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Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and then-Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice posed for a picture with men and women religious after a Mass celebrating consecrated life in 2014, the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and then-Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice posed for a picture with men and women religious after a Mass celebrating consecrated life in 2014, the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Religious communities share glimpses of special relationship with Archbishop Carlson

From newer to more established relationships, Archbishop Carlson has been a friend and supporter

Throughout his tenure, Archbishop Carlson has had a special relationship with many religious communities in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Archbishop Carlson invited the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., to St. Louis in 2010. The sisters have served in various roles, including at the archbishop’s residence, and other areas, including the Rural Parish Clinic, Office of Consecrated Life and the archdiocesan Lay Formation Program.

Sister Marysia Weber, RSM, who serves as director of the Office of Consecrated Life, said that Archbishop Carlson has always had a high regard for the values of prayer, community and apostolic presence that are at the heart of religious communities. There are 82 communities in St. Louis with about 1,500 members, which include priests and religious brothers and sisters.

Every year, the archdiocese honors religious men and women on their significant anniversaries with a special Mass and certificate, as well as highlighting their service in the annual Jubilarians supplement published in the St. Louis Review.

Sister Marysia said he’s always taken up invitations from religious communities and has made himself available. “To have him reach out to so many (communities), I have been very edified to see that,” she said. “He makes people feel comfortable, and he’s so

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, left, talked with, from left, Dominican Sisters of Sparkill Sister Carol Kopff, Sister Loretta Keller, Sister Marie Daugherty and Sister Joan Bartin during a luncheon after a special Mass for consecrated life in 2011.
Photo Credits: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
personable and a holy person, offering guidance and support. He has made it very clear, anything he can be contacted about any need (from a religious community) he will try to be of service.”

From the very start, Archbishop Carlson has supported the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and its sponsored institution, Saint Louis University, said Father Ronald Mercier, SJ, provincial superior of the Jesuits’ U.S. Central and Southern Province. The archbishop has participated in numerous activities with the Jesuits over the years, including presiding at the priestly ordinations of several Jesuits in 2016. He anticipates presiding at the ordination of two Jesuits on Aug. 15 at St. Francis Xavier (“College”) Church.

Father Mercier recalled when Archbishop Carlson, new to St. Louis, met with SLU’s Department of Theological Studies. He “promised that all of his dealings with members of the faculty would be personal, not carried on through public statements. He sought an atmosphere of cooperation and dialogue, and that has marked all of his dealings with the Society and its works,” Father Mercier said.

“As the one responsible for teaching the faith in the archdiocese, he has not hesitated to raise important questions when necessary, but always as a shepherd, seeking dialogue in a very pastoral way,” he added. “He has been a wonderful support to the Society of Jesus, open to new possibilities in our ministries and wonderfully supportive of the Spiritual Exercises, so much a part of our spiritual heritage.”

The Society of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis has has found a supporter in Archbishop Carlson, said Sister Sheila Hammond, RCSJ, provincial of the Society of the Sacred Heart United States-Canada Province. The archbishop participated in the congregation’s yearlong bicentennial celebration of coming to the “New World,” celebrating Mass at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, and the official closing Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in November 2018.

“He has been a font of wisdom when there were questions about how to proceed in a difficult situation involving the Church and or religious life,” Sister Sheila said. “He responded always with understanding based on his experience and compassion based on his living the Gospel. We appreciate and thank God for Archbishop Carlson’s intelligence, understanding and good humor. He has been a gift to the Church and to consecrated life in the St. Louis area.”

Abbot Emeritus Thomas Frerking, OSB, described the archbishop as a “faithful friend” to the Benedictine community at St. Louis Abbey, and to St. Louis Priory School and St. Anselm Parish. He noted the many times the archbishop has been present for priesthood ordinations, school Masses and other celebrations. Abbot Frerking served as the community’s abbot for 23 years until his retirement in 2018.

“He has been a great help to me with some difficult personnel and pastoral issues over the time I was abbot,” he said. “In all of that, he’s always been so very accessible. If I needed to telephone him and present something I was having difficulty with, he would get to me very quickly. He’s always wanted to help our community and our works flourish.”

The Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, founded in St. Louis in 1901 and with its headquarters still in St. Louis, have experienced Archbishop Carlson as a strong supporter of Catholic education, a messenger addressing the sin of racism, a leader who respects and honors women religious, and a wise, approachable person with a refreshing sense of humor, said Sister Renita Brummer, OSF, minister general of the community.

Archbishop Carlson hosted an event at his residence in 2018 on the 20th anniversary of the English Tutoring Project. The effort was started by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Region X – St. Louis, led by Sister Carleen Reck, SSND, Sister Susan Borgel, CPPS, and Sister Peggy Moore, OSU, to fill a need for English tutoring services created by an influx of immigrants/refugees arriving in St. Louis South City Catholic schools. Sister Marilynn Wittenauer, RSM, administrator and tutor, and Sister Jean Greenwald, SSND, tutor, began the program working out of a mobile RV they drove to the schools, as well as classrooms in three schools.

“It was clear from his remarks at that event that he was committed to immigrants and justice and a champion for education,” said Sister Janet McCann, an Adorer of the Blood of Christ who serves on the board of the English Tutoring Project. “He specifically thanked Catholic sisters for their commitment to the English Tutoring Project mission.”

Archbishop Carlson welcomed the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity to St. Louis in 2017, with the establishment of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent. The archbishop established the convent, located across the street from Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, offering through the sisters a ministry of prayer and hospitality. The convent also is supported through the Annual Catholic Appeal.

“Archbishop Carlson has been very encouraging and supportive of us,” said Sister Sue Ann Hall, who noted that the archbishop celebrated Mass with the sisters in November 2019 for their community’s 150th anniversary. “We are grateful for his spiritual guidance through his days of reflection, inspiring homilies and concern for respect and love of each other.”

In June 2017 at the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Archbishop Carlson granted Father Joseph Diep permission to gather companions to form a new religious community, the Congregation Messengers of Fatima, in St. Clair. The archbishop presided at the congregation’s inauguration and opening Mass in October 2017, with more than 700 people in attendance, including clergy, members of the Vietnamese Catholic community, and benefactors and friends from around the country and surrounding parishes.

Archbishop Carlson has supported and worked closely with Father Diep to promote the Fatima message and to assist the congregation by living out their mission in serving the people in need in Franklin County and surrounding areas. Among its activities, the community hosts a monthly dinner for people in need, and an annual “Fatima Days” celebration in June.

Archbishop Carlson also has had a special relationship with several religious communities involved with the St. Joseph Housing Initiative, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, through the Incarnate Word Foundation.

About a year ago, Incarnate Word Foundation executive director Bridget McDermott Flood approached the archbishop, seeking support for a St. Louis housing project. That initial conversation grew into St. Joseph’s Housing Project. The initiative’s initial focus has been on rehabilitating houses in the diverse Carondelet and Dutchtown neighborhoods of south St. Louis, with the goals of stabilizing the neighborhoods and helping families on the path to financial independence.


Consecrated Life highlights:

Archbishop Carlson invited the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., to St. Louis in 2010.

In June 2017 at the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Archbishop Carlson granted Father Joseph Diep permission to gather companions to form a new religious community, the Congregation Messengers of Fatima, in St. Clair. The archbishop presided at the congregation’s inauguration and opening Mass in October 2017.


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