Leadership Conference of Women Religious

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However Long the Night

However Long the Night
However Long the Night

Available through Amazon at Print edition: $14.99; Kindle edition: $9.99
Book Announcement available below (PDF format)

This is the story of what was learned by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious during a six-year crisis (2009-2015). A high-ranking and very powerful Vatican office suddenly and very publicly confronted the organization with forceful questions and negative assumptions about the foundation of the lives of Catholic sisters. The conflict grew more intense midway through those years. The Vatican office threatened the autonomy and even the existence of the conference, an organization on which the great majority of US Catholic sisters rely for many kinds of resources, supports, and connections. The experience rocked LCWR's officers, its hundreds of members, and the approximately 60,000 sisters who belonged to member congregations at that time. Yet the ultimate resolution benefitted everyone. How did that happen? 

This book answers that question. It not only explains how the organization worked through a very difficult situation, but it provides spiritual grounding, useful information, as well as inspiration and hope to anyone working through a situation of conflict, polarization, or even impasse in their own personal, professional, family, community, neighborhood, or organizational settings. 

During the six-year period of investigation by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and since that time, LCWR was asked by many to tell the story of how the organization and how its leaders navigated this time of tremendous obvious risk as well as less visible personal pain and, ultimately, blessing. Reporters have wanted the organization to offer an exposé of the unrevealed details of what provoked this investigation and of "who said what when" in the very slow process of its resolution. This is not that tell-all book. This is a serious effort to describe what LCWR's leaders learned personally and as an organization about how to weather a crisis in ways that create a new and better reality. 
This book is the product of reflection over time. The authors had long pondered if there was any benefit to their telling LCWR's story and their own stories to the public. Their reticence was palpable primarily because it had been such a sacred journey for them and they wanted it to be respected as such. Conscious of the dire national and international conflict existent today, the authors chose to risk telling their story with the hope that it could offer a way forward for others.
Readers will see how these women handled the challenges that confront any leaders in crises - what goals to pursue, what overall strategies to use, when to share or withhold information within the organization and with the public, how to find or create a solution. They will also see how they called on rich spiritual and cultural traditions. The formal methods, processes, and practices used are readily translatable for use in other communities and organizations. These learnings are practical options that may help others to create new and better realities in their own parts of the world.


Marcia Allen, CSJ; Florence Deacon, OSF; Pat Farrell, OSF; Sharon Holland, IHM; Mary Hughes, OP; Janet Mock, CSJ; Annmarie Sanders, IHM; Joan Marie Steadman, CSC; Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA; Carol Zinn, SSJ.

The authors are available to speak at workshops and other events. For information contact Annmarie Sanders, IHM at

Editorial Reviews

However Long the Night is a perfect title for a wonderful book. It is about leadership in crisis that chose a path of intelligence, reflection, compassion, and silence in the face of harmful and disheartening opposition. It documents what communal and relational leadership looks like. It is a feminine form of leadership that the world needs desperately. Beautifully personal in tone and style, this book offers a glimpse of how high integrity and conscious leadership can bring reconciliation into the world. In the end, this story makes us grateful that there are women religious always at our side as proof of concept that God is present. -- Peter Block, Author, An Other Kingdom

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious has set the new gold standard for “speaking truth to power.” It is an honor to be in the presence of these women and to hear their story first hand. -- The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest, author, and retreat leader

In an era of polarization, conflict, and disrespect, the timeliness of However Long the Night could not be more relevant. With concise, transparent, respectful, and honest dialogue the authors lay open a needed paradigm shift based on truth and trust. Women religious have always desired to be “of service” to others and this text is just one more fine example of their service to and for the common good of our country and our church. -- Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

If anything gives evidence of the breadth and depth of the renewal and transformation of the lives of women religious in the United States, this volume is it. These essays, detailing LCWR’s experience in responding to a doctrinal assessment and mandate for reform, offer a stunning, compelling, inspiring, prophetic witness to an alternate, contemplative way of dealing with misunderstanding, conflict, and disapproval. In a country beset by violent language, lack of civility, intolerance, and polarization, the leaders of LCWR model a path marked by fidelity to prayer and deep listening, commitment to dialogue and respectful relationship, and undying hope for mutuality and communion. Humility, strength, honesty, and integrity characterize their voices. -- Constance FitzGerald, OCD, Baltimore Carmel

LCWR’s response to the CDF doctrinal investigation offered prophetic testimony to the demands of Gospel fidelity. Its prayerful response to an often dysfunctional exercise of authority navigated between the twin temptations to petty defiance and resigned acquiescence. These reflections by LCWR leadership represent nothing less than a primer in a profoundly practical ecclesiology. LCWR’s commitment to dialogue with integrity and attentiveness to the primacy of conscience reflect its deep roots in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Its commitment to ecclesial discernment and the synodality of a “listening church” anticipated the bracing ecclesial vision of Pope Francis. This volume deserves to be prayerfully studied by all those called to lead in times of conflict and turmoil. -- Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology, Boston College

To have begun this book with pre-emptive “righteous indignation” (at “the opposition”), and finished contrite and deeply enlightened, represents the beginning of a much-needed conversion in this reader. Articulating the assumptions of a confrontational culture cannot be authentic Christianity; and this book shows what is needed when personal bias appears so Godly and other people so wrong-headed.

The whole tenor of the LCWR approach to ecclesiastical censure was not simply strategic nonviolence but a paradigm of respectful listening, deep self-examination, and principled articulation of religious faith. The dignity of each party was maintained and an impasse became a way forward. There is practical wisdom and deep virtue in these pages. Many men badly need the attitudinal shift described here. It is the only way to transform self-righteousness into true righteousness. Here is a pearl of great price. -- Anthony J. Gittins, CSSp, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Theology and Culture at Catholic Theological Union

How grateful we are for Catholic sisters who weathered adversity with grace and modeled the civility, discipline, integrity, and humility so vital to the church and to society. We cherish the lessons we learn from the stories of sisters and admire their boldness as they turn moments of tension into opportunities for growth. -- Amy Rauenhorst Goldman, CEO & Chair, GHR Foundation

This extraordinary book falls like a gentle rain upon these parched times of escalating polarization. It brings forth wisdom gleaned during an intensely painful situation and generously shares what the sisters have learned. It offers a process that others in a conflictual situation can use. Call on the Spirit! Contemplate, listen, dialogue, discern! Stay at the table so long as integrity is not compromised! By enfolding a narrative of discord into a broader and deeper narrative of a tough spiritual journey, this book dramatically narrates a form of leadership that can light a path to peace with justice. -- Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University

The story of the Vatican’s investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the LCWR’s response, and the church’s final support for this vital group is one of the most important Catholic stories of our time. Stung by some very public critiques by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the members of this incredible organization responded with grace, courage, and hope. This dramatic story of power, discernment, hope, pain,  and, ultimately, faith, should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the Catholic church in our age.  -- James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage and consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication

Although moved to tears a few times, I also found the sisters’ essays extremely instructive. The insights and courage brought about through suffering, prayer, and contemplative dialogue birth hope that it is possible to find a way through seemingly impossible, complicated, and long-standing misunderstandings. They reveal the inner and outer work necessary when two very different cultures clash, but also commit to pursue mutual understanding to achieve communion. This is a book to read over and over as it witnesses how it is possible to recognize the Spirit’s call to be a prophetic presence in the most unexpected place. -- Joyce Meyer, PBVM, International Liaison for Global Sisters Report

This volume of essays by the women who led US women religious through the negotiation of the mandate that followed the devastating “Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious” into a reaffirmation of the value of religious life, the validity of the response to Vatican II of US women religious, and the integrity in faith and action of LCWR, is sheer gift. It is a gift, first of all, because the authors have chosen to relive the pain of these deeply negative experiences in order to share with us, the wider community of religious and laity in the church, the path they forged through these traumatic experiences to deep spiritual peace, steadfastness in vocation and ministry, increased legitimate autonomy as women in the church, and ongoing fidelity to the gift of religious life to the church and the world. It is a gift because of its content, its modeling of how to not only survive injustice and persecution but how to live into it and through it in courage, hope, solidarity, and paschal self-surrender and even enable others to discover their own capacity for something better. And it is a gift because it finally responds to some of the deepest anxieties of religious and laity, Catholics and others, who wondered, through the long silence of the process, what was really going on and feared that intimidation would rob us all of the strong, clear voice of women religious in the church. The answers are here now for all to read, and hopefully to incorporate into our own experience of vocation and response. -- Sandra Schneiders, IHM, professor emerita of New Testament studies and spirituality, Jesuit School of Theology/Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California

However Long the Night is a provocative shared memoir of a challenging moment in the history of LCWR. Don’t read it as a history, but a work of art to be engaged. Its varied perspectives reveal a story in distinct and sometimes surprising ways, and the questions at the end of each essay invite learning from our own stories as well. At core the chapters speak of discernment, of being faithful to God’s call when distractions and temptations could lead one otherwise.  Congratulations to LCWR leadership past and present for bringing this story to life. -- Thomas H. Smolich, SJ, International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service

The story of LCWR’s journey through the doctrinal assessment is one of astonishing integrity and compassion. Learning how women religious moved through this most public and personally painful experience is a masterclass in spiritual maturity and organizational strategy.

For Millennial readers such as myself, to learn that crisis-management meetings started with 45 minutes of silence, for example, is a practical call to a different way of being in leadership. Now that our country is deeply polarized and perplexed as to how to heal, However Long the Night teaches us how to lead with integrity, stand together in trust, and forever center the vision of a world transformed -- even when our hearts are breaking.

This book is the ultimate affirmation of the faithfulness and authenticity of LCWR and a source of practical inspiration for anyone navigating the travails of conflict. -- Casper ter Kuile, Harvard Ministry Innovation Fellow 

I hold the witness and vision of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in profound esteem. Their communities are forces for spiritual renewal in our spiritually hungry world. They have navigated a period of crisis with prophetic imagination and courage. As they, with this book, offer their learnings to our larger cultural moment of crisis, they continue to model the very meaning of living tradition. -- Krista Tippett, Host of “On Being” and Curator of “The Civil Conversations Project”

I have no hesitation in stating that this is the best leadership book I have yet to read on how to lead through a crisis-laden time and emerge with one’s integrity, community, capacity, and faith stronger for the experience. Frequently now, leaders must navigate through conflicts with those who would overwhelm them and take away their power. These situations challenge leaders to their very core; the usual response is to meet aggression with aggression and thus only increase the conflict and dysfunction.

Here is a guidebook of consciously earned wisdom for how to walk through such dark struggles and not lose our way. Through the long years of discord with those in the Vatican, the sisters maintained their purpose, sanity, and faith, and created a stronger, more cohesive community of sisters across America and beyond. This treacherous path was continually illuminated by their deepening faith and their skilled processes for collective discernment. They responded thoughtfully and patiently as a community of the faithful discovering ever deeper meaning and solidarity from their trials.

This book makes clear the trials we all encounter as we strive to remain true to our faith in the face of great challenge. It is witness to the power of communal discernment and dialogue. It is testimony to what is possible when authoritarianism is subdued by the compassionate exercise of strength. It is testimony to how we find confidence and clarity in the darkness that leads us forward into the bright, enduring meaning of our work. -- Margaret Wheatley, Author


Other Reviews

Global Sisters Report - by Gail DeGeorge

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