By Barb Arland-Fye
BETTENDORF — Many Catholics whose lives have been impacted by women religious take exception to the Church’s decision to reform the national leadership group that represents the majority of Sisters.
Supporters have responded in letters to the editor, posted comments on websites, and written blogs (web-based journals) about what Sisters mean to them. On June 11, several dozen supporters gathered for a prayer vigil at St. John Vianney Church in Bettendorf to pray for the Sisters, to thank them and to share stories about their impact on individual lives.
They were responding to an announcement in April by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith calling for major reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to ensure LCWR’s fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.
On June 12, the president and executive director of LCWR met in Rome with top leaders of the doctrinal congregation to have an open dialogue about the Vatican-ordered reform.
But doctrinal issues were not on the minds of supporters at the St. John Vianney prayer vigil that Pax Christi Quad Cities organized.
Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport, prefaced his remarks by saying he would not address the issues between LCWR and the Vatican. Rather, his emphasis would be on the contributions of women religious in the Diocese of Davenport. Ferris said women religious from the three communities based in the diocese were among the first people to welcome him to his new post several years ago. Sisters from the various communities serve on a number of social action-related committees which he oversees in his leadership roles.
Their efforts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, comfort the sick “speak quietly, but strongly to the needs of the poor,” Ferris said.
Alicia Owens, a convert to Catholicism, recalled a vivid childhood memory of a blind nun who took loving care of Alicia’s baby cousin who had gone blind. The child was one of 12 children of Alicia’s aunt and uncle in Ottumwa. The baby’s family was grateful for the help of Sister St. Dennis Hickey, a member of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary.
Martina Razdan described a memory of Sisters from her childhood. She recalled an incident in which a rock had been thrown through a school window. Sister asked the students in class what they would have done if one of their friends had thrown a rock through a window. Young Martina mustered the courage to say that she would have told on her friend. “One of the hardest things to do is to call out a friend when they’re wrong,” Martina said. But it’s an ethics lesson that was made indelible because Sister raised the question.
Michael Hustedde of Davenport declared that “62 years of my life have been informed by Sisters …” When he obtained a job at the former Marycrest College he discovered that the Sisters of Humility who operated the school “are thinkers as well as doers.”
Sister Nancy Schwieters proudly introduced herself as a Sister of Humility and told vigil participants, “I just want you to know that Sisters are real.” She had initially resisted the call to religious life, but finally gave in to God and hasn’t regretted the decision in 52 years with her community. “I am so proud of what we have come to do in living out the Gospel,” she said.
“I believe our Sisters are unsung heroes,” added JoAnne Papich-Feldmann. She vowed to pray mightily for the Sisters that Vatican officials will listen and be reasonable in their expectations.
Sister Mary Rehmann, president of the Sisters of Humility, thanked everyone for their presence and their support. She also referred to a comment Ferris made about the Sisters of Humility stepping in to open Humility of Mary Shelter after the closing of another shelter. The diocese was a big help to the Sisters in making that happen. “That was very important to us and we very much appreciate the support,” she said.
After the meeting, when asked about criticism of some of LCWR’s actions and focuses, Sr. Rehmann noted that “we are an organization to help each other be better leaders.” As leaders, LCWR’s members are well versed in the Church’s teachings and thus concentrate efforts on being attuned to where God is calling them next in responding to people’s needs, she said. “We talk about being prophetic women.”
These are the thoughts of Catholics who have been impacted by women religious.