by Sister Margaret Mary Fitzpatrick
There was excitement in the air. The preparations were done. The cloud technology held the livestreaming capacity ready. The sending off of the Halifax bus, carpools from Wellesley, various New York Toyotas wending their way up Route 95 to Boston, short trips, long air flights, all culminating in hugs and cheers, and a sigh of relief. We were finally together again. Whether joining in-person, meeting in groups to participate by livestream, or being grateful to attend through virtual tables, the arduous work of the Assembly Committee came to fruition.
Up to the last minute, the agenda was being reexamined and nuanced. During the Assembly, additional contributors and reports were added as the Committee was conscious to meet the needs as they surfaced. It was evident throughout the Congregation that we are Charity Alive.
Halifax Bus to Assembly
by Angela Rafuse
April 6th was bright and sunny as a Sisters and Associates left Halifax bound for Assembly 2022 in Boston. Travelling in the comfort of our own private coach, spirits were high in anticipation of reuniting with dear friends and familiar faces at our first in-person Assembly in three years! Our bus arrived at Caritas for 7:00 am, and after our driver Doris loaded our luggage, snacks, and us onboard, we hit the road. Along the way we made the traditional stop at the Irving Big Stop in Aulac, New Brunswick and in Sussex to pick up our pre-arranged lunch and change drivers. Here we met our driver, Jason, who informed us we were his first trip to the USA in 663 days and he could not be happier.
We were a little nervous as we approached the Canada/United States border crossing in St. Stephen. Experienced travellers, we had our usual passports and declaration cards, but because of the pandemic we now were also required to carry proof of our vaccination status, pre-register on the Canadian Federal government’s ArriveCAN app, pre-register our coach’s arrival and departure into Canada and the USA and be subject to random COVID-19 testing. It was a lot to contend with, but we were ready. We spent less than 15 minutes at immigration and Homeland Security and breathed a sigh of relief when the canine units cleared our bus to continue onto Assembly. After a quick rest stop across the border we headed for Bangor, Maine. We stopped at the famous Dysart’s Truckstop and then we continued on through New Hampshire before entering Massachusetts. We arrived at the Boston hotel around 6:45 pm. The hotel was bustling, everyone checked in, and quickly made their way to see friends.
The next day our bus took us to the Wellesley campus where friends reunited before the Assembly opening session later that evening. The visit was a highlight of the trip for most! On Sunday afternoon, once Assembly concluded, we managed to squeeze in a shopping trip at a nearby mall. Then on Monday, we headed back to Halifax with our pre-arranged breakfast and lunch-to-go from the hotel. We were anxious to get home so made fewer stops on the return, and many of us caught up on some much-needed rest. The day was as bright as the day we left, and we could not have asked for nicer travel weather! Canada customs was just as seamless as our trip down. We were told we were only the 3rd bus to cross into the USA from Canada, and the 2nd bus to cross into Canada from the USA this year. We were grateful for the trip and hope to do it all over next year!
Mount Saint Vincent, Wellesley
by Patty Angevine
The Assembly was a wonderful experience for all and there was a great sense of being part of the larger group. The technology was excellent and everyone could see and hear the speakers very well. Many said, “It is like we are there,” which made us so grateful to those who worked hard to share the experience with us.
Many of our sisters were happy to participate by watching and listening to the scheduled speakers as well as those who were in attendance and shared feedback. Those who did want to offer feedback were pleased that they could pass along their thoughts to you and were then able to hear them addressed with the speakers and larger group.
The prayers were very beautiful and inspiring. The reading by Sister Pat Wilson was truly appreciated and brought the spirit within our space as well. We were happy to participate in Mass on Saturday evening (and even received Communion) and celebrated after with a dinner in Madonna Hall, which was the first time we had gathered together there in more than two years!
Caritas Residence, Halifax
by Heather Sinclair
Our Sisters in Halifax kicked off the Assembly with a lovely wine & cheese, as we wanted to share in the spirit of the first night’s ‘social’ at Assembly Boston. Sisters at Caritas enjoyed gathering together to share in the Assembly experience. We are grateful for the technology to “bring us to Assembly.”
Sisters Cecilia Hudec, Fleurette Sweeney, Phyllis Giroux, Kerry Rowland and Roberta Mullin
It would have been lonely if we had not set up Zoom gatherings to chat after participating in the Assembly via live stream and sending our responses via text message. We are grateful for these possibilities. Six AM was challenging to most of us but our desire to “be present” expresses our commitment as Sisters of Charity to the ongoing life of the Congregation. We want to be included as full participants in the deliberations and decisions of our Congregational life even when we cannot travel.
Conversation on Contemplative Circles at Assembly
by Sister Liz Bickar
This opening agenda item of our Congregational Assembly in Boston set the tone for the entire duration. We have been engaging in Contemplative Circles on the three principal social issues of climate crisis, systemic racism and the cries of the poor almost since the end of the last General Chapter. Following the direction set by the Chapter, most Sisters and Associates committed themselves to one or more circles and met regularly via Zoom to explore the meaning of these issues which entail social sin.
What does this issue mean to me? To us? To the Church and to the body politic? We explored and discussed, and we attentively and lovingly listened to one another to discover what all of us felt and thought. Then it came time for the Assembly, and we realized that we had only touched the surface of the problem.
The Assembly provided a forum for delving deeper. The format for this was highly creative. The co-chairs of the groups were asked to share their thoughts and then to engage in conversation with one another around these two questions:
What are we coming to see more clearly in this process?
How is the work of your circle connecting with the work of the other circles?
So on to the stage in the International Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel Logan Airport came the six co-chairs of the three circles: Sisters Katherine McGrath and Mary Beth Moore (Cries of the Poor), Sisters Marie Sorenson and Evelyn Williams, graciously sitting in for Sister Joan O’Keefe (Systemic Racism) and Sisters Margaret Coppenrath and Gertie Jocksch (Climate Crisis).
Sisters Katherine and Mary Beth explored how to see, judge and act on behalf of the poor, doing this work together in the context of our own vulnerability. The cries of the poor, which we heard from the mouth of Vincent de Paul, are louder than ever. As we take responsibility for our own role in the plight of the poor, we recognize that we are all one and that we are called to identify with our poverty-stricken sisters and brothers.
For many years Sisters Gertie and Margaret have been calling us to greater awareness of the plight of our planet. Indeed, they spoke from the heart, reminding us of our role in the crisis and challenging us to participate in giving life to those who will make the earth their home in generations to come.
As the microphone was passed to Sisters Marie and Evelyn, we learned from them how much awareness we gained in our circles. White privilege is an infection which is not easily remedied, as it impacts our words and actions regarding black, brown and indigenous people. We are challenged to keep the conversation going as we face the enormity of this blight on our collective and individual consciences.
Listening to the conversation, we came to realize how these issues are interconnected. Our charism draws us to the heart of things, to direct action and to advocacy. We are called to Give Joyful Witness to Love even when it’s difficult to know what to do
Exit stage: on come Sister Cathy Stare and Associate Ronnie Collins MacDonald on racism, Sister Anne Harvey and Associate Elena Miranda on climate, and Sisters Helen Danahy and Sheila Conley on the cries of the poor. Their conversations brought us deeper. As we listened to their exchange, we heard the call to sit with the pain of the poor and underprivileged with empathy and with an awareness of a call to action. Elena touched us with mention of the new light of her life, her grandson Louie. Will he be left with a bruised and damaged earth in which to live? We are called to listen and reach out, all the while keeping our hearts open to the transforming love of God as we move from the solitary “I” to the solidarity of “we.”
What a blessing it is to have one another for support and challenge! What a way to begin our days together! The tone had been set; the thoughts and insights had been shared. It was now time for our work to begin.
Completion Committee Presentation
by Sister Kati Hamm
Is it any wonder that talking about Completion of the Congregation is so challenging? We come from a culture where forever is a good thing. Think of “forever and ever” repeated in the Hallelujah Chorus or all the stories that end with Happily Ever After. During this Assembly we had the opportunity to hear about the work of the Completion Committee. At Chapter 2020 we committed “to plan for the eventual completion of our congregation all the while giving joyful witness with every breath.” This was not a new concept, however actually signing on to it was daunting. But it is work that must be done. How much better if it can be done with an optimistic spirit.
As the presentation unfolded, the connections of the Gospel Call, the Chapter Call and individual and communal insights were identified as guides in our deliberations. Although we recognize that we are in early stages, the feelings of many at the Assembly were gratitude that we have begun the process and that we are coming to greater clarity about what it might entail. The fact that we are looking at this now while we have enough members and energy to consider the way forward is a wise step.
Many other congregations of women religious are in a similar position. Some have already taken the steps that will enable them to continue their mission until their ultimate fulfillment. We are lucky to have on this Completion Process team people of varied ages and experience. Among them are women who have worked closely with other congregations in their roles in their respective dioceses. Some approaches to this task were described: Mergers, Convenant Relationships and Amalgamation. Besides describing what each involves, congregations who have chosen one of these paths were identified. All of them took many years to accomplish their goal and for some congregations this will not be the final phase of their transition. “Putting a face” on what some of our choices might look like made it clearer.
We are blessed to have the privilege of planning for the future. We recognize that letting go and moving on are part of what every person, family, institution and community goes through many times in their lives. One of our Associates at the Assembly reminded us that not everyone is lucky enough to plan for the future and that is a privilege. In her own case, the letting go required an openness to the process, to gratitude, to living life more fully.
One point that was emphasized is that this work is not just that of the committee but of all of us. Planning together doesn’t take away the sadness, but it helps that we have experience in trusting in providence, that we are committed to the challenge and that we recognize that something new and with potential for good is happening.
A familiar gospel story, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, reminded us of how the disciples began their journey home with hearts downcast. When a stranger approached and asked what was on their minds, they talked about the tragic happenings in Jerusalem and how their hopes were dashed. This conversation with the Stranger on the Road and breaking bread together brought clarity about the situation. The disciples returned to Jerusalem with hope in their hearts, and enthusiasm for what was next! Like the disciples, we expect through this completion process to grow into a deeper faith, a wider vision and more generous hearts both communally and personally. Together, we will continue to see more clearly and proceed in this process peacefully and deliberately. This intention is something to which we can commit while giving joyful witness to love with every breath.