Sisters Gather Virtually to Create a CSSJ Future

Sister Mary Flick

by Sister Mary Flick

More than 75 sisters from 15 sites in the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph gathered April 29 through the “modern miracle” of Zoom technology to reflect, share and listen to one another imagine a common future as Sisters of St. Joseph. Sisters ages 65 and under gathered in geographical clusters, from St. Paul to St. Augustine, from Boston to Orange, California. Five of us from the St. Louis province gathered to hear how our peers in the Mid-Atlantic region have been meeting annually. We began to discuss how we might companion one another on our journey as CSSJs.

“How do we talk about us? What is our identity?” Those were two of the three questions raised by Susan Wilcox, SSJ (Brentwood) as she shared the work of the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Mid-Atlantic has proposed calling this group the Collaborative of Sisters of St. Joseph. The understanding is those members who are “in” this group do not age out, so the upper age of members will continue to be fluid. There is also the recognition that members in this cohort have a “dual citizenship,” seeking to define themselves as an entity and create a structure, while remaining firmly part of their home congregations. The final question, “How do we relate to a larger ‘we’?” is how the majority of our three-hour meeting was spent.

There have been multiple ways for clusters of members in the Federation to gather: through Leaders as Leaven and the Leadership Collaborative, through Seeding Our Future in the Carondelet congregation, and through the recent collaborative efforts of vocation directors in the Federation. Each site shared how its members currently are gathering and working together. Sisters Amy Hereford, Sarah Heger, Mary Flick and Candidate Mary Collar composed the St. Louis site.

We spoke of our collaborative work as the province Vocation Team. We also cited involvement in Seeding Our Future gatherings and an upcoming weekend hosting members from the Congregation of St. Joseph. We also noted the inter-congregational potluck for women religious under age 60 called Sisters 2.0, hosted six to eight times a year at the CSJ house in Dogtown.

Talk of relationship continued when the afternoon’s facilitator, Sister Janet Mock, CSJ (Baden), asked the virtual gathering how they envision CSSJs in 2027. She quoted a newer member who had told her, “I love my congregation. I have no desire to leave my congregation. But my congregation is leaving me—through death.” S. Janet shared how this reflection has stayed with her, and has led her to empathize with this group as it faces grieving countless losses in the years ahead. But, she also noted that she sees this group standing ready to welcome something new.

 For the 2027 imagining, St. Louis connected in a virtual small group with two of our sisters in St. Paul. We shared how we envision small congregations in relationship, as a way of responding to the current diminishing demographics. S. Sarah encouraged the group to “accept and celebrate small,” and see its assets, not its deficits. All shared that being “small” invites a nimbleness, networking, deep and meaningful relationships, and shared leadership. We also imagined working for more effective systemic change by partnering with others and building networks outside of the CSJ circle. We recognize that being “sister” still opens doors and that identity is built on bonds of trust. We spoke of our reverence for our CSJ legacy and the care we will take not to damage that trust in which we stand.

 From throughout the Federation, the sisters who gathered acknowledged that their congregations are growing smaller—and stronger. But sisters are talking about discernment, not about dying; they must and will collaborate around unmet needs. While virtual meetings on Zoom can sustain relationships, it is not the only way, nor necessarily the best way, to begin to build relationships.

We will begin to look into organizing regional gatherings, with the support of the Federation. As we four in St. Louis scanned the videos from the 14 other sites, we saw a familiar face at the table in LaGrange. Sister Clare Bass from St. Louis, who was attending a weekend workshop in Chicago, had been welcomed by the sisters at LaGrange to participate in this Federation-wide meeting away from home. Yes, the present is indicative of the future. The future is already here.


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