Young Nuns Meet to Imagine Future
Visioning a Ministry With the Poor and Marginalized
BELMONT, CA—Just two weeks after the “Nuns on the Bus” national tour ended in San Francisco, another group of Roman Catholic Sisters—these sisters of the younger variety, aged 25 to 49—gathered in the Bay Area for the Giving Voice National Gathering. These “young nuns,” most of whom are the youngest members of their religious orders, prayed and reflected on the future of mission and ministry in the Church and society in the 21st Century.
Sister Yolanda Tarango, CCVI—Congregation Leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and a renowned Latina theologian—shared her insights on the conference theme of “Mission and Ministry in the 21st Century.” “This is a beautiful and challenging time in religious life,” Sister Yolanda told conference participants on Saturday morning, “because we can be part of this transition time. The challenge is to read it right, with the eyes of faith and the strength of history.”
“Throughout our history, Sisters have been called to work with people living on the margins of society,” said Sister Jessi Beck, a 32 year old member of the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Dubuque, Iowa. Sister Jessi teaches 2nd grade at an inner city Catholic School in Chicago and is a member of the conference planning team. “Today the needs are growing as the gap between the rich and the poor expands. Having the wisdom of my sisters in community and a support group of peer age sisters in Giving Voice helps me to respond to the needs of our day.”
The four-day national gathering brought together Sisters from more than 30 congregations of women religious from across North America. “We love our Sisters in our own communities, but having time with peers who understand what it is to live in similar circumstances affirms and strengthens us in our vocations,” said 32 year old Sister Sarah Kohles, a Sister of St. Francis and a member of the Giving Voice leadership team.
“Mission and ministry is both one of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of religious life,” said 31 year old Sister Sarah Heger, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet from St. Louis, Missouri. In her daily ministry, Sister Sarah teaches fifth grade girls at an all girls middle school for under-resourced students in St. Louis with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty through education. About the Giving Voice gathering, she said: “The opportunity to come together as young, excited, professional sisters, to share our stories, to buoy each other's dreams, to pray together about the ministries God would invite us to pursue into the future is a conversation aching to be lived.”
Conference participants creatively imagined what the future ministry of Catholic Sisters might look like given the growing number of people living in poverty. “In today’s society, the needs of the marginalized are being left out and services are being cut,” said Sister Jessica Taylor, a 41-year-old Sister of Providence from Seattle, Washington. Sister Jessica professed perpetual vows last year and is earning a graduate degree in Pastoral Counseling. “It is our mission to be the voice of the voiceless and to help those in need.”
Participants also pondered the gifts and challenges of our increasingly intercultural reality. The Sisters themselves represented this reality. Simultaneous translation allowed English and Spanish speaking participants to share in their own language making this a bilingual conference.
Throughout the four days Sisters shared insights gained from a wide variety of ministry experiences. 31-year-old Sister Chero Chuma, a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and nursing student at Seattle University, co-hosts a weekly radio program in her native language (Kalenjiin) with other Kenyan women living in the United States. Their program is broadcast globally via the internet and on radio in Kenya on KASS FM. “We use the radio program to engage issues of justice, especially those impacting women and people who are living in poverty,” said Sister Chero. This innovative ministry is in addition to her ministry of health care. “As a caregiver, I am called to promote holistic care to individuals and families, relieving pain and suffering, and treating each person in a loving and caring way.”
Roman Catholic vowed religious life is in the midst of a paradigm shift, as the large novitiate classes of the 1950s and 1960s age and fewer women enter religious life today. “I sense that the paradigms of religious life are shifting right around us and we have a unique and sacred role to play in building the reign of God,” said 31-year-old Sister Julia Walsh, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration living in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “The world needs us to be prophetic mystics and spiritual social justice centered midwives and mentors to all of God's children as they give birth to many new forms of Gospel living.”
The four day gathering was filled with energy as Sisters renewed connections and continued to build a support network of age peers in religious life. “Religious life offers a support system for full engagement in the mission of Jesus, reaching out to those living on the margins of society, living in poverty, living in violent and dangerous circumstances across the globe,” said 47-year-old Sister Kristin Matthes, one of four Sisters who founded Giving Voice. Sister Kristin is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur living in Washington D.C. She has been perpetually professed for 22 years. “We leave the conference energized for our ministries that help to bring about the Reign of God, the reign of justice and peace, in our world today.”
Giving Voice is a peer led grassroots national organization of Catholic Sisters under the age of 50 that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life. The July conference is the seventh national gathering of younger women religious organized since 1997 and the first to take place on the West Coast. Previous gatherings have taken place in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.