Religious sisters look to women in the Gospel for guidance on changing roles

MYRTLE BEACH—Women religious in the United States are at a pivotal moment in their history. Members of many congregations are aging, new membership is declining and current religious are faced with questions of who will carry on their ministries and legacy after they are gone.

More than 60 religious sisters considered ways to face these events with a positive, grace-filled attitude during the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative Conference held Nov. 2-4 at the Marriott Grande Dunes. Sponsored by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, it has been held for 14 years.

The theme for this year’s event was “Pilgrimage to Happiness: Discipleship Along a Moonlit Path.”

The event included time for prayer, fun and fellowship. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass on Nov. 3 and led a question and answer session for the women.

The keynote speaker was Franciscan Sister Clare D’Auria, a certified spiritual director and staff member at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, Pa. She has directed retreats and conferences around the U.S. and overseas for more than 25 years, and has served on the staff of Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs for eight years.

Sister Clare’s presentation used the metaphor of the moon and its stages from waxing to waning to describe the changes in religious life and the different ways people can face change and challenges as they grow older.

She told the women that it is necessary for many of them to think about the ways their chosen vocation has changed over the years, and how they will share the charisms, or spiritual gifts, of their orders in the future.

She used the example of three women, presented in the Gospel of Luke, as examples of how to respond to change and new circumstances in life: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna. She said the Blessed Mother offers an example of how to listen to God and determine what He wants in our lives. St. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is a role model of compassion and patience who knows how to wait on God to bring forth His will in her life.

All photos by Christina Lee Knauss/Miscellany: More than 60 religious sisters attended the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative Conference held Nov. 2-4 in Myrtle Beach. The women participated in a night of fellowship along with prayer and in-depth discussions.

St. Anna offers the example of someone who is willing to accept changes in life, to respond to them with prayer and share the wisdom she has gained over the years.

“We need to think about sharing our wisdom and nurturing our charisms into a future we may not see,” Sister Clare said. “We need to continue to carry the message of the Gospel and of our charisms, and think about what discipleship looks like in the space we are in now.”

Sister Clare said the current state of religious life offers women religious a chance to live truly prophetic lives, as they see their original ministries and their congregations “stripped down to the bone” in many cases. She said the changing nature of religious life in the U.S. makes it necessary to consider the ways in which they interact with each other and with others in the Church.

“We are called to a deepening communion, and each of us has to reflect on what that means,” Sister Clare said. “Communion is about interacting relationally with our brothers and sisters, and embraces God’s rhythmic patterns of fruitfulness in our lives.”

On Nov. 4, participants heard a presentation on being “Young and Catholic” from Lexie Segrest, associate director of young adult ministry for the Diocese of Charleston, and Sarah Anderson, young adult leader at Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston.

They discussed the state of young adults in the Church today and said women religious have a lot to offer to those between the ages of 18-35. Both Segrest and Anderson said young adults have a lot of respect for the sisters because they offer an example of how to live truly holy lives. They encouraged the women religious to mentor young adults if possible and to include them in their ministries.

Sister Clare said serving as role models to the young is one way that women religious can continue their work and make sure their message and charisms continue.

“We are the remnant and our task now is to speak the word of hope to the world we find ourselves in,” she said. “There are new historical possibilities emerging for us. God is good and governs our future even when we have no idea what the future is going to bring. We know the future is meant to be the reign of God. We should turn the status quo on its head with words and the witnesses of our lives.”