When the Church speaks of institutes of consecrated life she is addressing the three strands of consecrated life more familiarly known to us as:
- Religious institutes
- Societies of apostolic life
- Secular institutes.
In 2007 there were 943 members of these institutes in the Brisbane Archdiocese: 95 religious priests, 136 religious brothers and 712 religious sisters.
The first religious to arrive in Brisbane were the Passionist priests who came from Italy in 1843 to do missionary work in the area. The Passionists are still active in the Archdiocese today. The first religious sisters to arrive in Brisbane were the Sisters of Mercy who came out from Ireland in 1860. They began with visitation of homes, the hospital and the gaol, and very soon after their arrival they assumed the responsibility for the lay-staffed school at St Stephen’s Cathedral. The Sisters of Mercy are a strong presence in the Archdiocese today, not only in education and health, but also in many other apostolates that attempt to meet the needs of the people of God.
Among more recent arrivals in the Archdiocese are the Missionaries of Charity in 1999, the Missionary Sisters of Service in 1996, and the Sisters of St Paul de Chartres in 1989. Today there are 51 congregations in the Archdiocese; 18 clerical institutes, 28 institutes of religious sisters, 3 institutes of religious brothers, 2 societies of apostolic life and 1 secular institute.
The Carmelite Sisters at Ormiston are wholly directed to contemplation. They are the only contemplative order in the Archdiocese. The other institutes are known as apostolic institutes. Their vocation is also to witness to a life of prayer and holiness lived in the midst of the world and in conformity with their individual charisms.
The religious institutes continue to this day to be a strong presence in the traditional forms of the apostolates of education, health and community care. There are a number of schools/colleges owned and conducted by particular institutes. Four institutes continue to provide excellent Catholic health and aged care. Religious priests continue to take responsibility for parishes, chaplaincies and the promotion of missionary support. A number of religious sisters and a religious brother contribute to parish life as pastoral associates. Many religious are active in archdiocesan Vicariates such as the Tribunal, Catholic Education and Mission Office.
There has been a remarkable shift in recent times in the forms of active participation in the mission of the Church embraced by consecrated persons in the Archdiocese. These new forms arise from the reaffirmation of the prophetic nature of the charisms of religious institutes and the richness of their spirituality in the Church and the world. A preferential option for the poor, the abandoned, the marginalised characterises these new forms. They seek to eradicate the causes of these situations through a sound application of the principles of social justice. They are involved in interfaith and ecumenical fields. They are committed to work for the integrity of creation. They dialogue with those who do not profess any religious belief. They address the critical issue of abuse of fundamental human rights. Religious communities increasingly seek to be places for hearing and sharing the Word, for liturgical celebration, for the teaching of prayer, and for accompaniment through spiritual companioning.
The institutes work together in many instances. Often these joint projects are organised through the conference of Catholic Religious Australia Queensland (CRAQld) www.catholicreligiousaustralia.org One example is the Social Action Office. The Archbishop appointed a Vicar for Religious in 2000 to assist him in his pastoral relationship with consecrated persons in his Archdiocese. In September 2001 the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference approved the association known as the Catholic Vocation Ministries Australia www.catholicozvocations.org.au which has a representative from each State on its executive. This association seeks to promote vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.