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LCWR recommits to carrying out work for social justice for three more years

Conference of women religious held assembly Aug. 9-12 in St. Louis

With a focus on social justice, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious concluded its annual general assembly with an eye on the issues that will guide its commitments for the next three years and a celebration of the transfer of leadership.

Dominican Sister Maureen Geary became president-elect of the organization that represents 80% of Catholic sisters in the United States. She is one of the three-member presidential team.

A councilor for her order based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sister Geary is in her 16th year of congregation leadership. She has served on the LCWR national board and several committees. In addition, she has worked as a certified public accountant and attorney and has served in ministries with the Diocese of Grand Rapids Secretariat for Social Justice and the Kent County Coalition to End Homelessness.

Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, moved into the president role, succeeding Sister Jane Herb, of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who became past president.

Even as Sister Elise Garcia, of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, completed her term in the presidential triumvirate, Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph and LCWR’s executive director, told her, to appreciative laughs, “it is not over.”

Sister Zinn thanked Sister Garcia for her leadership during a particularly difficult time given the pandemic, which created myriad challenges for congregations as well as LCWR.

LCWR voted to renew the focus of its 2019-2022 resolution: seeking communion at the intersection of racism, forced migration and the climate crisis. Those three issues will once again serve as a primary focus for the conference through 2025.

“Responding to God who loves all creation into being, we recommit ourselves to initiating and supporting opportunities to create a union and to more deeply examine the root causes of injustice,” it said.

The assembly in St. Louis Aug. 9-12 was the first in-person gathering since the pandemic began in 2020.

‘Map-shaping’ concepts for future of religious life

Staring down a future of uncertainty, religious life finds itself in need of a map, the outgoing president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious told the organization’s members.

But creating an appropriately prophetic map must include a range of perspectives that can shed light on the various obstacles and possibilities women religious face, Sister Jane Herb said Aug. 10 in an address during LCWR’s annual general assembly.

Sister Herb, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, ended her one-year term as president when the assembly concluded Aug. 12 in St. Louis. She continues in the organization’s leadership as past president.

As congregations confront their aging demographics — presenting questions with properties and buildings and remaining creative in continuing sponsored ministries — Sister Herb said she realized that “while we are true to our founding charisms, it seems we are leaning into the future of religious life, perhaps not simply the survival of our own congregations.”

The novel “A Mapmaker’s Dream” by James Cowan was a source of inspiration for Sister Herb. It tells the story of a cloistered monk who, while sitting in his monastery cell, created a map of the world based on the perspectives and experiences his visitors shared.

“To complete an exact map of the world, the monk realizes that he must learn to look at the problem from another perspective and to abandon the normal perceptions of the work to attain a deeper sensibility,” Sister Herb said.

“I believe that is our journey also,” she said.

In the four conversations, she said, she “heard five calls emerging:” Calls to transformation, vulnerability, prophetic witness of religious life, synodality with the Church and the creation of Mary and Elizabeth encounters.

The image of a young and pregnant Mary seeking a wise and pregnant Elizabeth, Sister Herb said, was a powerful impression that arose at the International Union of Superiors General assembly in May. “We need the Marys and Elizabeths on our journey to the future,” she said. “Let us create spaces for such encounters.”

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