Leadership Reflects on LCWR

After the Conference, Sisters Judy, Catherine, Margaret, and Connie share what they enjoyed, what they were challenged by, and what gave them hope.


After the Conference, Sisters Judy, Catherine, Margaret, and Connie share what they enjoyed, what they were challenged by, and what gave them hope.

1. There Was a Younger Face to Leadership

Sister Catherine Walsh noted that the Leadership of LCWR was “obviously” younger: “there were fewer grey heads and I only saw one rollator,” she wrote.

The conference is also now in the hands of younger leaders. Mary Pelligrino is under 60 and newly elected Teresa Maya is not yet 50. Hope Leadership found this exciting; and, for Sister Judy Brunell, it was especially emotional.

“Teresa Maya is a highly educated woman who certainly represents bringing diversity into LCWR,” Sister Judy says. “When Teresa was elected, there was an energy in the group that said, ‘She’s the one.'”

The memory made Sister Judy burst into tears.

“That for me was kind of a consensus for acknowledging that there’s a new day coming in religious life,” she explained. “These women are bringing such leadership and such different vision of where religious life can go in the future. I found that inspiring and I found that exciting.”

2. There Was a Focus on Racism

“I really feel that, as a country, we keep sweeping the disenfranchised under the rug and not talking about it,” Sister Connie Kelly says.

Shannen Dee Williams’s talk on Racism and US Religious Life, Our Race is Now Live, provided welcome dialogue about race in our country. Currently at work on her first book, “Subversive Habits: The Untold Story of Black Catholic Nuns in the United States,” Shannen shared her findings and studies with the group.

“She had been encouraged to do research on the plight of black sisters in America. She went way back to the first sisters and how some communities weren’t accepting black sisters and how some were all black sisters,” Sister Judy recalls.

“The talk raised everyone’s awareness in a very different way than it had previously,” Sister Margaret says. “The way it was presented –from how there was racism within religious congregations not just congregations owning slaves– was significant.”

After the talk, the group created prayer chains on which they wrote their personal reflections on racism. They then participated in a contemplative walk and witness for an end to racism and violence in our country. The session left Sister Connie hungry for more.

“At Mount St. Michael’s Academy, the kids were always telling me that they were always being rejected by society because they were black and Latino,” Sister Connie says. “I got that, I could see that, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Action steps are part of our LCWR Justice Resolution this year. We need to have some kind of action, constant action. We can’t just talk about it and leave it at that.”

“I think as women religious we do set an example for the world,” she adds. “We do it well sometimes, but I think now more than ever we have to be an even stronger witness. So, if racism is really an issue –and it is– we can’t just talk about it. Sure, we need to study it and figure out what are the systemic causes, but we need to go out and do something about it. Many women religious demonstrated at Selma or at other marches; many of them are now dying and dead. Now it’s up to us. How do we get the world to see that there are things that need to be changed, and how do we get the world to change them?”

3. There Was a Lot of Talk about the Future

“I found Marcia Allen’s address [on the current state of women religious] bold,” Sister Catherine wrote. “I am not sure how to characterize it except to say it was not the usual feel-good address, but ‘here are the facts of who we are, let’s move onto transformation, knowing and accepting who we are.’ She led us to begin to envision a conference that is smaller, to consider creating a new plane of growth; a reinvention of what was. She not only spoke but integrated contemplation and table discussion.”

According to Sister Margaret, the talk was “in touch with reality” without being too “doom and gloom.”

“It was a look at reality and how we transform ourselves,” she says.

When it comes to envisioning the future of LCWR, transformation seems inevitable. Sisters at the conference agreed that, as congregation numbers shrink, the cost and distance of the conference can become more burdensome.

“I think a person at my table said it well,” Sister Judy says. “She noted that maybe this kind of a convention/conference has seen its day. Maybe we’re ready for a new kind of interaction in coming together.”

The theme of transformation was especially salient to Leadership, and not just in terms of LCWR. Sister Connie networked with other sisters under sixty. Sister Judy attended a breakout session on congregations who have made the decision to come to a historical end.

“I didn’t go so much because I felt that’s where we are now, but I went because I wanted to know how did people who are there get there,” Sister Judy says.

As much as she was moved by her “deepening group,” she was also inspired by the mood she saw at Sister Connie’s.

“The young people who were networking, it’s clear to me that they’re much closer to each other than older generations of religious,” Sister Judy says, admitting that the connections are not as well organized or as intentional. “They have a history of using these convocations as an opportunity to get together and know each other and share what they’re struggling with or dream about the future. It’s happening in the Dominican Order, but also across the country. I think these are the seeds of the new concept of religious life. I don’t know where that will go, but I find it very exciting. I want to support it.”

4. The Conversation Might Carry into Planning Days

As Leadership is currently on planning days, it seems that the theme of transformation might stick with them. As Sister Judy says with regard to LCWR, “There was a feeling that we’re ready for change.”

When asked if she was ready for change, Sister Judy replied, “I sure hope so. Because there’s no way you’re going to stop it!”

We know the old adage: nothing is permanent except change. But, what does this mean for Hope now?

“Change is the big question that we have before us for planning days,” Sister Judy says. “Not so much in terms of LCWR, but I think it’s all related.”

“At our last assembly, we asked two questions: How is God calling us from the future? and What is ours to do? I think we need to let go of what needs to be let go of and plant seeds that can possibly grow into a new generation of religious life,” Sister Judy shares. “Do we give over the gifts we have and how best do we give them over so that the gospel continues to be preached, the poor continue to be served, and God in our lives continues to be affirmed?”

As Sister Margaret left the Conference, she noticed a sign in the airport that read Change Is Good; Transformation Is Better. She couldn’t help but see the correlation with the community she had just come from, and Hope itself.

“It’s another sign that what we’re doing and saying is being accepted and paralleled in the broader world,” Sister Margaret says. “Some congregations are thinking more globally; people representing that province might be from another country. Some are building covenant relationships with other congregations. There are many ways of ‘transforming’ and questioning how we can be transformed. That’s what’s being worked on now.”

5. There Was Hope

For all of the seriousness of LCWR, the Sisters are quick to note that hope abounded.

“There is life at LCWR,” Sister Connie says. “We’re actually looking to move it into the future, whatever that means. It was a really prayerful experience, an even more contemplative approach as we focused on transformation. That’s what we’re being called to do in ourselves, our congregations, LCWR, and the world. We need to get our acts together!”

Sister Judy agreed.

“I consider it a real privilege in a sense to be able to have this kind of experience and to be with other leaders who are struggling with the same issues and are experiencing the same joys and sorrows in their leadership roles,” she says. “You certainly do come away with the sense that there’s something bigger out there than our own little world, there’s something bigger beyond us in paying attention to what we do and looking for what our response will be.”

“There was a lot of hope in the room,” Sister Connie concluded. She admits that, yes, the future of religious life can be scary to think about. But, she says, it’s important to not lose sight of hope.

“Maybe religious life as we know it has to die out so that something new can come forward,” Sister Connie says. “It’s scary. But there was a lot of life and hope in the room. And, it’s my family.”

6. They Had a Good Time

The LCWR meeting this year began with the chaos of the Delta shutdown. Fortunately, Hope was only delayed two hours on that Monday, and they made it to Atlanta in time to see some of the city. (“We realized how lucky we were when some were delayed two days,” Sister Catherine writes.) All four went to the Georgia Aquarium –Sister Judy’s favorite– (“The variety and beauty; it was almost mystical, it was so beautifully done,” Sister Judy gushes. “It was such a nice way to experience these animals and how they were being cared for.”) They saw the Olympic Park, Sisters Judy and Connie went to the Museum of Civil Rights, and Sisters Margaret and Catherine went to the Coca Cola museum. Sister Catherine drank a flight of bourbon. Sister Margaret bought a t-shirt that was made out of five recycled bottles. (Delightfully, it’s “softer than a normal t-shirt.”) At the Conference, they all caught up with friends from other congregations.

“We had a good time,” Sister Margaret says.

As they should. The team is now in planning days.


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Written by Gina Ciliberto

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