Chicago’s commitment to women religious, as evidenced by its dynamic celebration of National Catholic Sisters Week, will soon deepen as the archdiocese leads the way in a new national project. The initiative is well timed and a natural fit for the archdiocese, says Sister Lovina Francis Pammit, OSF, coordinator of religious vocations ministries.
The National Catholic Sisters Project is a new organization that celebrates the profound impact of Catholic sisters and engages young women in their ministries. Headquartered at Alverno College in Milwaukee and funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the project encompasses four cross-country initiatives: Engaging Young Latina Women, a curriculum project, the popular National Catholic Sisters Week, and a brand new Diocesan Outreach Program involving 10 bishops.
Their 10 dioceses are partnering with the National Catholic Sisters Project to boost women’s awareness of religious life and share resources, drawing from the other three initiatives and amplifying the good work already happening at the diocesan level.
The Archdiocese of Chicago was among the first to sign onto this pilot program. Sister Lovina Francis recognized it as a valuable service to religious communities.
“This is a good opportunity, whether they have been wanting to learn about raising awareness [of consecrated life] and they don’t know how to ask or they don’t know where to start,” she said. Sister Lovina Francis sees herself as a liaison in the partnership and identifies NCSP’s social-media savvy as an attractive resource.
The outreach program dovetails with “Renew My Church,” the archdiocesan initiative that identified vocations as one of its pastoral priorities, Sister Lovina Francis added. She’s optimistic about the future and has noticed a recent surge in archdiocesan departments contacting her to help incorporate a vocations angle into their events.
For her part, Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, national coordinator of the National Catholic Sisters Project, is thrilled to help Chicago advance its vocational outreach. “This partnership program is a way for us to engage new generations of women in better understanding religious life and inspire them to consider the ranges of ministries and lifestyles that are part of our contemporary expression of this life,” Sister Ann said. “It’s an opportunity for shared learning. We can collaborate on a broader level – and, all the while, remain mindful that the mystery of God’s call is at the center of our efforts. How do we help people unfold that mystery?”
Ultimately, Sister Ann said, the Diocesan Outreach Program is striving for a personal impact. “Beyond awareness, it’s the relationship building. Relationship is much deeper.”
That was the heart of the many celebrations that took place in the archdiocese during National Catholic Sisters Week March 8-14, an official component of Women’s History Month launched in 2014.
For instance, Sister Belinda Monahan, OSB, who helps the Benedictine Sisters of of Chicago with vocational outreach, hosted “Knit & Give: an afternoon for young Catholic women” March 11 at St. Scholastica Monastery in Chicago. A Benedictine oblate taught the young women in attendance how to knit and, together, the group made hats, mittens and teddy bears to donate to local people in need. Knitting proved to be a comfortable launching pad for conversations of all kinds, Sister Belinda said. “Once you get in the rhythm, you can talk as you go.”
She is planning a follow-up event to complete their knitting projects and also a discernment retreat at St. Scholastica the first weekend of May. “There’s definitely an interest out there about discerning religious life or an openness,” Sister Belinda said. “They’re open, and they’re all seeking something that I think the monastery can provide.”
Sister Debbie Marie Borneman, SS.C.M., director of member relations and services for the National Religious Vocation Conference, who hosted a March 7 National Catholic Sisters Week Publicity Blitz & Glitz gathering at the Catholic Theological Union, echoed that observation. “The key to encouraging women to consider religious life is invitation,” she said. “Come and spend time with us – join us for prayer, a meal or in ministry. Bring your questions and be engaged in conversation with Catholic sisters, who professed vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for decades. Searching the Internet is a first step to gather information; meeting sisters often gives information from lived experiences that can answer the heart questions on where God is calling a discerner.”
Bringing questions to women religious made for a lively NCSW “Supper with Sisters” hosted by the Sisters of Providence at their motherhouse in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. Nearly 30 people attended, and they raised host of questions: “Has there ever been a time you regretted your choice [to become a sister]?”; “What’s a typical day like for you?”; “Did something dramatic happen to push you to become a sister?”; “What have been some challenges of being a sister?”; “How do you have fun?”
Their questions revealed a genuine interest in women religious and a hunger to dispel misconceptions, said Sister Editha Ben, SP, vocation director for the Sisters of Providence. The mission of the Diocesan Outreach Program resonates with Sister Editha Ben. “In the past, religious women were not in the news or media. They worked and ministered unrecognized,” she said. “It is high time to affirm the impact of Catholic sisters made in the past and continue to have.”
Another successful NCSW event was a March 8 “Lunch & Learn” at the Aquinas Literacy Center in Chicago, which is sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “The Adrian Dominican Sisters who sponsor the center are inspirational, and it’s important to connect our learners and volunteers with the sisters,” said Executive Director Alison Altmeyer. “Catholic sisters are the backbone of the Catholic Church. It’s essential to celebrate and affirm the sisters who have dedicated their lives to others.”