The work of leadership these past six months has had a unique and historical challenge with the announcement of the Apostolic Visitation of women’s congregations by The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) and the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)
The paradoxes of mission that Jesus presents in the Beatitudes as well as in the mystery of death and Resurrection could contextualize our perplexing situation in the church now. We might not fathom that the potential implications of an apostolic visitation and doctrinal assessment can also be meeting points of Cross, Resurrection, and mission.
These are unprecedented times for us, leaders and women religious, who strive to respond to recent Vatican initiatives that affect women religious across the United States. Many feelings well up and swirl around our attempts to ﬁnd ways to respond to what has come as a surprise. Regional gatherings and circles of quiet prayer ground and center us. Together we create a safe context for discerning how best to respond to the events that unfold even as I write this column.
With a deep breath I begin this reﬂection. There have been so many agendas claiming attention these most recent days. Agendas within the Church and our world, within our congregations, within the lives of our sisters and those they serve… agendas within my own life as it is touched by all of these concerns.
Through the liturgical year, we traverse the mystical reality of the Word Incarnate, the baptism of Jesus, and ordinary time. Slowly now – lento -- we move through the stories of the death of Jesus, a season for soul-reﬂection.
Bold headlines, scrawled across the top of this morning’s newspaper, highlight a fragile economic climate around the globe. Many leaders of religious communities wonder how our assets can be stretched to care for members and to support ministry to those most affected by poverty. A new president promises to boost the economy by shoring up bridges and roads. If his strategy is effective, bridge-building may sustain many during this economic roller-coaster ride.
This month marks a major change for those of us who live here in the United States. We have the completion of the term of one President and the inauguration of another. For about two years we have been immersed in the prenomination, nomination, convention, and election process for this new national administration.
The Suﬁ mystic and musician, Hazat Inayat Khan, wrote:
A person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something harmonious, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelled something fragrant, may have enjoyed it, but not completely. The complete joy is in sharing one’s joy with others.
While attending a meetingin Pennsylvania, I hadan opportunity to visitGettysburg, a site of a CivilWar that scarred our country and lefthundreds of thousands of soldiers dead,wounded, or missing. There on thebattleﬁeld I grieved the loss of so manylives in a conﬂict that tore a union apart.Standing on the ground where AbrahamLincoln addressed a splintered nation,I glimpsed something of the impact ofa courageous president’s efforts to healdivisions, end the Civil War, free those enslaved, andredirect the attention of individual states toward thegood of the whole.
Over the course of this summer many of us, as individuals or as congregations and organizations, have been through some major transitions. LCWR, too, has had major changes and this summer’s assembly process has set the stage for more.
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.