[Atlanta, GA] At the annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), held August 9-12, nearly 800 participants engaged in contemplative processes to explore the assembly theme of “Embracing the Mystery: Living Transformation.” The presentations and processes led the participants to new understandings of the unique opportunities open to US Catholic sisters at this time and how those opportunities may be explored. All of the speakers pointed to the need for contemplative engagement with the struggles and sufferings of the world.
Sister Liz Sweeney, SSJ set the context for assembly with an overview of integral consciousness and a look at the great evolutionary shift occurring in the world. She posited that Catholic sisters are equipped to assume a role in helping to bring about a shift in consciousness that would lead humanity toward living with ever greater inclusivity and love.
Author and consultant Dr. Margaret Wheatley shared with the assembly her personal experience of discovering how contemplation enables her to stay in the midst of the heartbreak of the world – not necessarily to alleviate it, but to be present to those who are suffering. Her own story shed light on how one may stay inserted in the suffering of others, not be overwhelmed with grief, and be a presence of love.
In her keynote address, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, a former LCWR president, also spoke of centering religious life leadership in contemplation, describing contemplation as “a response to the movement of Spirit that has been stirring in and among us for some time now, becoming increasingly manifest.” She added, “Where this contemplative impulse might be leading is less obvious. What will be the long-term effect of reclaiming and deepening the contemplative dimension of religious life, of exploring emerging consciousness?
“I believe that LCWR’s contemplative focus is once again positioning us to respond to a future impossible to anticipate,” she said. “The shift that has taken place in LCWR is not just for this moment, and, of course, not just for ourselves. I believe we are being led in this direction for the sake of the church and the world.” Sister Pat also shared with the participants her own personal experiences of contemplation in relationship to leadership.
Participants practiced contemplative dialogue in small groups following the two keynote presentations asking the questions: What is required of us as leaders having heard these addresses? What matters most for the future of our communities, religious life, and the world we serve?
Throughout the assembly participants were also invited to commit to spending time each day in personal and communal contemplation that placed them in deeper communion with the world, especially the places of great suffering and pain.
In her presidential address to the conference, Sister Marcia Allen, CSJ offered insights on how US women religious can face the challenges of smaller numbers in religious life today. Noting the dramatic shifts that will be required of Catholic sisters, she stated, “… we have now been thrust onto a different plane, a place where no rational thought, no logic, no well-thought out and time-tested strategies, plans and goals serve. Everything we have known about ourselves is but history at this point. It will turn out to be a hollow shell, a pyrrhic victory unless we enter into the challenge before us. We are thrust forward into a horizon – a horizon of expectation: a far-wide imaginal scape in which we can expect every possibility and potential that might await us. There before us lies a full panoply of opportunities. It seems to me that it is our responsibility here to enter into this horizon and to enter it with all our expectations.”
Later in a conversation on stage among LCWR’s three-person presidency and executive director, the conference leaders spoke of the need for LCWR to look at new ways of organizing in order to be as responsive as possible to its mission today and into the future. They also shared their insights on the transformation occurring within religious life today and on some of the ways in which Catholic sisters may most effectively serve the needs of the world today.
Dr. Shannen Dee Williams, assistant professor at the University of Knoxville, Tennessee also addressed the assembly on the existence of racism in the history of communities of US women religious. Following responses by LCWR members Sisters Anita Baird, DHM and Dawn Tomaszewski, SP, the participants renewed their commitment within a prayer service to build an inclusive church that welcomes ethnic and cultural diversity.
The assembly body unanimously affirmed a resolution that states: “Following in the footsteps of Jesus, we commit ourselves to examine the root causes of injustice, particularly racism, and our own complicity as congregations, and to work to effect systemic change as we struggle to establish economic justice, abolish modern-day slavery, ensure immigrant rights, promote nonviolence, and protect Earth and its biosphere. We pledge prayer, education, and advocacy and commit to using our collective voice, resources, and power in collaboration with others to establish justice which reflects God’s abundant love and desire that all may have life.”
Outstanding Leadership Award
During the assembly, LCWR bestowed the 2016 Outstanding Leadership Award on Sister Janice Bader who had most recently served as executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office. She is now the president of her community, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri.
Election of Officers
At the conclusion of the assembly, Sister Mary Pellegrino, the congregation moderator of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pennsylvania, assumed the office of LCWR president for 2016-2017.
The conference voted in Sister Teresa Maya, CCVI as its president-elect. Currently, she is the congregation leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.
LCWR has approximately 1350 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, who represent approximately 80 percent of the 49,000 Catholic sisters in the United States. The conference develops leadership, promotes collaboration within church and society, and serves as a voice for systemic change.
The texts of Sister Pat Farrell and Sister Marcia Allen as well as photos and many other resources from this event are available at https://lcwr.org/calendar/lcwr-assembly-2016.
Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM – LCWR Director of Communications
301-588-4955 (office) -- email@example.com
August 16, 2016