Almost three years ago I was “elected into” one of the most remarkable experiences of my life—the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. From my perspective, the only appropriate theme for my last letter is “thank you."
In the October 2006 issue of LCWR Update, Carole Shinnick wrote an article entitled “Did You Ever Thank the Angels In Your Life?” As I write this column, I am aware of an “angel” who will transition out of her position as executive director of LCWR after our August assembly. Carole has given a total of nine years to LCWR, six years as executive director and the prior three years as secretary of LCWR. As you read my reﬂection, I invite you to pause to appreciate this “angel” in our lives.
In the May issue of Update you found coverage of the LCWR ofﬁcers’ meetings with Vatican ofﬁcials in Rome. The written word gave an excellent overview of the sessions. The colorful photos included some of the women and men with whom we met and also shared informal time together.
In early April the LCWR presidency and executive director, along with the executive committee of CMSM, traveled to Rome for our annual visit to the Vatican ofﬁces. Perhaps because this was my last visit, I was more conscious of the Scripture readings as our small “community of believers” gathered to celebrate Eucharist each day. Over the course of the week, we prayed over and listened to vivid stories of post-Resurrection encounters and the struggles of an emerging church.
This is an exciting time for my community as we partner with a developer to renovate our motherhouse and to develop our land into the Village of St. Mary’s. Having explored a variety of alternatives for our future, historic designation of our buildings and senior housing tax credits will enable us to remain on our property and open up our space to others. We are well on the way to creating a master plan for the use of our land.
I am writing this reﬂection in the afterglow of holidays and New Year’s resolutions. From talk shows to ordinary conversations, everyone seems caught up in the desire to lose weight, become ﬁt, and make healthy life choices. For us as religious, especially those in leadership, the “resolution of choice” often has more to do with slowing down and getting off the treadmill of activity and busyness. Easier said...
On a chilly afternoon in midNovember between LCWR meetings and the US bishops’ meeting in Baltimore, Lora Dambroski and I headed for Annapolis, Maryland, to do a bit of sightseeing. We walked the streets of this historic city unaware that within two weeks these same streets would buzz with reporters who would be covering important conversations about peace in the Middle East.
Advent, time of preparation for the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation. Emmanuel, God with us. We recall during this time a woman and a man who made a commitment to their God, their people, and each other. There was an invitation from outside of themselves, from Something bigger than themselves. They responded with “yes” and it changed their predictable life’s journey.
Our retreat house is located at the very tip of New Jersey at a place aptly called Cape May Point. Originally an elaborate hotel built just before the turn of the century (the 20th century that is), it was sold to the Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1909. From 1941 to 1946 the house was leased to the government as an outlook post to warn against possible invasion. After the war the house was returned to us, but swimming was prohibited for about 60 years because of mines that had been placed offshore.
Recently Carmen, Mary, Judy, and I moved into a new house. When we were informed that we needed to move from our comfortable convent home, we wanted to stay together. The timing of the move was inconvenient given our combined responsibilities of leadership, caregiving for an aging parent, and the busy activities of parish life. Yet, a determination to stay together, as well as a lot of help from many generous people, enabled us to ﬁnd a house and move.
After a month of saying farewell to people – some expected and some unexpected – I ﬁnd myself reﬂecting on how we experience saying ‘goodbye’ and found myself going to a quote by Frederick Buechner, a Protestant pastor and writer:
Despite the heat and the humidity, our motherhouse chapel was ﬁlled with family members, friends, associates, and many, many sisters. They had gathered to celebrate the ﬁrst vow ceremony of our newest member. The air could barely contain the anticipation and the excitement of those gathered. For many of us it was a reminder our own vows made long ago or more recently. Grace was in abundance.
I am convinced that one of the qualities needed for leadership today is the ability to live out of a set of luggage. For the past month, I have been doing just that as I traveled to Rome for meetings of the LCWR presidency and executive director with Vatican ofﬁcials. From Rome I ﬂew to Finland, sailed to Estonia, rode buses and trains to Latvia and the Czech Republic, and ﬂew back to Italy to visit with sisters and partners of my Precious Blood congregation. Then I headed back to Rome for the international gathering of superiors general of congregations of women religious.
I recently celebrated the Triduum with my parish community in Winona, Minnesota. It is made up of families and young single adults, people who love to sing, are intent about their spiritual life, and participate in many ways to make the community’s worship rich and challenging. The celebrant, the music, the ritual, and the full-throated participation and the quiet attentiveness all made for a deeply reverent and moving experience of God’s abundant goodness and loving presence.
In February I had the opportunity and the privilege to participate in two meetings, each associated with LCWR. The ﬁrst was actually a series of meetings with bishop members of the Commission on Religious Life and Ministry, members of the executive committee of CMSWR, and members of the executive committees and national boards of CMSM and LCWR. The second was a meeting of the members of the LCWR History Committee and Design Island, the professional company that is designing the exhibit.
A few months ago, I attended the Broadway musical Les Miserables. Though set in the context of the French Revolution, the story reﬂects universal longings for justice and peace, whatever our differences may be. I was deeply moved by the powerful rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” As I listened, I could not help but wonder if and when the many tables emptied by our young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan will be ﬁlled again.
Finally! We got several inches of ﬂuffy snow last night, the sun is shining, and the good news is that it is so cold the snow won’t melt. It is Martin Luther King holiday, so kids are making snow angels, folks are shoveling, and the big “kids” with snowblower toys are happily sending snow to their neighbors’ yard. Now doesn’t that sound like someone who likes Minnesota winters? It’s true! The grey/brown days of no snow and 40 degree weather do not make my heart sing. The beauty and silence of fresh snow does. For me, it creates a sense of wonder and awareness of the world around me.
One of my favorite poets, Jessica Powers, writes, “I am waiting for a green shoot to come out of my stump some morning in this unusual springtime — December’s leaf and blossom, winter’s bird…Now and again though is the message blurred by brief uncertainties."
Last night the dream returned. Details had changed, but patterns were similar to other dreams I have had in recent months. I dream that I am wending my way from room to room in old, comfortable surroundings like the section of our motherhouse that dates back to 1875, or our girls’ academy that is celebrating its 125th anniversary, or my grandparents’ home. I feel secure in these familiar spaces.
On the feast of St. Francis on October 4, I had the opportunity to celebrate with the Franciscan Sisters at Rochester, Minnesota. They, like many other religious communities, mine included, are living into new space after reconﬁguring their motherhouse. They blessed the new doorway that will be used by the sisters to access their living and ministry area. It is a doorway to new space, new realities, new patterns of living.
This summer I had the privilege of attending three major assemblies: the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Federation Event, which marked the 40th anniversary of the National Federation of Sisters of Saint Joseph, and the CMSM and LCWR assemblies which both celebrated the close of their jubilee year. Different cities — for the most part, different people, but a common hope for religious life now and in the future.
I am in the midst of a family reunion – my 14 brothers and sisters and their families converging from around the United States to spend four days together at my parents’ farm. The sleeping and eating accommodations are quite amazing, as is the plan for golﬁng, swimming, touring, celebrating birthdays (Dad will be 89), a Twins ball game….all happening in the midst of some very hot days (something we are not used to in Minnesota).
This is my last column for Update. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for your trust in me and the privilege of serving you these past years. I celebrate my time on the national board and the executive committee and the presidency. Your friendship has been pure grace.