A crowd of more than 130 sisters, associates and young adults gathered to engage in conversation about working together to strengthen the future of ministries as part of a National Catholic Sisters Week event in Cleveland on March 10.
Celebrate Catholic Sisters: Turning to Each Other brought together individuals from across Northeast Ohio to listen to presentations and discuss the opportunities that collaboration between sisters and lay partners can provide to help ministries thrive for years to come. Held at Magnificat High School in Rocky River, the event was organized in partnership with the Conference of Religious Leadership (CORL), Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland and the Coalition with Young Adults (CYA).
“We stand on your shoulders,” said Christina Hannon, young adult engagement officer for CYA, to the sisters in the crowd. “We look forward to continuing to learn today all about how we can be the best stewards of your mission.”
Sr. Marian Durkin CSA, a member of the SOCF board, CORL and CYA advisory council, welcomed attendees on behalf of the organizations.
“Today’s event builds on a rich history of collaboration among and within religious communities and partner organizations in the Diocese of Cleveland,” she said.
Bishop Nelson Perez joined the sisters in laughter and prayer to start the afternoon, offering a blessing to open the event.
“Blessed are you among women!” he said as he addressed the crowd. He went on to emphasize the importance of Catholic sisters’ work and its impact on the community.
“You live and express the joy of the Gospel every day,” he said. “You have touched the lives of so many in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.”
Attendees were called to consider four main guiding questions through which to frame the day’s discussion:
- How do we help one another find meaning?
- Whom am I called to accompany?
- Who do I need by my side?
- How do we behave when we walk together?
With these questions in mind, Alan Kolp, PhD, delivered his keynote address, “The Sacred Art of Encounter.” Kolp is chair of Faith and Life and a professor of religion at Baldwin Wallace University. In his presentation, he reminded the group that though the world is often volatile and complex, there is always opportunity to change the narrative.
“Our calling is to find the pain points and then touch them,” he said. “If we think about struggles through another perspective, we may find treasure instead of trouble.”
Treasure was one of four main lenses through which difficulty could be reframed, Kolp said. Others included touch, teaching and turning.
“The act of turning is about being open and willing to see a different point of view,” he said. “And once we open up, we have the ability to provide a healing touch.”
Kolp also discussed the need for older Catholic sisters to approach their work with younger generations as innovative teachers.
“To teach is to be willing to explore and experiment what may work in different ways with different groups,” he said. “Innovative thinking is like your life of faith – it’s not guaranteed to work, but the rewards are worth your efforts.”
Following the keynote, attendees had time to reflect with one another on Kolp’s talk.
“I feel like I’ve just woken up and seen the sunshine,” said Sr. Kate Hine SND, sister liaison for CORL.
The illumination continued with a panel discussion of pairs of sisters and their lay partners, each of whom reflected on their work in their respective ministry. They spoke about how collaborating with their partner helped shape their approach and strengthen their mission.
Sr. Eilis McCulloh HM, a case manager at the Cleveland Catholic Charities Office of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), and J.P. Graulty, a former volunteer with MRS through the Humility of Mary volunteer program, shared a story about their time at Villa Maria, motherhouse of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. They witnessed the daily practice of a young child of a refugee family, who would insist on stopping at the chapel each day to hold the hand of the statue of Mary. They drew on the inspiration of this family to drive their spiritual practice and dedication to their work.
Sr. Susan Zion OSU, founder and executive director of Ursuline Piazza, an HIV/AIDS ministry in Cleveland, and Rebecca McDaniel, program director for Ursuline Piazza, spoke about their unlikely partnership.
“I think of the old adage, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’” said Sr. Susan. “Rebecca came to me as a volunteer, and she had tattoos and piercings, which I typically would have thought was a bad sign. Her dedication and excellent work have helped me learn – don’t judge a girl by her tattoos!”
Sr. Karen Somerville SND is a former principal of St. Francis School in Cleveland. She was joined on the panel by current principal Scott Embacher, whom she helped mentor and guide into his current position.
“I knew the school was the right place for me,” said Embacher. “So I needed Sister Karen to help me fill the role and fulfill the mission in the best way I possibly could.”
The two spoke about how their partnership helped with not only the role transition, but Embacher emphasized how his faith journey was sparked by working with Sr. Karen. He closed the panel, and the day’s event, by thanking her for her leadership, and turned to the sisters in the crowd to tell them that, as young people working in ministry, they are inspired by sisters’ charism more than anything else.
“Light our hearts on fire,” he said. “Let us continue the great work you’ve already done.”
View all of our graphic recordings of the event below, on behalf of See Your Words LLC:
Catholic Sisters of Northeast Ohio: Quick Facts
Guiding Questions for Event & Discussion
Event Welcome & Blessing from Bishop Perez
Keynote: The Sacred Art of Encounter
Panel Discussion: Turning to One Another