By Courtney Zuendel, program coordinator, Generative Spirit
As a new member of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland (SOCF) team supporting our Generative Spirit initiative, I was fortunate enough to travel to the 14th annual Collaboration for Ministry Initiative conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, earlier this month. Co-hosted by the Sisters of Charity Foundations of South Carolina and Cleveland, the conference promotes intercongregational collaboration among Catholic sisters of varying orders, and explores sisters’ ongoing needs for successful, sustainable ministry.
At the conference, I had the privilege to hear Sr. Clare D’Auria, OSF, speak about the landscape of Catholic sisters. Sr. Clare is a certified spiritual director who has served in congregational and provincial leadership as a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia in Aston, PA. Sr. Clare addressed the fact that the form of religious life sisters have known is slowly fading away, and what the future holds is unclear – a journey that resembles walking a moonlit path. Like the women who waited at Jesus’ tomb on Holy Saturday, sisters wait in the “middle space.” The women waited at the tomb, even though the stone was still there, because they knew that God would move the stone.
For centuries, Catholic sisters and their congregations have had tremendous impact throughout Northeast Ohio, particularly in underserved communities. They have served as teachers, nurses and social workers, and founded schools, hospitals and social service nonprofits. Sisters have shared their mission and charisms of love, peace and justice by serving those that have been marginalized.
Sisters continue to serve the community in many ways, but are moving toward the “middle space” as many sisters transition out of active ministry. With only 21 percent of sisters in the Diocese of Cleveland under the age of 70, and 78 percent of sisters planning to retire in the next six years, it is critical that we develop ways to not only sustain the sisters’ ministries into the future, but also preserve their legacy.
If sisters can continue walking the moonlit path and wait in the middle space, Sr. Clare said, when the dawn comes, the sisters will know that they have contributed to the light. At SOCF, we want to accompany sisters as they walk this moonlit path, providing opportunities for lay people to learn from their wisdom and allowing for relationships between sisters and laity to grow in order to contribute to the coming dawn.
SOCF, in partnership with the Conference of Religious Leadership and Coalition with Young Adults, seeks to encourage and equip the next generation of lay leaders at sister-led, sister-founded nonprofit organizations in Northeast Ohio through the Generative Spirit initiative, supported generously by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The vision of Generative Spirit is to inspire lay leaders to follow the model of Catholic sisters in service and ministry, sustaining their impact and legacy for generations to come. As sisters transition out of active ministry, we believe that it is imperative to create opportunities for shared learning and relationship building between sisters and lay leaders, particularly young adults, for the sake of the sisters’ ministries and the communities those ministries serve.
Sr. Clare said that sisters can contribute to the future of their congregations’ charisms by finding the leisure to share their wisdom and choosing to speak prophetically. We believe that the dawn is on the horizon, and that through relationship building, information sharing, educational programming, convening, communication and research, we can help identify and form the next generation of lay leaders who are inspired to carry on the spirit of sisters and their congregations into the future.