With a focus on social justice, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious concluded its annual general assembly with an eye on the issues that will guide its commitments for the next three years and a celebration of the transfer of leadership.
Dominican Sister Maureen Geary becomes president-elect of the organization that represent 80% of Catholic sisters in the United States. She is one of the three-member presidential team.
A councilor for her order based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sister Geary is in her 16th year of congregation leadership. She has served on the LCWR national board and several committees. In addition, she has worked as a certified public accountant and attorney and has served in ministries with the Diocese of Grand Rapids Secretariat for Social Justice and the Kent County Coalition to End Homelessness.
Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, moved into the president role, succeeding Sister Jane Herb, of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who became past president.
Even as Sister Elise Garcia, of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, completed her term in the presidential triumvirate, Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph and LCWR's executive director, told her, to appreciative laughs, "it is not over."
Sister Zinn thanked Sister Garcia for her leadership during a particularly difficult time given the pandemic, which created myriad challenges for congregations as well as LCWR.
She called Sister Garcia a "manifestation of global sisterhood," saying "you are the living invitation to porous borders." She also noted that Sister Garcia has "an incredible capacity to create integrative partnerships and clearly the Gospel message in the public square is what your life is about."
LCWR voted to renew the focus of its 2019-2022 resolution: seeking communion at the intersection of racism, forced migration and the climate crisis. Those three issues will once again serve as a primary focus for the conference through 2025.
"We are heartbroken by the myriad ways our one human family and earth, our common home, continue to suffer from disconnection, indifference, violence, and the fear in the face of racism forced migration and climate crisis," stated the resolution, an outcome of "reading the signs of the times" and the "desire to create communion."
"Responding to God who loves all creation into being, we recommit ourselves to initiating and supporting opportunities to create a union and to more deeply examine the root causes of injustice," it said.
The sisters put a priority on the intersection of racism, forced migration and the climate crisis in projects and actions they take on for the next three years.
"We recognize a sense of urgency and pledge prayer, education action and advocacy," the resolution said. "We will use our collective voices, resources and influence in collaboration with others to establish justice, which reflects God's creating love."
LCWR's Global Concerns Committee presented the resolution before inviting a moment of quiet contemplation and table discussions. Sisters then shared their comments with the wider assembly.
One table noted the resolution is something that congregations of all sizes and charisms can "buy into" and that it puts them "in alignment with 'Laudato Si','" serving as an extension of Pope Francis' encyclical regarding care of the earth as the common home for all.
Following speeches, readings about the history of racism in Missouri, as well as the harmful effects of the Mississippi River being the second most-polluted waterway in the country -- which, the presenters noted, disproportionately affects St. Louis' Black population -- sisters engaged in a symbolic justice action through prayer.
Led in both English and Spanish, each prayer had the sisters face one of the four cardinal directions, ending with their hands facing the earth, the heavens and their hearts.
"Help us to remember the breath of life that comes from all our relations and interconnectedness of all creation," they prayed, facing east.
Another afternoon session included briefly celebrating the 50th anniversary of Network, a Washington-based Catholic social justice lobbying organization.
Mary Novak, Network's executive director, said that the organization's "inter-congregational ministry" was and is a charism of "collaboration and listening."
She explained that the organization is recommitting itself to its founding spirit: "healing the divisions in our society by shaping federal policy to dismantle systemic racism, to center equity and reparatory justice, to protect our democracy, and to protect our common home."
Sister Garcia presented Novak with a check for $100,000 in "anticipation and support for the next 50 years of transformative political engagement."
Sister Zinn closed the conference -- before the traditional banquet and awards presentation -- with a final blessing for leadership: "May we be led always to this deeper place of mystical wisdom, may God be the one that leads us out of this room when we leave and go back home."
The assembly in St. Louis Aug. 9-12 was the first in-person gathering since the pandemic began in 2020.