The Vatican has initiated an apostolic visitation of institutes of women religious in the United States.

The visitation was initiated by a Dec. 22 decree by Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

A press release today regarding the visitation announced it will be conducted under the direction of Mother Mary Clare Millea, who has been appointed Apostolic Visitator by Cardinal Rodé.

Mother Millea, a native of Connecticut, is superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international religious institute headquartered in Rome that has approximately 1,250 professed sisters worldwide including 135 in the United States, according to the press release.

Cardinal Rode’s Dec. 22 decree tasks Mother Millea with leading an examination “of the General Houses, Provincial Houses and Centers of Initial Formation of the principal Religious Institutes of Women in the United States of America,” in order “to look into the quality of life of religious women in the United States.”

No deadline has been set for the completion of the apostolic visitation, but Mother Millea said she hopes to complete it by the end of 2011.

“I am truly humbled, and a bit overwhelmed,” Mother Millea said in the press release. “While I have visited each of the communities and missions in my own congregation, the thought of gathering facts and findings about nearly 400 institutes across the United States can be daunting in scope.”

Said Mother Millea, “I am praying for all the sisters who will be a part of this Visitation, and hoping for their prayers — both for the good of the process as well as for me in this role. I ask the prayers of the American Catholic clergy and faithful too.”