LCWR reviews its own steadiness, finds ability to build relationships where trust could grow

Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Annmarie Sanders moderates a discussion between Congregation of Saint Joseph Sister Janet Mock and Society of the Divine Word Father Stephan Bevans Friday on how the Leadership Conference of Women Religious can move forward. (GSR photo / Dan Stockman)

In the penultimate address at this year’s Leadership Conference of Women Religious national assembly, former LCWR executive director St. Joseph Sr. Janet Mock made some of her most pointed public remarks on the Vatican’s now-concluded LCWR doctrinal assessment and mandate.

The Houston assembly marked the first time the general membership had met since the Vatican’s controversial oversight of the group ended in April, and LCWR leaders had only been speaking to select media outlets in the interim, wanting to save further discussion until everyone had a chance to reflect together.

But in a public forum, moderated by moderated by LCWR’s associate director for communications, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Annmarie Sanders, Mock said she was able to maintain hope during those years, because she tries to see the good in people. But during the process, she shared, someone told her she needed to be more willing to look at the culture of corruption from which the Vatican’s actions stemmed.

“That was a hard saying, but an important saying for me,” she shared. “Because I really did not want to look at that. And it wasn’t straight across the board, but there was a culture of corruption at work at larger levels, and we felt the impact of it. And I have to say, until I was willing to face that head on — it was only then that the deeper wells of hope sprung up.”

Speaking alongside Mock was Society of the Divine Word Fr. Stephen Bevans, who gave an keynote address earlier in the week about the future of religious life. Sanders asked Bevans what he, as an outsider to sisters’ lives, thought the larger church could learn from LCWR’s experience, which LCWR leadership had largely considered to be internal.

“The kind of steadiness that LCWR showed in the face of challenge, this is of the utmost importance, not just for LCWR, not even just for the church, but I think for God’s world,” he said. “I think one of the things that struck me about his whole assembly is you’re not about LCWR. You’re about the church. And the most important thing about the church is not the church. It’s the reign of God, God’s dream from the world. And that’s what comes across.”

When asked about the new generations of women entering religious life, both Mock and Bevans emphasized the need for a dynamic formation process that meets their needs as younger sisters. Bevans, an academic, focused on theological education:

“I think it’s so important to have a deep theological grounding,” he said. “We are entrusted with the good news and we better get it right. So often what goes in the church, particularly in leadership in the church — it’s just bad theology. The world deserve the Gospel, and it deserves the Gospel articulated right and lived out right.”

Mock, for her part, cautioned Baby Boomer sisters to be careful not to let their burdens quench the excitement younger sisters bring to religious life.

“There is a dying that is going on — a physical dying of many of the women who have been our mentors and our greatest supporters,” she said, “and therefore a grieving that needs to go on. And then we have these wonderful younger people coming and saying, ‘I believe in this life.’ And the great challenge of leaders is to both accompany the dying and foster the new life. The younger people aren’t afraid of the future; they’re excited about it. So let’s not put our concerns on them. Let them free to follow the grace that brought them here. “

Mock’s words made a deep impression on Srs. Margaret Shannon and Mindy McDonald, two Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace new to leadership and attending the LCWR assembly for the first time as members.

Hundreds of sister leaders came together to discuss the state of religious life for women in the United States. They met Friday morning to determine the LCWR's justice action. (GSR photo / Dan Stockman)

“I feel like we’re seeing the best of what human beings can be,” McDonald said.

Shannon agreed. “Janet’s such an authentic woman. When she speaks, you listen. She represents us, and I’m so proud of her and us,” she said, adding that the work Mock did in helping bring the mandate to a conclusion makes today an exciting time for new leaders.

McDonald quickly concurred. “It’s overwhelming,” she said. “What a moment in history to come in on.”

Sister of St. Joseph and LCWR board member Rosemary Brennan had similar thoughts about Mock’s handling of the doctrinal assessment and mandate.

“I think Janet really embodied the ability to build relationships where trust could grow and allow for everyone to be able to engage in good and fruitful dialogue,” she said.

In their final words of encouragement the congregation leaders in attendance, Mock and Bevans encouraged them to “keep on keeping on,” as Mock put it, and Bevans seconded. “You’re leading in extremely difficult times,” Mock said. “But you are the women to do it. Trust in that.”

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is Global Sisters Report staff writer, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie.]