Who We Are
The Institute on Religious Life (IRL) promotes and supports the growth, development, and renewal of the consecrated life—particularly vowed religious life—as a gift to the Church and an evangelical witness to the world. We include and engage bishops, clergy, religious, consecrated and lay faithful in a collaborative apostolate of prayer and service, guided by the magisterial teachings and rich heritage of the Church.
Our Guiding Principles
- Fidelity & Obedience: We are always guided and animated by the magisterial and pastoral teachings of the Church on religious and consecrated life.
- Unity & Solidarity: We are a lived expression of the principle of solidarity taught by Vatican II, bringing together Catholic faithful of all vocations and states of life for a common purpose.
- Witness & Example: The profession of the evangelical counsels by some can inspire, enrich, and sanctify all. Visible religious in distinctive garb are a powerful witness to the world.
- Tradition & Progress: We stand on the shoulders of giants, accepting and building upon what is good from the past, in accordance with the Holy See and the inspirations of the IRL founders.
- Prayer & Service: It is in prayer and service that the consecrated imitate Christ and lead others to Him. Our prayers and works unite us in a spiritual solidarity.
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., now Servant of God, established the IRL in 1974, and inspired its work, in response to the Holy See’s plea to help save religious life in the United States. He was aided by outstanding co-founders and by early collaborators, including Blessed Mother Teresa, Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, and many others. While others were resigned to a generation of turmoil in religious life, the IRL’s founders persevered in hope. They weren’t content to sit back and watch things collapse. They rolled up their sleeves and began to build and prepare for a much brighter future. Today, the IRL has expanded to meet the needs of established orders and a growing number of emerging religious communities and other institutes of consecrated life. Our dream for renewal—religious in every parish, school and monastery—is beginning to become a reality!
Is vowed religious life in America at the threshold of an unprecedented resurgence? We believe the answer is a resounding Yes! But the outcome will depend on whether the Catholic faithful do their part. That’s why Father Hardon founded the IRL at the request of Pope Paul VI. Religious orders and communities faithful to the Church and their charism are enjoying new growth and they’re attracting a remarkably increased response from new generations. Whether this will be a short-lived trend or a great new beginning will depend on whether faithful Catholics seize the unparalleled opportunity that the present moment offers. The IRL is poised to play a significant, even decisive role in shaping the future . . . and so are you! Together, our success will help to determine what sort of Church and world future generations will have.
What We Do
Sowing & Cultivating: Formation
Many new, emerging consecrated communities—and some older ones seeking rejuvenation—need instruction and guidance in order to succeed. The IRL offers expertise and quality programs that can make a decisive difference.
Reaping the Harvest: Vocations
Turning the growing interest in consecrated life among youth into a wildfire requires a nationwide effort among institutes of consecrated life and the rest of the Church. The IRL has become a conduit for this common effort.
Grinding the Wheat: Unity
The good news about the rebirth of authentic consecrated life must be proclaimed throughout the Church and the world, teaching everyone its value and significance, and uniting all of the Church with it and behind it. We bring all parts of the Church together in fellowship and knowledge, and seek to reach all corners of the earth together.
Approval of Rome
In 1974, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., now Servant of God, with the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Religious in Rome, enlisted the support of bishops, religious superiors and laymen and women to found the IRL to affirm the vocation to consecrated life in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Church, and of the Holy Father; promote authentic religious/consecrated life as set forth by Vatican II and their implementation by the Holy See; and to encourage vocations to the religious, consecrated and priestly life.
Foremost among the bishops who supported the IRL was Most Rev. James J. Hogan, then Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown, PA, who served as the IRL's first president. His Eminence, John Joseph Cardinal Carberry, then Archbishop of St. Louis, served as the second president.
Help From Superiors and Laity
Religious superiors active in the founding were Mother Angela Cettini, D.S.M.P., of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in the United States; Mother M. Claudia Honsberger, I.H.M., of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Immaculata, Pennsylvania; retired Abbot Edmund McCaffrey, O.S.B.; and Fr. Louis Cortney, O.S.M., of the Order of the Servants of Mary.
Outstanding laymen who helped in the founding of the IRL were Mr. William J. Isaacson, a mainstay until his death in 1995. Mr. William Fairman, Mr. Francis Milligan and Mrs. William Spencer were other early lay supporters.
Today, more than one hundred and sixty religious communities and several Catholic lay organizations have become Affiliate members of the IRL.
Initial Meetings of Religious
An initial meeting for members was held in Kansas City, Missouri, at Rockhurst College in 1975. In 1976, a meeting was held at Good Counsel High School in Chicago, conducted by the Felician Sisters, which featured Mother Teresa and Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen, who also spoke at the 1978 meeting in Saint Louis, Missouri.
National Meetings of the IRL have been held annually since 1981 around the country, and are now held at University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illlinois.
Expansion of Services
Regional meetings of the IRL have been held throughout the country and are now held in Los Angeles, Boston, and the Kansas City area.
In 1987, a summer program of theology and spirituality for religious superiors was started, and in 1988, another summer program, for novice masters and formation directors, was begun. Today, the summer schools have been expanded to become the Vita Consecrata Institute, held for priests, men and women religious and consecrated persons each summer at a convenient location.
The IRL Logo
The Flaming Heart
This is the symbol of the loving Heart of Christ Who came to "cast fire on the earth", which all are called to enkindle. The heart is also that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, enshrined in the Heart of her Son. The three flames indicate the three vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience which give expression to the consuming love of consecrated life.
This is the symbol of the Holy Spirit -- to whom each religious is espoused and from whom all receive supernatural assistance.
The IRL Motto
The IRL has adopted as its guiding principle the expression: Pro Christo et Ecclesia per Mariam, meaning, "For Christ and the Church through Mary." Finally, the IRL sets its name as witness to the works it has undertaken. Henceforth, all projects of the IRL will carry the logo.