In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week in March, religious sisters are beginning a yearlong series of discussions on major issues affecting the St. Louis community and beyond — topics such as racism, care of God’s creation, affordable housing, and equitable access to health care and education, to name a few.
The conversations, which are open to all, deal with issues in which religious sisters across the Archdiocese of St. Louis are actively involved in the trenches as a response to their vocational calling.
Building bridges through the arts
Sister Glynis Mary McManamon and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd founded Good Shepherd Arts Center in Ferguson in 2015, one year after the shooting death of Michael Brown. The intention was to be a presence of peace. It’s been voted Best Art Gallery in north St. Louis County and has hosted a variety of artists from a diversity of cultures, races and abilities. The brick and mortar gallery on South Florissant Road closed this summer due to the pandemic, but exhibits continue to be shown online at goodshepherdarts.org.
Sister Glynis has been involved in art as ministry since the late 1990s, when she took art classes at Bellarmine University in Louisville. Previously, she had worked with adolescents in an institutional setting, then pastoral care, public relations and human resources. She also received education to be a drug/alcohol counselor, but ultimately recognized that God was calling her to do art.
The arts help to build bridges in our understanding of one another, Sister Glynis said. “It’s fear of the other, the person who is different from me, the situation that is unfamiliar, that causes us to build barriers instead of bridges,” she said. “Art can take something that is unfamiliar and build that bridge. This person’s experience is not my experience, but I look at that (art) and it draws me in. The humanity is what it speaks to.”
Exhibit themes have included #ThisIsMyFerguson, an exhibit about Ferguson by Fergusonians; high school and undergraduate students who responded to the question “Who Is My Neighbor?”; another featuring artwork from area religious sisters and priests; Laudato Si’ and care for creation; as well as artwork from school children. The current exhibit features pieces by 27-year-old African-American artist Brock Seals.
East side heart and home
Part of the charism of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill is developing the reign of God here on Earth. “We’re not ministering to, but with — and bringing God into everything we do,” said Sister Mary Ann Buhr, OP.
Sister Mary Ann, along with two other Sparkill Dominicans, Sister Carol Lehmkuhl and Sister Ann Gregory Bischof, are actively ministering with the community of East St. Louis, Illinois, through East Side Heart & Home Family Center.
The Family Center was founded in the fall of 1993 when Vincent Gray Alternative High School closed. Recognizing that the closure of the high school was a significant loss for the Olivette Park neighborhood of East St. Louis, Sister Carol collaborated with the residents of the area to determine the needs of the community and to build relationships that recognize and emphasize each person’s inherent dignity.
In 1995, East Side Heart & Home Housing was developed as an effort to construct quality, affordable housing for low-income families in East St. Louis. Two organizations merged in January 2013 to become East Side Heart & Home Family Center.
Other efforts have included tuition and expenses for attendance at local private schools; a senior program with transportation; a Women’s Circle, a monthly group to learn, discuss and share with each other about relevant topics and issues that affect their lives; an after-school program assisting with homework and improved math and reading skills; and a summer program for children, with older youth hired as counselors.
Roslyn Wright, Edra Cherry and Ileana O’Neill are part of the Women’s Circle. All said they appreciate learning more about one another’s different life experiences as they support one another. The Dominican sisters say they, too, have much to learn from the women. Wright and Cherry live in East St. Louis; O’Neill lives in Downtown St. Louis and works in East St. Louis.
“Sometimes we need to have our eyes opened by what’s out there and not just protected in our own little (religious communities),” Sister Carol said. “They’re wonderful stories of women who are powerful women, dedicated women and determined women — that motivates me, and I am inspired by them.”
Wright, who was born and raised in East St. Louis, joined the Women’s Circle more than 10 years ago after learning about it through a cousin. “I found so much love and so many women in this circle and identified with their stories. They helped me to become a better me. Sister Carol and Sister Mary Ann have been helpful ears. You can see the different things they do for this community. They’re building up this neighborhood and making it better for the community.”
>> Exploring Intersections
“Exploring Intersections: Catholic Sisters on Racism, Migration and Climate,” is a yearlong series of discussions that will kick off during Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14.
Each month, the livstreamed series will focus on a different social issue and explore how it intersects with racism, migration and climate in a thought-provoking and engaging conversation. Three panelists from different walks of life, including Catholic religious sisters, will bring unique perspectives to each session. The series is a project of Region X of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which comprises congregations of women religious in eastern Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, joined by a few congregations in Wisconsin.
“This series is intended to provide a forum for constructive conversation on the big issues of our day, and how each intersects with the major themes of racism, migration and climate,” said Jenny Beatrice, director of communications for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis Province. “We’re looking forward to lively, nuanced conversations among our panelists and to hearing what our audience members have to say on these topics.”
Topics include gender equality, care of creation, migration, racial justice, ending human trafficking, eliminating gun violence, economic justice, food security, restorative justice, affordable housing, educational justice and equitable access to health care.
The conversations will be held as a free webinar at 3 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month, beginning March 10. Each episode will also be livestreamed on YouTube. Recordings of the episodes will be available on YouTube and as a podcast.
Moderating the series is Charish Badzinski, a writer, public relations consultant and founder of Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications whose interests include social justice, human rights and preservation of the planet.
During the first session March 10, panelists will explore equal access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender and how gender equality is interconnected with issues of racism, migration and climate change. Panelists will be Beth Allen, Director of Affiliation for the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; Ga’nea Jones, a student at Missouri State University; and Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ, a teacher, writer and the editor of Good Ground Press.
For information on how to register to participate in “Exploring Intersections” and a list of monthly topics and dates, see www.exploringintersections.org.