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Fanning the Flames of Hope: Dominican Sisters in Assembly

The joy of being together in the same space is one way the Dominican Sisters of Springfield fan the flame of hope.

They were most recently together during General Assembly, a time of conversation, prayer, and communal study held in June 2022.

The annual three-day meeting, held at Sacred Heart Convent, Springfield, Ill., brought most of the congregation under one roof. Travel concerns kept the sisters in Peru from being physically present but they joined in via videoconference.

Topics discussed during assembly reflected several outsized challenges facing humanity, the nation, and the Church—and consequently begging a response from the sisters, individually and as a whole, because of their role as publicly consecrated persons in the Church. Among the questions addressed were:

  • What are we called to do to mitigate the effects of climate change and foster a new understanding of integral ecology, humanity’s relationship to Creation?
  • How do we hear the voices and respond to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community within our Church?
  • What is required of us as a consequence of the damage colonialism and white supremacy have caused the Indigenous people of the Americas?

The sisters also reflected on an early draft of the congregation’s final report to the Vatican for the ongoing synod A Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission, and took time to reflect on their congregational story as they approach the 150th anniversary of their founding.

Humanity in Creation

Sisters Marcelline Koch and Sharon Zayac led the sisters in a discussion of integral ecology and briefed them on progress the Laudato Si’ Action Platform Committee has made in creating the 2022-2023 action plan for the sisters and their associates in response to Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The final plan will be publicly released during the Season of Creation. This global ecumenical observance, held annually between Sept. 1 and Oct. 4, is a time for faith communities to highlight the scientific and spiritual response necessary for mitigating the dangers of climate change.

“I hold on to the firm belief that everything we do [in this regard] makes a difference,” Sister Sharon said “The choices we make from here on out will help impact the change so desperately needed in the world.”

Synodality

Synodality is how the Catholic Church describes its desire to walk together and live together into new ways of being Church. From 2021-2023 the Church is engaged in a global synod, and the Dominican Sisters took part in that by convening 15 listening sessions with associates, board members from three sponsored high schools, members of SDART (the antiracism team), students from their sponsored high schools, and coworkers at Sacred Heart Convent. During assembly the sisters who convened these meetings presented the draft of the report submitted to the Vatican.

Sister Karen Freund invited the sisters to recognize their own voices and the voices of associates and other participants as they prayerfully reviewed the draft, which she said is “A credible representation of what went on in those discussions, stated in a way that can be quickly and easily accessed by the people who will be reading our report at the Vatican.”

Conversation facilitator Sister Joanne Delehanty said the sisters’ participation in the synod was an action of hope. Quoting Sister Joan Chittister, she said:

“‘What is static dies under the impulse of a creating God.’ We cannot be static and be church. We cannot be static and be women of the church,” she said. We are all of us equally adults, equally members of this Church, and equally responsible for her.”

Humanity as Creation

Pastoral awareness of the spiritual challenges facing the church in its response to the LGBTQ+ community has led the sisters to a period of communal study and reflection on how to accompany persons who often feel alienated from and unwelcome inside the Catholic Church. To address that need, the sisters have convened a “Circle of Allies”—persons who agree to walk together with the sisters as they help shape an ongoing response to this pressing pastoral need.

In her preaching during assembly Sister Kelly Moline suggested one path. “In times of difficulty we, as God’s people must stick together,” she said, calling her Dominican Sisters “To infuse courage in one another and to strengthen our bonds to one another” by virtue of “our profession to God, Blessed Mary, Blessed Dominic, and to each other.”

There was also an introduction to the growing awareness and practice of land acknowledgement. This is only the beginning of an awareness and acknowledgement of the lands stolen from indigenous peoples and of their millennia-long role as caretakers of the lands they inhabited. Land acknowledgement is a way of being aware of the peoples whose lives were all but erased by Church and U.S. policies. Sister Marcelline invited the assembly to “see land more broadly, as a gift in relationship with us and we with it. Indigenous peoples have much to teach us about our relationship with the land, with all of creation and with the cosmos. This is a path on our journey of listening deeply to the brokenness of the world, being transformed by it and offering ourselves for its healing.”

The Holy Preaching

When gathered in assembly, members of the congregation often share the gift of their engagement with the Word of God through preaching, and such was the case at this assembly. In her preaching on St. Paul’s treatise on hope in his letter to the Romans, Sister Judith Hilbing attempted to put words around what hope means for believers attempting to cooperate with the Spirit in the transformation of our world today. “How have we fanned the flames of hope?” she asked, before sharing a litany. “Hope is named: The Springfield Project, M.E.R.C.Y. Communities, SDART, the Springfield Coalition on Dismantling Racism, Mini O’Beirne Crisis Nursery, Project IRENE, St. Patrick School, the Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network….” Just a partial list of hopeful efforts with which our congregation and sisters have been or are still associated.

Available Now!

Sister Judith’s preaching inspired a beautiful Litany of Hope that we are using to create a contemplative video experience. Watch it HERE!  You are invited to pray with it and extend it with your own experience of fanning the flame of hope.

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