Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Diversity and Religious life presentation draws 134 Sisters at three sites
the Inland Register
(From the March 17, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)
No one quite knew what to expect when Sisters across the Northwest were invited to a one-day presentation by the co-author of New Generations of Catholic Sisters: The Challenge of Diversity, published by Oxford University Press. The site was the Hawley Conference Center at Providence Health and Services in Renton, Wash., with videoconferencing offered at Providence sites in Portland and Spokane.
The organizers were surprised when 134 individuals, representing 14 congregations of women Religious, registered to attend the Feb. 27 event. There were so many in Portland that registrants had to be moved to a larger room.
They also were delighted when one bishop accepted the invitation: Bishop William Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus of the Spokane Diocese.
Retired Sisters at St. Joseph Residence, Seattle, also participated.
“Fourteen congregations! Wow, that is so of the future,” the author, Sister Mary Johnson of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, told the attendees.
Even more significant was the fact that the gathering was co-sponsored by Region 15 of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), and the Religious Formation Conference (RFC).
Why did this topic resonant with so many Sisters? New Generations of Catholic Sisters came out in 2014 and is now in its fourth printing. It offers a comprehensive portrait of women Religious who have entered since 1965.
Sister Mary, a professor of sociology and religious studies at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., said the follow-up is research on 4,000 women entering today about their needs, challenges and contributions. Already she has interviewed two dozen Sisters of Providence who entered Mother Joseph Province from other countries, including newer members, transfers, and Sisters who entered as far back as 1959.
Sister Mary spelled out the challenges presented by the changing demographics and geography of the 80 million Catholics in the United States – about a quarter of the population.
Once dominant in the East, they now are equally distributed around the country. This is a young church, with the majority 20- to 30-year-old millennials and post-Vatican II Catholics between the ages of 30-40. Their generations are shaped by events when they were coming of age and that define their culture, giving it distinct values and meanings.
The ethnic mixture of the Church is rapidly changing, with Hispanics the largest ethnic group and Asians, the fastest growing. Among women Religious, 94 percent in final vows are white, compared to 61 percent in initial formation, Sister Mary said.
What does that mean for Religious life today?
“The new Sisters look like the church. God is inviting women who will be able to serve the new church in this country,” she said. “Pope Francis has opened up the true meaning of Catholic: universal.”
Cross-generational dialogue is essential, as is receiving and honoring the cultures and traditions of all. “Listen to how they see it. What words and images speak to them? What is God’s action within and across this generation?”
Sister Mary described this as the beginning of a whole new era for women Religious. “Where we’re going, there is no map,” she said.
The book’s authors hope the data they gather will contribute to the dialogue about how to help the nation become a true multiracial society.
Today there often is talk about the dwindling number of Sisters in the world, but there are nearly 1 million Sisters remaining in the world today, she said.
“This is a shift in thinking,” she said. “It is not about dying; it’s about living.”
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