Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Catholic San Francisco Article

Younger nuns envision a future much smaller, but still bright
July 17th, 2013By Valerie Schmalz
Catholic San Francisco

Some of Sister Chero Chuma’s friends back in Kenya think she wasted her visa to the United States – becoming a religious and joining an order of mostly elderly nuns in the Seattle area. 

“It is amazing when you feel a call and you respond to a call. It is not that you choose to do that,” said the Sister of St. Joseph of Peace who recently enrolled in the nursing program at Seattle University. “You want to say we are crazy joining right now,” said Sister Chero, whose order has a peace cross but no formal habit. 

Sister Chero was in California for a Giving Voice national gathering of about 75 religious from 30 different congregations at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont over the July 4 weekend. Giving Voice was created by women religious in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are members of orders with diminishing membership – orders they feel they were called to join despite that demographic decline. 

Giving Voice “provides a peer group in religious life for women religious who probably don’t have a lot of peers in their own congregations – strengthening their own sense of call in religious life,” said Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Kristen Mathes, 47, a founder of the group that began in 1997. 

“When I was discerning religious life, somehow through the Internet, I found out this group existed. The fact there were enough young nuns to form this group gave me the freedom to listen to the Holy Spirit,” said Sister Susan Francois, 41, a Sister of St. Joseph o f Peace, who entered at 34. 

A 2009 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found just 1 percent of all perpetually professed religious women were under 40. Five years ago the most common median age of religious women’s congregations was 76, according to the study commissioned by National Religious Vocation Conference.

“They’ll pray, and at 8 o’clock they go to bed,” said one young religious. 

The future is likely to be “inter-congregational” living, with religious from different orders sharing both living space and spirituality with each other, said Sister Susan, organizer of the Belmont event. 

The key is “being open to whatever God can reveal to us. We can’t imagine yet what new things are to come,” said Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Julia Walsh, a 31-year-old blogger and religion teacher at Aquinas High School in La Crosse, Wis. Her order will celebrate 135 years of perpetual eucharistic adoration in August, she said. While her congregation’s average age is in the 70s, there are eight in their 30s, 10 in their 40s and 10-15 in their 50s, she said. 

However, most of those in Giving Voice are one of two or three below 50. The CARA study found approximately half of U.S. vocations were to traditional congregations that make up less than 20 percent of orders and affiliate with the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. The other half were to some of the 400 orders affiliated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious – most of which do not have habits and have much less structured community prayer. 

“I think the Holy Spirit knows we need both because both are a valid way,” said Sister Susan. “One is a more devotional, pious way, meeting that traditional religious need. Some are called the way I am called to be in the world for the world but to live simply.” 

For St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Sarah Heger: “When I decided to enter, that was home, that was where I belonged.” The fifth grade teacher, who graduated from Fontbonne University run by her order in the St. Louis area, and entered in 2005, says Giving Voice provides a peer group she can call on around the country. “Religious life is going to look so different,” said Sister Sarah. “To know there are people in that place of transition with me is just awesome.”     

From July 19, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco. - See more at:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Burning Questions from the Opening Ritual

We posted our burning questions
in our meeting space
On Friday night we were invited to reflect on the following questions: 
  • What burning questions about mission and ministry do we need to ask at this time?
  • ¿Cuáles preguntas referentes a la misión o al ministerio debemos hacer en este momento?
We then wrote our questions on index cards and offered them in our opening ritual. What follows is a collection of these questions.  Thanks to Maria Cimperman and Juliet Mousseau for grouping the questions by common threads.

Directions and Practicalities
  • How are we to realize our ministry in the future if we are so concerned with bringing in a “good” salary to our congregations?
  • ¿Somos realmente un testimonio vivo, un evangelio encarnado y una esperanza en medio de donde estamos? ¿Por qué cada vez es más difícil tener vocaciones y deserciones?
  • Se tiene un límite de edad para ingresar más vocaciones que surgen ser mayores. Algunas son indocumentadas. Tienen deudas grandes por la Universidad. ¿Cómo hacer o qué hacer con ellas?
  • Como iglesia, ¿cómo acompañamos a los más pobres en nuestras comunidades y no solo los invitamos hacer voluntarias o dar un servicio, donde algunas veces se sienten criticados?
  • Do I have enough love for my ministries? Do I become a witness among people I work with? Does my mission bring me close to God’s people?
  • Where are we most needed as young women religious? How can we work together in those spaces?
  • How can we as women religious become core communities for the people of God, energizing us all for the mission of Jesus?
  • Which lines are necessary to be crossed for us to continue living the gospel truth?
  • How to discern ministry from my gifts, my needs, my timing, and at the same time fit the community’s mission (which we often can’t articulate)?
  • The mission before Vatican II Council was to those who did not know Jesus. That is not the same right now. What is our mission now to the people in the diverse environment?
  • In light of the complexities of our world today, how do we strive forward in the liminal space (the dawn of the future) responding to our communal desires? (mission~ideal, ministry~reality, mission~ministry)
  • How are we called by the future to live the Gospel in response to both the needs of the present and future?
  • How much am I willing to compromise for the sake of the mission? Do I need to be more intentional?
  • How do we balance ministry to self, ministry to our sisters, and ministry to all God’s creation?
  • How can we build up support when we are so few younger-newer members?
  • How do we balance our desire to devote ourselves to ministry with the needs of our aging communities?
  • How can we minister together with different communities and share resources?

Mission and Vision
  • Jesus is the Mission…How can we younger/newer members envision and live out his mission without feeling overwhelmed by the decline and loss related to decreased membership in our communities?
  • How can we find the Spirit of God at work amidst the changing reality (and decreasing #’s) of religious life and how can we vision with and follow the Spirit?
  • ¿De qué Dios hablamos a nuestro pueblo hoy?
  • In a time of ever increasing human need for God, for justice and peace, how do we go about it, both locally and globally, with the few people we are? How do we continue what has begun? How do we focus on mission?
  • Whose voices do we welcome in the inner most heart of our hearts?
  • Where is the place that God calls us today in our world? What are some needs in developing countries when a group of community or religious women want to serve?
  • How do we keep alive our missions and ministries as we journey into the future of religious life?
  • What does it mean to be prophetic?
  • As a newer member, how can I encourage my sisters to dream new dreams and visions with me? (considering age/fewer new women)
  • “The mission has the church/congregation, not that the congregation has a mission.” 1. How does this statement resonate with those present here? 2. What does the new universe story have to do with mission?
  • What is our mission today at this time in the midst of many things going on in our world? How can we join together in being today’s mission the Holy Spirit is calling forth?
  • Where is the Spirit moving our hearts to be?
  • Is our mission evident? If not, how can we make our mission manifest?
  • How are we called to bring a deeper awareness for the need for a strong spiritual foundation and fill the needs of those who thirst for that spiritual fulfillment?
  • What needs in our world are calling for our attention? How are we going to address them?
  • How are we to live (which includes ministry but also community and prayer) in a way that best responds to the cries of this our time?

  • ¿Cuál es el lugar de la vida religiosa hoy? ¿Cuál es el papel de la mujer consagrada en la iglesia hoy y del futuro?
  • ¿Sigue siendo la vida religiosa significativa para el mundo hoy? 
  • ¿Estoy consciente del llamado en vida? ¿Cómo vivo la gracia en medio del pueblo de Dios? ¿Cuál es mi posición delante de Dios en este llamado?
  • ¿El lugar en el que estoy (estamos) responde a mi llamado inicial?
  • ¿Cuál es la misión para la que Dios nos preparó ahora, en estos tiempos de cambio y nuevas ideologías?
  • ¿Cómo encontrar el camino donde se viva la misión profética de la vida religiosa en un ministerio que la Iglesia institucional “Jerarquía” no acepta?
  • Tomando como ejemplo de Papa Francisco,  ¿qué re-ajustes o cómo podemos recrear nuestra misiones y ministerios como vida religiosa?
  • ¿De qué forma debemos vivir nuestro profetismo hoy para transformar nuestra realidad de pobreza y violencia en el mundo?
  • How can we become more about mission and focus less on the ministry (the work) that we do? And how can we let people see that we are women of mission and not just focus on the work we do?
  • How can I be contemplative and active in these days? How can I speak about God when God seems so far?

  • Where in the world would we not go?
  • How are we called to use our treasure (time, talent, property, financial resources) for the kin-dom of God—those in poverty and the margins?
  • In our increasingly polarized society and Church, how can we continue to be the prophetic voice/presence while also working towards healing the divides? Or at least bring people to a greater ability to listen with respect?
  • How do we engage mission in the 21st century in REAL collaboration with our lay partners?
  • As our urban centers continue to grow, it seems so does the spiritual hunger and thirst of the laity. How can we retell the Gospel in a way that resonates with those needs?
  • With our numbers decreasing, how can we as women religious enlarge our circles of “membership” to meet the needs of those we are called to serve?
  • How do we form sustainable models of ministry, which creatively meet the needs of the world today? How can we change or begin to change the mind set of society from individualism to a real sense of community—with all in mind?
  • How will our Church honor the call to ministry of women, laity, those who are different or oppressed?
  • What is the space of intersection between: What gifts/passions/resources do we/I have to offer? And What are the human/Church/world needs where I/we are?
  • How can we do our ministry, according to/reading the signs of the times or signs of the market? Como vamos a hacer maestro ministerios de acuerado a los signos de los tiempos o del Mercado?
  • Does the church need us to step back so others may grow and lead and serve?
  • How do/can we really reach out to those most in need?
  • How can we (continue to) keep ourselves open to the desires and invitations of God heard through the most vulnerable and respond wholeheartedly in an ever-changing world?
  • How can the Church be relevant for young people today?
  • How can we make an impact/change in today’s reality? How can we work more together with other religious denominations and rejected people such as gays, lesbians, and divorced?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Harvests of the Gathering

On Monday morning, our speaker, Yolanda Tarango, CCVI, and Giving Voice Core Team member Susan Francois, CSJP offered harvests of our four days together.

Yolanda Tarango, CCVI Harvest of Conference:

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Susan Francois, CSJP Harvest of Conference:

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Susan used images as part of her talk in a PowerPoint.  A video of her harvest is also available.

Sunday Afternoon Witness Talks

At the end of our program on Sunday, three Giving Voice Sisters--Renee Kettering, RSM, Julie Christensen, CSJ, and Kristin Matthes, SNDdeN--shared what was emerging for them in the form of witness talks.  Listen to two of the talks below by clicking on the arrow/play button.

Julie Christensen, CSJ

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Kristin Matthes, SNDdeN

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Saturday Afternoon Witness Talks

We ended our program on Saturday by listening to witness talks by two GV Sisters as they shared what was emerging for them through out time together.

Adriana Calzada, CCVI Witness Talk

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Anna Keim, SNJM Witness Talk

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Intercultural Panel

On Saturday afternoon, three Giving Voice Sisters--Lourdes Gomez, CCVI, Chero Chuma, CSJP, and Julia Walsh, FSPA, shared their reflections on living the mission in our intercultural reality.  Listen to the talks by Chero and Julia below by clicking on the play/arrow buttons.

Chero Chuma, CSJP on Intercultural Reality

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Julia Walsh, FSPA, on Intercultural Reality

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Yolanda Tarango, CCVI also offered a response to the panel.

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Saturday morning podcasts on Charism

Saturday morning Yolanda Tarango, CCVI shared her reflections on charism.  Her sharing set the stage for our creative and energetic conversations throughout the weekend.  Juliet Mousseau, RSCJ and Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP offered responses to her reflections.

Yolanda Tarango, CCVI on Charism:

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Juliet Mousseau, RSCJ Response:

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Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP Response:

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Friday Night Podcasts: Yolanda Tarango, CCVI and Leslie Keener, CDP

Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can now listen to the opening reflections in Mission and Ministry by our wonderful speaker Yolanda Tarango, CCVI and Giving Voice Core Team member Leslie Keener, CDP.  Simply click on the arrow/play buttons below!

Yolanda Tarango, CCVI on Mission & Ministry

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Leslie Keener, CDP - GV Response

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Listen to more talks from our 2013 and 2011 National Gatherings by visiting our GV Podcast Channel.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sarah Heger, CSJ - Ministry Story Telling

On Saturday Sarah Heger, CSJ shared stories from teaching under resourced middle school girls in the inner city as part of our morning prayer. 

“Did Jesus Poop?  Questions Fifth Graders Ask.”  This is going to be the title of one of my first books.
It will be filled with questions ranging from the scholarly and profound, to the insane and silly.

“Do venus fly traps excrete?”

“Can plants have twins?”

“If God created everything, did God create the devil?”

And my favorite from this year, asked on multiple occasions, believe it or not, “And, Sister Sarah, what does that look like in the transgender population?”  How, may I ask, do they manage to fit these questions into the fifth grade curriculum?

I teach very obviously, curious, fifth grade girls at an all girls middle school in the city of St. Louis.  Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty by providing a holistic education for under-resourced urban adolescents.  More simply put, our goal is to offer students whose families fall below the poverty line a chance at a college education starting with a solid middle school base.  Our graduate support program follows them with educational, financial, and other supports through high school and into college.  Our girls are at school from 7:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening.  They get breakfast, lunch, and snack, mandatory study hall staffed with teachers and volunteers, and enrichment programs ranging from culinary arts and hip hop or praise dance, to media club and basketball.  The girls put in a very long day, as does the staff.

When I first interviewed for the job, and the interview committee was describing the work load, I thought, “Okay, no problem.”  I had taught everything from kindergarten through high school, English as a second language, special education, I’ve got this.  No college class could have prepared me for that first year. 

I had kids rolling around on the floor in the back of my room, students who wouldn’t come in from the hall.  My birthday in mid-September started with a girl getting punched in the stomach in the middle of the classroom.  It wasn’t as if they were unattended—I was standing right there. 

Every day for the first three months of that year, I felt like I had done nothing but fight all day.  My body literally ached.  By mid-October I was sure I was either going to quit or get fired before Christmas.  I just wasn’t sure which was going to happen first.

That same year I had a student named Melissa.  My heart will always have a little place that belongs to Melissa.  Well, Melissa was one of those students who wouldn’t even come into the classroom to start the day.  She was a bully of bullies and never doing what she was supposed to.  Because she was so defiant, she was one of those kids that maybe a little reverse psychology would have worked on, except that she was so smart.  She was a born leader, but she was never leading anyone in a very positive direction. 

Teachers use this great thing called proximity control as a classroom management tool.  It basically means, when a student is off task, when I, as the authority figure in the room, walk close, my proximity should be enough to stop the behavior.  I’m sure it works in some buildings, but my girls are more apt to continue yelling at each other right around me.  I was ALWAYS walking near Melissa.  When I would get near Melissa, though, she would physically flinch and pull away.  I’m very confident that she thought she was going to get hit.  I imagine that corporal punishment was the norm at home. 

One day, in September, we were in the middle of our week of standardized testing, filling in all of those little bubbles, and here’s Melissa with her head down, not doing anything.  Well, she had been removed to the office to test most of the other sessions already, so I was ready to remove her again.  But, I went over and crouched by her desk, “Melissa, I notice you have your head down.  Are you feeling okay?” 
“No, I’m not,” she said.  “I have a terrible headache.”

Now my head is going in a million directions because I have this thought, but I’m not sure how it’s going to go.  “Did you know,” I ask, “that there are these spots on your hand that you can rub, and it will help your headache go away?  I rub my hands when I get a headache and it really helps.  Would it be okay if I try it on your hands?”

She slouched back in her desk and put her hands out.  I sat and rubbed her hands for a minute or two, after which she said she felt better and started working on her test.  From that moment of that day, she never once pulled away from me again.  I don’t think she had ever been touched in a way that was intended to heal.  Not only did she not pull away, she totally had my back.  I remember a couple of months later we were taking a class field trip.  “Sister Sarah,” she asked, “Are you sure that jacket is going to be warm enough?”

Unfortunately, Melissa was asked to leave our school the next year.  But, I still keep tabs on her.  I don’t know if that moment, that year, meant anything to her, but I know it totally changed me.

I know that how I greet each student as they come into my room in the morning, makes all the difference in the world.  Even if a student is totally out of uniform—wearing the same neon knee socks I’ve asked to her to leave at home for the past three days—without homework, and cussing as she comes down the hall—the first thing that she needs from me is a smile, a high five or a hug, and a, “Good morning.  How are you today?  How was breakfast?”  We can deal with the other things later.

I know that if a student has her head down, it might be defiance.  Or, it could be that she is tired since her family was evicted from their home last night and they were out until 2:00 a.m. trying to find somewhere to stay.  Or maybe the student is worried about her alcoholic mom who is home alone all day without anyone there to make sure she is safe. 

I teach tough kids with tough lives.  I can’t imagine growing up the way these girls do.  And I can’t usually change what they are going to go home to on any given night.  But, I can make sure that they have the best chance at providing something different for themselves when they have a chance.  I can make sure that for the ten hours a day that they are with us, they have a safe place to be a kid, to play, to laugh, to take risks that are safe, to ask questions, to know compassion, to be told that they are smart, and capable, and most of all, that they are loved.

Every Friday, before the girls go home, I give them a blessing.  When they are all packed up and ready to go, I put my hands on each girl’s shoulders.  I thank God for some gift she has, ask for some blessing that she might need.  I pray that the angels keep her and her family safe over the weekend.  And I end by telling her that I love her and that I already can’t wait to see her on Monday.

My second year there, first Friday of school, I had just blessed all of the fifth graders and sent them home when in came some of the sixth graders.  “Sister Sarah, we’re here for our blessings.”  At some point in the year, inevitably some of the students start giving me blessings, too.  Trisha every week would put her hands on my shoulders and say, “Sister Sarah, you’re awesome and amazing, awesome and amazing, awesome and amazing, awesome and amazing.”  She’ll be an eighth grader this year, and we still call each other awesome and amazing when we pass in the hallway.

I’ve learned that I am both the sower and the seed.  I’ve learned as the sower that just as every seed has specific planting instructions, so does every child.  I can’t scatter the seeds and hope for the best.  I have to study each little seed, and what it needs to grow to its potential.  To think about soil depth and sunlight, water and temperature.  I have to teach math to Ana this way and to Abby this way.  I have to call Alyssa’s mom every time she forgets her homework, but only call Crissie’s mom when it’s really necessary to do so.  Sometimes the plants grow on the first try.  Sometimes I have to replant.  And replant.  And replant.  Always I have to believe that they will grow.

As often as I am the sower, I am also the seed.  Children don’t know what they’re doing when they’re planting seeds.  The fifth graders and I are in charge of our gardens at school—we replant A LOT.  When I give them bits of myself to plant, I end up in places I never would have planted myself, in situations where I’ve been pecked at and stepped on and choked.

But, I end up in some pretty cool places, too.  Sometimes I end up in good soil, growing right next to a student who is in exactly the right place, reaching for the sun, and shining brilliantly.  Remembering that one plant is enough to get me up in the morning, excited to stand at my classroom door, and to greet each child with a handshake or a hug and a, “Good morning.  How was breakfast?”

Introducing ... GVTV! (and video of harvest by Susan Francois, CSJP)

One creative idea that came out of the Open Space on "visibility" from the National Gathering was to create a Giving Voice YouTube Channel called GVTV.

The first video has already been posted.  You can now watch the PowerPoint and listen to the recording of the Harvest of the conference offered by GV Core Team member Susan Francois, CSJP on Monday morning on the last of our four days at the gathering.

Stay tuned for more GV videos to come!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Keep Checking the Blog

The conference planning team will continue to sort through and post pictures, talks, podcasts, etc... from the gathering over the next week.  Be sure to come back and see what other amazing things happened in California!

GV Harvest of National Gathering - Susan Francois, CSJP

On Monday morning, GV Core Team member Susan Francois, CSJP gave a Harvest of the fruits of our four days together.  Click on this link to read her words (and see the pictures she reflected upon).

Anna Keim, SNJM - Witness Talk

Each day we asked a few Giving Voice Sisters to share how they were experiencing the national gathering and what was emerging for them in a short "Witness Talk."  On Saturday afternoon, Anna Keim, SNJM gave the following Witness Talk:

I'm struck by the notion that we are called to be with Jesus at the cross and at the rising.  Mary Magdalene was at both places.  I find it especially significant that Mary Magdalene is the first person, a woman, to be missioned by Jesus after the resurrection.  Mary Magdalene, one of my favorite saints, has unfortunately been misrepresented by early scholars who mistook her for the woman of ill-repute who washed the feet of Jesus with her hair, the woman who is introduced the chapter before Mary Magdalene is introduced.  Whether this was an honest mistake, or a premeditated expression of misogyny, we'll never know.  These unfortunate circumstances undermine the fact that Mary Magdalene was a significant leader amongst the disciples and a dear friend.

I believe Mary Magdalene is a great example of leadership for us as women in the church and whatever our charism, or "gift," we are all called to share in the mission of bringing the good news to all those whom we serve.  As previously stated, we share a common mission of bringing the kindom of God. Most of us have a good grasp of our own charism of our respective communities thanks to Vatican II.

I think a relevant question for today is how do we as sisters continue the mission of Christ through our charism as leaders in our church, our world, and our communities?  In a time of great suffering, uncertainty, and turmoil in our church and in our world, women religious who are already adept at walking on the margins of society, have an opportunity to bring healing, reconciliation, and justice to others like never before.  Mary Magdalene probably suffered as a woman leader amongst the disciples.  not unlike many of our own women religious of past and present.  She was a woman before her time who struggled against the socio-cultural paradigm of 1st century Palestine.  I think women religious struggle today with patriarchy but also struggle with how to make our charisms visible and relevant to an ever changing church and world in chaos.  But if charism is energy, then we should allow that energy to flow freely.  Letting go of the old structures and habits is part of that free flow of energy, a firing and melting of all that which no longer serves us.  Combining our energies is also allowing that energy to flow freely.  what would it look like if we combined and collaborated more in our ministries?  What if we combined more living arrangements?  I think sometimes we like to reinvent the wheel.  How many religious congregations have produced identical documents on human trafficking? Maybe it is through collaboration that we can finally rid ourselves of hierarchical models and mind sets  and demonstrate new models of leadership for our church and for our world.

All of our charisms are immensely beautiful.  Once people are touched by them, they become mesmerized and inspired.  Indeed, our charisms are inflamed with the Holy Spirit.  The foundress of my congregation, Marie-Rose Durocher, had a favorite scripture passage from Luke.  I have come to cast fire on the earth, how I wish it were already kindled.  If that isn't energy, I don't know what is.  How can we cast fire through our charisms as women leaders In our church and in our world?

Julia Walsh, FSPA - crumpled (poem)

At the end of her talk as part of a panel on our intercultural reality on Saturday, Julia Walsh, FSPA shared this poem as a reflection on her ministry at an all boys predominantly African American inner city high school.


chiseled like 24,
sounds like 13
he is light, no dark
mission made home                              stand up
                                                            flat, soaking hair
                                                            qualified, hidden pride
                                                            love, firm, consistent, kind
glares, eyes rolled
glazed, head tilts
another awkward body
sits like stew on a desk                   know this because
                                                            some people decided
                                                            it’s very IMPORTANT
                                                            outsider, no click out- attitude
flaming-hots litter
weeds waste round
astroTurfed field
but no books or machines              a phone call home for cheaters
                                                            so lift every voice and sing
                                                            the bible: not a pillow
                                                            books of Tubman, Tutu, and King
homework, undone
sun-faded dreams
lockers flood forgotten
sexting, phones, gum                     inculturation, weird recognition
                                                            street-tough division five hoops recruit-
                                                            i see you: playful, inner child. i feel you: perfect joy.
                                                            songs with Thea and to Christ, prayers
heating that swag
boy, girl. G.
plagiarized promises
just a typical teen                             sheets of paper, cloth
                                                            between both, tired work lives
                                                            body, shudders through night
                                                            crumpled by questions, concerns
                                    wad up
                                    the note
                                    book paper
                                    and air
                                    ball toward the

By Julia Walsh FSPA

Monday, July 8, 2013

Press Release: Young Nuns Imagine Ministry with the Poor and Marginalized

Press Release
July 8, 2013

Young Nuns Imagine Future Ministry With Poor and Marginalized

BELMONT, CA—Just two weeks after the “Nuns on the Bus” national tour ended in San Francisco, another group of Roman Catholic Sisters—these Sisters of the younger variety, aged 25 to 49—gathered in the Bay Area for the Giving Voice National Gathering.  These “young nuns,” most of whom are the youngest members of their religious orders, prayed and reflected on the future of mission and ministry in the Church and society in the 21st Century. 

Sister Yolanda Tarango, CCVI—Congregation Leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and a renowned Latina theologian—shared her insights on the conference theme of “Mission and Ministry in the 21st Century.”  “This is a beautiful and challenging time in religious life,” Sister Yolanda told conference participants on Saturday morning, “because we can be part of this transition time. The challenge is to read it right, with the eyes of faith and the strength of history.”

“Throughout our history, Sisters have been called to work with people living on the margins of society,” said Sister Jessi Beck, a 32 year old member of the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Dubuque, Iowa.  Sister Jessi teaches 2nd grade at an inner city Catholic School in Chicago and is a member of the conference planning team.  “Today the needs are growing as the gap between the rich and the poor expands. Having the wisdom of my sisters in community and a support group of peer age sisters in Giving Voice helps me to respond to the needs of our day.” 

The four-day national gathering brought together Sisters from more than 30 congregations of women religious from across North America.  “We love our Sisters in our own communities, but having time with peers who understand what it is to live in similar circumstances affirms and strengthens us in our vocations,” said 32 year old Sister Sarah Kohles, a Sister of St. Francis and a member of the Giving Voice leadership team. 
“Mission and ministry is both one of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of religious life,” said 31 year old Sister Sarah Heger, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet from St. Louis, Missouri. In her daily ministry, Sister Sarah teaches fifth grade girls at an all girls middle school for under-resourced students in St. Louis with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty through education.  About the Giving Voice gathering, she said: “The opportunity to come together as young, excited, professional sisters, to share our stories, to buoy each other's dreams, to pray together about the ministries God would invite us to pursue into the future is a conversation aching to be lived.”

Conference participants creatively imagined what the future ministry of Catholic Sisters might look like given the growing number of people living in poverty.  “In today’s society, the needs of the marginalized are being left out and services are being cut,” said Sister Jessica Taylor, a 41 year old Sister of Providence from Seattle, Washington.  Sister Jessica professed perpetual vows last year and is earning a graduate degree in Pastoral Counseling.  “It is our mission to be the voice of the voiceless and to help those in need.”
Participants also pondered the gifts and challenges of our increasingly intercultural reality. The Sisters themselves represented this reality.  Simultaneous translation allowed English and Spanish speaking participants to share in their own language making this a bilingual conference.
Throughout the four days Sisters shared insights gained from a wide variety of ministry experiences.  31 year old Sister Chero Chuma, a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and nursing student at Seattle University, co-hosts a weekly radio program in her native language (Kalenjiin) with other Kenyan women living in the United States. Their program is broadcast globally via the internet and on radio in Kenya on KASS FM. “We use the radio program to engage issues of justice, especially those impacting women and people who are living in poverty,” said Sister Chero.  This innovative ministry is in addition to her ministry of health care.  “As a caregiver, I am called to promote holistic care to individuals and families, relieving pain and suffering, and treating each person in a loving and caring way.”
Roman Catholic vowed religious life is in the midst of a paradigm shift, as the large novitiate classes of the 1950s and 1960s age and fewer women enter religious life today.  “I sense that the paradigms of religious life are shifting right around us and we have a unique and sacred role to play in building the reign of God,” said 31 year old Sister Julia Walsh, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration living in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “The world needs us to be prophetic mystics and spiritual social justice centered midwives and mentors to all of God's children as they give birth to many new forms of Gospel living.”

The four day gathering was filled with energy as Sisters renewed connections and continued to build a support network of age peers in religious life.  “Religious life offers a support system for full engagement in the mission of Jesus, reaching out to those living on the margins of society, living in poverty, living in violent and dangerous circumstances across the globe,” said 47 year old Sister Kristin Matthes, one of four Sisters who founded Giving Voice. Sister Kristin is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur living in Washington D.C.  She has been perpetually professed for 22 years.   “We leave the conference energized for our ministries that help to bring about the Reign of God, the reign of justice and peace, in our world today.”

Giving Voice is a peer led grassroots national organization of Catholic Sisters under the age of 50 that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.  The July conference is the seventh national gathering of younger women religious organized since 1997 and the first to take place on the West Coast.  Previous gatherings have taken place in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.

NOTE:   Contact Sister Susan Francois at 425.233.7280 to arrange a phone  interview with Sisters in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.