do not benefit from a wider range of views on the visitation. The authors make this clear.

(National Catholic Reporter covered the survey in the Oct. 12-25, 2012, print edition with articles by Zoe Ryan and Sr. Joan Chittister.)

The leaders were asked about their own emotions and reactions and those of their community members when they first heard about the visitation and whether those changed through the phases. The survey also probed how the leaders engaged their sisters in the process, how they communicated with one another, who they consulted and the sources of support they found. Questions about fears and hopes for the outcome of the visitation, as well as what difference it had made in how they approached their leadership, were also posed.

Analyzing the quantitative questions, McCarthy reported that:

  • Phase I of the Apostolic Visitation: An invitation from Millea to contact her – 82 percent of the respondents indicated they had participated either in person or by submitting written responses.
  • Phase II of the Apostolic Visitation: A questionnaire sent to all major superiors – Only 15 percent of the respondents to the survey indicated that they had completed the entire questionnaire.
  • 45 percent answered some of the questions.
  • 40 percent sent a letter instead or didn’t respond at all
  • Phase III of the Apostolic Visitation: 39 percent of the respondents’ communities were chosen to have an on-site visit.

Upon first hearing that the Apostolic Visitation was going to be conducted:

  • 86 percent reported negative feelings, the most common of which was anger. Other terms used included disappointment, fear, shock, resentment, unjust, sadness, indignation and stress.
  • A number questioned the reasons for the visitation and its purpose or expressed confusion about those.
  • 71 percent reported that their thoughts and feelings changed over time to a more positive tone, even though some negative emotions remained. Some of the change was due to their interactions with Millea.

From the responses to a question regarding whether any thoughts and feelings had remained constant throughout the process, McCarthy noted the common thread overwhelmingly had to do with questions about the rationale for the visitation and the belief that it was unjust, unnecessary or wrong.

[Jan Cebula, OSF, is a liaison for Global Sisters Report to women religious and organizations in the United States.]