MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee’s commitment to women religious, as evidenced by its spirited celebration of National Catholic Sisters Week, will soon deepen as the archdiocese leads the way in a new national project. The initiative has great potential for the local Church, says Vocation Director Father Luke N. Strand.
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 right 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 Milwaukee was among the first to sign onto this pilot program. “The work of encouraging women to discern consecrated life is of immense importance for the future of our local Church and for the authentic proclamation of the Gospel,” Father Strand said. “It will be exciting to see how our Lord brings about fruit from initiatives that seek to increase vocations to consecrated life.”
Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, moved to Milwaukee to assume the position of national coordinator of the National Catholic Sisters Project and build the Diocesan Outreach Program. She is a widely respected leader among women religious with a track record as a trailblazer. She served as the first justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross and as the first communications director for the Monroe, Mich., IHM community. She has also gained acclaim for her work as a board member of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
Sister Ann has a special talent for collaboration, which makes her the ideal person to guide the nascent National Catholic Sisters Project, according to her colleagues and friends.
“This is a great opportunity to have [Sister] Ann lead this project at this time because she invites participation, which is very important, and that’s what young people are looking for, an entrée to participation in the mission of the Jesus in the Gospel,” said Sister Dusty Farnan, OP, an Adrian Dominican based in Milwaukee who serves as coordinator for justice and peace for the School Sisters of St. Francis’ U.S. Province. “It’s fun working with [Sister] Ann. She’s very organized and comes very prepared to the task at hand – and she’s very open to receiving what people have to offer. She approaches individuals and tasks out of a deep respect for the other and for the task.”
Including the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the inaugural roll-out felt natural, Sister Ann said. The dialogue she has begun with Communication Director Amy Grau in the initial planning weeks has been fruitful, she added.
“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?”
Attempting to answer that question animated many celebrations that took place in the archdiocese during National Catholic Sisters Week March 8-14, launched in 2014 as an official component of Women’s History Month. Events included an ice cream social at the School Sisters of St. Francis’ Milwaukee motherhouse, training in their Tau Volunteer Program and a two-part Scripture study.
Sister Dusty kept busy during NCSW by leading four Transformative Circles, guiding a group of sisters and young women to pray in silence with others. The unique experience of communal contemplation begins by setting an intention and responding to the nation’s current troubles.
“It’s one way that women religious can respond to the younger of young adults today in a world that is bombarded by noise,” Sister Dusty said. “It’s simpler than they think. Young women all say they want moments of silence, but nobody seems to go about it.”
For her part, Sister Dusty said she’s excited to be part of a brand-new program. “It’s an invitation to be part of something that’s unfolding. We thank the archdiocese for saying yes to be part of this project. Hopefully together we can find other ways and expressions of being together as women for the sake of the Gospel. It’s about how women religious want to offer space, time and presence to young adults.”