For immediate release
Contact: Annmarie Sanders, IHM – LCWR Director of Communications
August 24, 2005
Leadership Conference of Women Religious Opens 50th Anniversary Year with Calls to Respond to the Urgent Needs of the Times
[Anaheim, CA] At a recent gathering, the leaders of US orders of Catholic sisters challenged themselves to respond to the urgent needs of the times and to continue looking for the most effective ways for Catholic women religious to work toward the transformation of oppressive structures.
The leaders, members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), met in Anaheim, California from August 19-22 for their annual assembly and the opening of LCWR’s 50th anniversary year. The gathering provided opportunities for the leaders to dialogue with several of the conference’s past officers, as well as newer members of religious orders, on the vision for religious life as it continues to respond to the needs of the times.
LCWR has a history of being at the forefront of change and renewal in the US Catholic church. The conference was created in 1956 at the initiative of the Vatican which sought to bring together the heads of religious orders in national associations to explore how to most effectively serve the needs of the Catholic church. Since that time, LCWR has taken an active role in the renewal of religious life, as well as advocacy for systemic change and social justice within the Catholic church and society.
Several of the LCWR officers who were active in working for renewal spoke to the conference and suggested ways in which LCWR might commemorate this jubilee year. Conference keynoter Sister Margaret Brennan, IHM, LCWR president in 1972, stated, “The Torah calls a Jubilee year a ‘Sabbath… a Shabbat unto God.’ For us it is a time, not just to rest, but to be immersed in God and God’s world -- but perhaps in a more contemplative way -- to shift our directions, to scan the horizons for what lies ahead, to claim the freedom that comes from serving God, to enter into a year of joy and gratitude, to recognize our solidarity, however difficult, with all human beings with whom we share this earth we call home.”
Through dialogue with the conference’s earlier leaders, LCWR members looked to what they desire for religious life as it moves into the future. In her address to the assembly, LCWR president Sister Christine Vladimiroff, OSB, stated, “Our foremothers and founders have shown us the way through the past. Now it is our time, the only time we have — the present. The future of religious life is in our hands to shape for those who will follow us.
“The prophetic quality of religious life calls us to a selective marginality for the purpose of engaging the culture so as to change it,” she said. “In those areas where the dominant culture is the antithesis of jubilee we need to work for transformation. Our world needs liminal groups to reveal not only the limitations but also the possibilities of institutions. Thus the liminal complements the institutional; both Church and society need this witness. We are those oaks planted by God for God’s glory — we cannot be swayed by the prevailing winds. We must resist being co-opted by the culture rather than compelled by the Gospel.”
The LCWR members discussed possible ways in which to be signs and communities of hope for the world. Theologian Sister Maria Cimperman, OSU noted in her address, “As women religious we are connected across the globe. These relationships are crucial, for through them we hear the Gospel calling us to place our membership in a country with unparalleled power for good and destruction toward the service of those who have little - and their ‘little’ is often due to the unequal advantages that globalization gives the world’s already powerful. We must continue to ask the people concerned how we might best be able to serve one another toward fullness of life.”
During the assembly, LCWR members spent time giving public witness to their commitment to work for the transformation of unjust structures. With members of local human rights coalitions, they held an outdoor prayer service and walk to advocate against and raise awareness about human trafficking. They also issued a statement opposing the continuation of the war in Iraq.
The LCWR members honored author and researcher Sister Mary Daniel Turner, SNDdeN with the LCWR Outstanding Leadership Award for her contributions to LCWR and her work in religious life renewal since the early 1960s, as well as her ministry to the marginalized. Upon accepting the award, she called the leaders to be “women boldly responsive to the exigencies of our times. Embracing the corporate power that our respective charismatic gifts generate, we will be graced to invest ourselves and our resources in the multitudinous poverties of our global village.”
During the assembly the members chose Sister Mary Dacey, SSJ as the president-elect. A councilor for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, she has served in education as a president, principal and teacher. They also elected as secretarySister Jeanne Bessette, OSF, a councilor for the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate of Joliet, Illinois. She has worked in school and not-for-profit administration.
LCWR has more than 900 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, representing approximately 73,000 Catholic sisters. The conference develops leadership, promotes collaboration within church and society, and serves as a voice for systemic change.