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Convocation brings Women Religious, Laity Together

Sisters and lay partners share their perspectives across generations

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As part of the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative, representatives from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, Catholic women religious and lay partners recently met for an Intergenerational Convocation.

Intergenerational Convocation: Anchors and Innovators with a Heart for Mission was hosted in 2013 with the goal for sisters and lay partners to better understand one another’s needs and gifts, and to create a shared vision together of how to meet the needs of Cleveland’s most vulnerable through living out the Gospel message.

Following the convocation, two participants shared their reflections:

 

INSIGHT FROM A CATHOLIC SISTER

by Sister Kathleen Flanagan, OSU, leadership team, Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland

Intergenerational Convocation. Networking. Collaboration. Anchors. Innovators. Mission. These words can evoke questions, energy, confusion, excitement.

In late October last year, these words were brought to life through the engagement of women religious and lay collaborators, including young adults. The purpose of the day was to provide a forum where these groups could network, learn from each other, share stories, and become engaged in delving into issues facing anyone striving to be of service in the community.

In the planning stages of the event, women religious were seen as anchors and innovators, not only providing stability, but serving as initiators of new ideas. As a religious woman participating in the planning stages of this event it became clear to me that there were many anchors and innovators sitting around the table. How could we work together to bring about opportunity for addressing challenges facing all of us?

Rather than asking what do women religious bring to the table, it is better to ask what we women religious can learn from those sitting around the table.

Our lay collaborators are struggling with the same issues we have struggled with over the years: How can we meet the needs of those on the margins? What are roadblocks to living a life of service? How can we model communities of peace and hope? How do we live lives of servant leadership? These and many other questions served as the basis for the day. Did we find any answers? Not really. But, we did have engaging and energizing conversation. New friends were made, new groups of support were formed and ideas were generated.

Together we learned that each of us can no longer say, “I can do this myself.” We need each other as we move forward in making our community a better place to live for everyone. We need to mentor each other as we strive to live the Gospel life in a challenging and hungry world. We women religious need to acknowledge that our mission, whatever the congregation, will be sustained through the work of our lay collaborators.

 

A LAY PARTNER’S PERSPECTIVE

by Margaret Vogel, board member, Coalition with Young Adults

For centuries, women religious have been active disciples, transforming the world through systems of education, health care, advocacy and faith formation.

Today, a new generation of Catholic laity in Cleveland is responding to Christ’s call through counter-cultural living. These men and women are embracing sustainable lifestyles, serving as community organizers and ministry leaders, and lifting up their voices as advocates for the world’s most vulnerable.

Participants of the Intergenerational Convocation leaned into the example of discipleship lived by the women religious: a discipleship that both anchors and innovates. Participants also leaned into challenges of this age. Keynote speaker, Jim Lindsay, identified several of these challenges: decreased number of women religious; lack of invitation and inclusion of young adults; and the unmet need for supportive community as young adults attempt to live counter-culturally.

As the day progressed, a spirit of community blossomed in the face of these challenges. Mutuality and equality flourished as people were invited to dialogue and share their stories. Together, these contemporary disciples laughed, commiserated and dreamed.

As a lay partner at the planning table, observing these connections brought me great hope. I am a married lay woman in her forties who remembers the parish of her youth. We had four parish priests and a Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine convent on the grounds. Faith flowed like a river from the examples of discipleship around me. That late October day reminded me of the Church I once knew.

Our Church is still very much alive; it is female as much as it is male; it is both young and old; and it continues to transform the world. At the end of the day, participants were invited to leave words of encouragement for one another. Notes left for young adults expressed gratitude for their energy and passion, “I am awed by your service to God’s people, your search for deeper meaning,” wrote a sister. Some of the notes reflected the pain of marginalization, “We are struggling to overcome the same thing — to be included in community and our Church,” wrote a young adult to her peers and sisters.

Many notes to the women religious expressed thanksgiving for the courage of their witness: “Keep living/being/sharing your charism. We need it and we need your joy!”

Read more in the June 2014 issue of Called By Faith.

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