By Barb Arland-Fye
When Msgr. Drake Shafer gave first Communion to second-graders on Sunday at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, he reflected momentarily on that special day in his own life.
“I thought of Sister Geraldine Marie who prepared me for first Communion and other Sisters who either taught me or whom I’ve worked with throughout my ministry. I believe they consistently and constantly stood for life in their commitment to the poor and those in need.”
In the wake of the Vatican’s announcement that reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is necessary, Msgr. Shafer is praying for fruitful dialogue and a positive outcome. Two diocesan communities — The Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton and the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport — belong to the LCWR, which is comprised of approximately 1,500 leaders of communities who represent about 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States.
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle as its delegate to provide review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work of the LCWR. He will be assisted by two other bishops and additional advisors — including bishops, women religious and other experts.
“I would hope that the Sisters and the bishops are able to enter into a dialogue that allows both of them to resolve this issue in a way that is comfortable for both of them and lets the Sisters have their voice and some control over their own organization,” Msgr. Shafer said. “The Church would be much poorer without the work that American religious women have done.”
“I don’t think the hierarchy of the Church realizes the importance that women religious have played in the lives of Catholics, especially those ages 50 and older who were educated by the Sisters and received care in hospitals from them and learned social justice from them,” said Mary Wieser, diocesan faith formation director. “I think there is going to be great support for women religious.”
Sister M. Johanna Rickl, vice president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, shared this statement on behalf of her community:
“As a member, our congregation received a communication from LCWR on April 19, 2012, relating to us the results of the doctrinal assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and informing us that the LCWR National Board will meet in the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response. With LCWR, we recognize this as a moment of great import for religious life and the wider Church, and we have assured them of our prayerful support as they move forward.”
Prayer is also the response Glenn and Bernie Leach of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove have offered to members of the prayer chain Bernie manages. In an email message to members, they wrote, in part: “Please add to your prayers the women religious who have banded together in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Their service to God and the poor has been a light in a dark world. They have comforted the AIDS victim who is nearing the end, lived with those who are barely living because drugs, alcohol or abuse has stolen their ability to function … Pray in thanksgiving for the inspirational service (women religious) have given. Pray for strength for them knowing that whatever path the women take in response to criticisms leveled against them, they will continue to be an example of Christ among us.”