Being at LCWR while 900 sisters were deciding their response to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith mandate was a very interesting experience. Mary’s Pence was present in St. Louis during the LCWR Assembly, as we frequently are, to have an exhibit table at the assembly and share updates and materials on our work with those attending.
Sr Robbie greets supporters at the Mary's Pence booth at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly.
It’s always moving to feel the sisters’ support for our work. At this assembly the sisters gathered to do their usual business, but also to respond to the Vatican’s mandate.
As a woman, as a Catholic, and as a feminist who doesn’t always agree with the church hierarchy, I had a feeling in my bones that the sister’s discernment would affect all women, and all people on the margins. That’s an unfair responsibility to place on the sisters’ shoulders. But they rose to the occasion.
We enjoyed your company at the Mary's Pence Wine & Cheese reception. We appreciate your continued support.
They chose a third way; they chose to stay in dialogue. To learn more read the address by Sister Pat Farrell, president of LCWR, here and an National Catholic Reporter article summarizing the LCWR response to the mandate here. Another great resource is Sister Hughes’ talk with the Press Club — Watch the video here.
Church hierarchy is a tricky thing. By its nature and structure hierarchy treats some as more important than others. It takes real discipline and respect for all not to treat the people at the bottom as less than. Within their own structure the sisters worked to consensus — having discussions and incorporating the views and emotions of 900 women, and reflecting the concerns of the 56,000 members at large — through table discussions, gathering of input, and signaling with colored cards. It is a rare and creative model for all leaders – religious, secular and global.
During my stay in St. Louis, I stayed in the home of a friend, Angie O’Gorman, an activist and author. It was a fitting place to be each evening, adding clarity and focus on the process and the spirit I was experiencing during the day.
Angie’s home sits next to a center that supports homeless – a food shelf is held every Friday morning at 10 a.m., but a few people gather around 6 a.m., not because a long line forms, but rather to be in the company of others they consider community.
The building she lives in served as a sanctuary house during the ’80s, sheltering Latin Americans who had fled violence in their countries. On the wall is a picture of Rigoberta Menchú Tum with two children in the kitchen of this home. Rigoberta is a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Guatemala, and stayed in the home several times during the Guatemalan conflict. On the floor above Angie’s home is the Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma. In St. Louis there are over 9,000 refugee and immigrant people who suffer from such trauma. The work done here makes it a holy place.
At the end of my stay, I thought about the world of men who rise to the level of bishop or higher, and the world of sisters who work with people on the margins, are very far apart. It makes discussion between the two parties difficult. I am glad I know women, sisters and lay, who work close to the margins. I have a better understanding of the world than if I did not know these women. I think every bishop should spend a week with a sister and the people she serves, to experience and learn about their reality.
The Old Cathedral in St. Louis with the famous Gateway Arch in the background.
Only, with a common understanding of those on the margins, will the discussion between the sisters and the bishops become productive for making real change and the creating of the possibility for justice.
I am nurturing a small seed of hope that such discussion can unfold, and that the world is about to turn.
Thank you for your compassionate support and for your continued prayers for the work of Mary’s Pence and the ministries we serve, and keep the church and the sisters in your prayers.
Katherine Wojtan, Executive Director