By Sister Lois Anne Palkert
To shine a spotlight on the profound impact of Catholic Sisters, in conjunction with National Women’s History Month, the second annual National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW) was held March 8-14, 2015. Through events and activities happening across the country, NCSW is intended to connect young women with Catholic Sisters.
I became acquainted with this celebration and the website (www.nationalcatholicsistersweek.org) from an article in a parish bulletin by a Faith Formation and Justice Director. In the article he states that during the week of March 8-14 we will probably not see any ads with special deals on furniture or “Sisters Week Cash Back” offers on cars. The purpose of the week is to help raise awareness of the past and present contributions of Sisters who give us “pictures of faithful witnessing of the gospel and profound service to God’s people in love”.
The rest of us need these pictures to strengthen our own faith and to animate our baptismal call to love and serve. We need the picture. We know that the picture of the Church in the United States would be significantly weaker without the passionate conviction and assertive leadership of Catholic Sisters. With great sacrifice and often without support from male hierarchy, Catholic Sisters served the poor, cared for the sick, and educated the immigrant masses at the elementary, high school and college level. It is quite a picture of faithful service to mission and ministry!”
National Catholic Sisters Week is supported by a $3.3 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation that is managed by a group from St. Catherine University in St Paul, Minnesota. The celebration began in 2014 as part of National Women’s History Month. The highlight of the inaugural National Catholic Sisters Week March 8-14, 2014 was a Sister/Student conference at St. Catherine University. The event drew more than 50 pairs of Sisters and college students from across the country and engaged hundreds more online, raising awareness of the profound influence of Sisters on young women.
Co-Director Sister Mary Soher, OP acknowledges the initial National Catholic Sisters Week was a sweeping success. “Among the Sisters there was such a claiming of sisterhood. There really is this sense that we are all sisters working in the mission of Christ. The college students who got involved were delightful. They found such peer support among other young women who also have this hunger to learn more about Sisters.”
As we continue to celebrate the commitment, compassion and influence of women religious, Sister Mary Soher is calling on people across the country to join the ongoing celebration – “tell the story of a Sister you admire, participate in a NCSW event or host an event.”
As part of National Catholic Sisters Week and its related storytelling initiative, Sister Story Sister Mary and co-director Molly Hazelton launched an ambitious oral history project to chronicle the life stories of Catholic Sisters. The goal is to produce 150 stories, each one created by a college woman who is partnered with a Catholic Sister and forges a relationship through weekly visits. As of spring 2015, 11 Catholic colleges and universities across the country are participating in the project, posting their official oral histories at vimeo.com/sisterstory.
Molly Hazelton, the co-director recognizes, “Cultural myths about nuns are persistent. We have taken up the cause of myth busting, which is a big charge. We’ve found the key to success is to foster personal relationships with women religious. We hear daily about how inspiring they are. For students grappling with major life decisions and exploring their spirituality there is a great strength and wisdom to be drawn from Catholic Sisters.”
Every year National Catholic Sisters Week continues to grow with events sponsored throughout the month and beyond from Discernment retreats, Come and See Weekends, Martha Dinners, prayer experiences including Sung Vespers, Holy Hour, Taize prayer, and a wide variety of educational opportunities. To spread the word about our contributions, Sister Mary encourages groups to host their own gathering to share their story of how the faithful witness of women religious has inspired them.
As we Sylvania Franciscans continue our preparations for the celebration of our 100th anniversary may we recognize the very important story we have to tell. We have and indeed do “Shake up the World”.
What a legacy!