A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of participating in the seminary visitation which took place, under the auspices of the Holy See, over the course of more than a year. I participated in teams that visited two different seminaries over the course of the year. Many other bishops also participated in these teams since every seminary in the country was visited.

After the visitations, each team sent a report to the Holy See, and their work was completed. Later the seminary and its bishops or religious superiors received confidential feedback from the office of the Holy See, which initiated the visitation. Prior to the visitation I was not sure what to expect but, as it turned out, the experience was very positive for me and, I think, for the other bishops who participated and for the seminaries, as well.

I found the visits to be opportunities to create relationships and to affirm seminary staffs and seminarians. I was impressed by the dedication of the personnel and the quality of the seminarians. I am sure the reports also helped the pope’s collaborators in Rome to understand better our situation in this country.

A similar process is taking place these days with an apostolic visitation of active religious communities of women in this country. As I understand it, the visitation is being carried out by women religious chosen from communities in this country.

Although I do not have a role in this visitation, I anticipate that this, too, will have positive results and will be an occasion for our Holy Father and his staff to more accurately and deeply understand the life and ministry of these communities.

In the meantime, however, I have been saddened to hear that some of our women religious, especially those who have dedicated long lives of generous service to Christ and his church, are interpreting this visitation as a negative judgment on their ministry as well as on their own religious life. I cannot help but think of the faith-filled sister who first taught me how to serve Mass (a few years ago) and who is still living, retired with her community in Chicago. I visit her when I can, thanking her for her ministry and her example of generous service, which remains with me today. I think, also, of the courageous, self-sacrificing and strong women religious who were instrumental in serving those in need and planting the seed of faith here in Alaska. Some have been thanked in recent years, but many more simply continued their service and vowed life without recognition until the Lord called them home.

I hope that our Catholic community uses this opportunity to thank and support these veterans of the apostolic fields who have served so steadfastly through the challenges the church has experienced these past thirty to forty years. May God give them the peace they deserve in knowing that God’s grace has not been in vain and their ministry has been a gift to the church.

Printed with permission by The Catholic Anchor, Archdiocese of Anchorage.