Leadership Conference of Women Religious opens
For Sister Pat Farrell, the joy she experiences in being a part of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious comes from the opportunity to come together with other religious sisters. They serve as a source of "inspiration and stimulation" to her.
"There are few places where I find the inspiration and stimulation of others than LCWR," said the Sister of St. Joseph and current president of the organization.
Speaking at a press conference via phone just days before the opening of the LCWR's annual assembly in St. Louis, Sister Pat explained that leadership from religious communities don't often have the chance to directly communicate with their peers in similar roles.
"I have found the LCWR women a group of deeply thoughtful, prayerful women of wide vision and who also enjoy one another's presence," she said.
The future of the organization, however, is hanging in the balance as some 900 women religious have convened in St. Louis for the assembly, Aug. 7-11. It is during this meeting that the sisters will discern the Vatican's recent assessment of the organization, which has more than 1,500 members. That number represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States, according to LCWR.
In April, the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith announced a major reform of the LCWR. The announcement was made at the end of a four-year doctrinal assessment and included an eight-page report, detailing the need to remedy significant doctrinal problems associated with the group's activities and programs.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson addressed the group at the opening of the assembly Aug. 7. (See the full statement at the end of this story.) He was introduced by Sister Suzanne Wesley, CSJ, who heads Cardinal Ritter Senior Services in St. Louis.
At the end of the Archbishop's talk, he reiterated the importance of prayer in light of the recent Vatican assessment. His prayer, he said, is that "the dialogue between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the LCWR is not politicized but worked out within a community of faith."
Breaking from his prepared statement, he added that "as people of faith ... we have some lessons to look back upon" in the history of the Church, including the First Council of Jerusalem, in which Sts. Peter and Paul engaged in a dispute over circumcision. "They managed to work out things then and I pray that you will resolve things now."
Sisters Marjory Ann Baez and Marion Bill, two Daughters of Charity from Los Altos Hills, Calif., said they found Archbishop Carlson's comments to the group "hopeful."
"He showed a lot of appreciation for women religious in his own life and his ministry," said Sister Marjory. "And he challenged us to work our difficulties through like the early Church did. It was hopeful."
Sister Gene Poore, a Dominican from Columbus, Ohio, paused for reflection before she said of the Archbishop: "He was gracious in the words he had to say and I appreciated that."
The assembly itself, which has drawn participants including from the United States, Canada and Mexico, will be business as usual for the sisters, but "in some ways it will absolutely not be business as usual," said Sister Pat.
Besides keynote speaker Barbara Marx Hubbard and several panelists sprinkled throughout the assembly, the bulk of the conversation will be focused on a discernment of the Vatican's recent assessment. The sisters were asked to prepare for the assembly be reading the doctrinal assessment and other materials. They also have met with members of their regional LCWR groups in order to "bring the grassroots perspective" to the table, said Sister Pat Farrell. The discernment process will be led by two facilitators and former members of LCWR, Sister Mary Jo Nelson, a member of the Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, and Sister Katherine Gray, a Sister of St. Joseph of Orange, Calif.
If the group reaches a decision on how to respond to the assessment, they will announce it during a press conference Aug. 10. Just prior to that announcement, the leadership will speak with Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed to the Vatican to oversee the reform. Archbishop Sartain is then expected to come to St. Louis this weekend to meet with the national board of LCWR and discuss the outcome of the sisters' discernment process.
"Our hope is that we can at least discern what is the next best step," said Sister Pat Farrell at the end of the opening session Aug. 7. "Maybe we can discover several next best steps. I suspect we're in for a lot of surprises and a lot of rich moments together."
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's prepared comments for the LCWR Assembly
Sr. Suzanne, I would like to thank you for your introduction. It has been a great pleasure to work with Sister Suzanne the past three years and I am grateful for her leadership at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, especially our outreach to the elderly poor and those in need of housing.
As Archbishop of St. Louis, I am fortunate to work with a large number of religious communities. These are dedicatedindividuals who minister and serve every day in this archdiocese. In addition to the traditional ministry of teaching and medical care, women and men in consecrated life work with the civic community and the business community in serving those in need no matter what the challenge.
Religious are present to the poor at the St Patrick Center dealing with the homeless, in counseling the troubled, feeding the hungry, assisting the deaf, and working with St Vincent de Paul and Catholic charities — the list is endless.
Some of my fondest and earliest memories relate to the education I received from the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet and the Dominican Sisters in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. For the past two years I have worked closely with representatives of CMSM, LCWR and CMSWR in my responsibility as Chairperson of the USCCB committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
I realize this is a most important meeting for you and I pray that the dialogue between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and LCWR is not politicized but worked out within a community of faith. I assure you of my prayers and the prayers of everyone in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and I ask for the intercession of St Rose Philippine Duchene, a pioneering religious woman who opened the first school for young women west of the Mississippi in 1818.
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