Women religious meet to discuss ministry share support

MYRTLE BEACH–Ten years ago, many women religious in South Carolina felt like islands in the stream, separated by distance as they carried on their daily work.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation hoped to change that when they started the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative in 2003.

A three-day celebration Nov. 22-24 in Myrtle Beach was a chance to look back on the initiative’s first decade and give thanks for the myriad contributions sisters make on a daily basis.

Sister Judith Ann Karam, congregational leader for the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, said the initiative has been a great blessing.

“When we first started, the sisters here in South Carolina didn’t know each other,” she said. “The initiative has offered them a chance to build a community of service, to feel connectedness with each other and find common bonds between their different communities. We’ve learned that working together, we can serve more people.”

Sister Judith said the project also helps congregations with dwindling membership plan for the future so their ministries can carry on even after founders retire or move on to other assignments.

The weekend drew participants from South Carolina, Ohio, New Jersey and other states. They discussed ways to provide authentic Catholic witness in a materialistic culture that celebrates consumerism and often ignores the poor. The women learned about ongoing cultural and demographic changes that affect their work, including an increase in the number of single people, unmarried couples living together, and children being raised by their grandparents or in other non-traditional families.

There was also time for fun, including an ice-cream social set to beach music. During a prayer service, sisters exchanged candles, cards and other items and promised to pray for each other daily.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass and listened to concerns during a question-and-answer session that has become an annual tradition at the conference. He addressed the need to increase vocations, develop innovative ways to minister to Hispanics and other communities, and pass comprehensive legislation on immigration.

Sister Nancy Hendershot of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine offered a talk and prayer session that focused on the challenges of religious life.

She said women religious often deal with loneliness and fatigue, and sometimes homesickness if they are far from family, friends or their motherhouse.

They have long lines of ministry clients who need help, and the constant worry of whether there will be enough resources to help everyone. It is those times, Sister Nancy said, that the women should rely most on their faith in the love of God.

The initiative’s anniversary was a chance to reflect on their history and draw strength from the strong foundations built by those who came before them.

“We all know Jesus came into our world to share His love with us, we are God’s blessed children and that gives us the strength to share His love with others,” Sister Nancy said. “Sometimes faith is about trusting God in the dark when we simply don’t know or can’t see the way. United to God’s abundant love, we can and do face needs in South Carolina and in society. We are on a journey of ministry.”

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina also unveiled a book, “Stronger Together: Looking Back with Gratitude and Forward with Faith”, featuring personal and spiritual reflections on ministry in South Carolina by 63 sisters from 15 congregations.