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September 8, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Roman Catholics around the world celebrate many key liturgical seasons: Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. Now Catholics can join their Protestant sisters and brothers in a deeper celebration of a new liturgical season: the Season of Creation, held annually from September 1 through October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

The Season of Creation gives people of faith the opportunity to focus on God as Creator and on their need to appreciate and reverence creation and to cherish and protect Earth. This year’s theme is “Jubilee for the Earth: New Rhythms, New Hope.”

Father James E. Hug, SJ

Father James E. Hug, SJ, Sacramental Minister for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, wrote a Catholic liturgical guide, Season of Creation 2020: Jubilee Time for the Earth, to help Catholic communities celebrate the special themes of the Season of Creation in conjunction with the liturgical readings and prayers already designated for Sundays and weekdays during this period. Father Jim has been writing these liturgical guides for the past three years to bring out the themes of Season of Creation during the Sunday Liturgies at which he presides for the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

“One of the things I found out when I started looking into the Season of Creation in the ecumenical world was that they had a website and they would create liturgies for use during the season, with special readings more oriented toward environmental themes – and Catholics didn’t have the freedom to do that,” Father Jim said. “I decided I would keep in front of me the ecological crisis and what we’re facing and use the normal readings for the Sundays of Ordinary time and ask what they said about this situation.”

This year’s liturgical guide includes commentary on each Sunday’s readings and how they pertain to environmental issues and suggestions for the Opening Prayer, Penitential Rite, intercessions, Prayer over the Gifts, Prayer after Communion, and the Final blessing. In addition, Denise Mathias, Motherhouse Music Minister, suggested hymns and responsorial psalms to go with each Sunday’s theme. 

This summer, as Father Jim prepared for the 2020 Season of Creation, he heard from Amy Woolam Echeverria, Chair of the Board for the Global Catholic Climate Movement. She was involved with the Vatican Dicastery (office) for Promoting Integral Human Development, which wanted to create materials to promote Pope Francis’ 2015 environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’ and the Season of Creation. Father Jim sent his materials to her, and they were developed and designed into a document that was disseminated throughout the world.

Through Amy, Father Jim said, he began to get positive feedback from around the world, including Latin America, Australia, Oceana, and England. “I certainly had huge amounts of energy,” he said. “It’s exciting. There’s a sense that this is part of a new mission, a new contribution that I’m being asked to make.” 

Father Jim has long been active in social justice issues. Before ministering with the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 2013, he served for 28 years – 24 years as Director – at the Center of Concern, a social justice institute based in Washington, D.C. “Our focus was on analyzing the social structures of injustice, but particularly economic,” Father Jim said. “Through that kind of work, ecology kept showing up.” 

He became more involved in environmental issues in 2008 when an Ignatian Associate asked him to develop a workshop for a conference on creation. While doing his research, he said, “I realized how integral the ecology issues were to the social justice-systemic justice set of concerns that I was working on.” 

Father Jim sees all social justice issues as interrelated. He said he is resonates the most with Pope Francis’ statement in Laudato Si’ that the world doesn’t face two crises – economic and ecological – but one “complex, interrelated crisis.” 

“I’ve found myself throughout my professional life trying to help people see that we are part of huge systems,” Father Jim said. “We live simultaneously on the interior level, the interpersonal level … and in communities, in societies, in systems that govern how we develop and how we live.”

Father Jim emphasized that focus on the environment is a component of the Catholic faith. “There’s so much in our tradition about nature,” he said. “The gifts of nature [are] gifts from God, given to be shared and cared for.” But, he said, our culture values consuming resources to the point that it has become destructive to our planet. “The simplest and most direct way to say it is you can’t say you love your neighbor if you poison their water or air, increase their respiratory diseases, or push them off their land.”

Scientists have been warning about the planet being about a decade from reaching the “tipping points” that would bring about irreversible effects of climate change, Father Jim said. He hopes his liturgy guide can help Catholics to make the connection between social justice and environmental issues, understand their responsibilities, and move our society to action.  

“It’s exciting to be part of something that is needed, recognized, and going somewhere,” Father Jim said. “That’s what our mission is all about.”


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September 2, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Serving in leadership is “an extraordinary experience. It’s a gift, truly, to give of oneself in this way and extremely rewarding.”

That was the reflection of Sister Elise D. García, OP, General Councilor of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, during an interview shortly after she formally took on the role of President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) during the organization’s virtual assembly, August 12-14, 2020. During the interview, Sister Elise reflected on her leadership at the LCWR, the ministry of leadership in religious life, and the future of religious life.

The LCWR is an association of the leaders of congregations of U.S. Catholic women religious, representing about 80 percent of the Catholic Sisters in the nation.

Sister Elise first took on the role of leadership at the LCWR during the 2017 assembly, when the LCWR was restructuring its board from membership by chairs of the organization’s regions to membership of people who had particular skills needed on the board.

“I had three people ask if I would consider serving on the board, so I thought I needed to pay attention,” Sister Elise said. She was elected to the national board and, during the 2019 assembly, was invited to consider putting her name in for the presidency. She was elected as President-elect, to serve in 2019-2020 on the tripartite governance structure with Sister Jayne Helmlinger, a Sister of St. Joseph of Orange, as President and Holy Cross Sister Sharlet Wagner as the Past President.

Now as President, Sister Elise will serve this year with Sister Jane Herb, IHM, as President-elect and Sister Jayne Helmlinger as Past President. The three form a leadership team with Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of LCWR. Sister Maureen O’Connor, OSF, serves as treasurer.

The officers meet at least monthly and hold four board meetings a year, during which they plan for and facilitate the annual assembly, Sister Elise explained. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, she added, the leadership team has met through Zoom.

As President, Sister Elise will lead the LCWR in three major initiatives:

  • A Spirit Call within a Call, a five-year program to address systemic racism and white privilege. The journey will address essential questions among the member congregations of women religious in the LCWR. “My top priority is to put all my energy and whatever I can give to this so that this can be a truly transformative journey of change and of creating new pathways that are reflective of who we say we are as women religious,” Sister Elise said.
  • A national conversation around the capacity and the future of religious life. This will involve “looking at our demographics as a take-off point and trying to create a space for congregations to have conversations with each other,” Sister Elise said. “Instead of having each congregation look at its own numbers, we want to open it up so we’re all engaged … to collaborate as we move into this very different future.”
  • Providing a fund for the future of religious life through the proceeds of the sale of the Silver Spring, Maryland, headquarters of the LCWR and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM). The fund would be available for projects such as meetings of the younger Sisters. “It’s a real investment, a sign of LCWR’s commitment to the future of religious life,” she said.

Now in her second year in the triumvirate governance form of the LCWR, Sister Elise said her year as president will be different because of the responsibility she will hold. “As President-elect, you step right into the presidency, but you’re not the person who is ultimately responsible,” she said. “Once you become President you are in essence the Chair of the Board. If matters arise internal or external that require commenting or that require official attention, the one serving in the role of President is the one called to step up and respond.”

In her years of leadership – both in the Adrian Dominican Congregation and in the LCWR – Sister Elise has learned much. “One of the key learnings is the extraordinary care and respect and love that the Sisters in elected leadership have for religious life in a general sense – including their own congregations, but well beyond that,” she said.  “There’s an extraordinary willingness for the women to make themselves available for the mission of religious life and the LCWR. That’s been a delight, and really inspirational.”

Still, Sister Elise recognizes that leadership in religious life also has its challenges. For her, the biggest challenge is to “negotiate and manage so many different aspects of our life,” both the internal concerns of the congregation or the LCWR and the external concerns of the world. As a religious leader, she said, she is called to “maintain every day a posture of being responsive to the cries of the Earth and the cries of the poor … and at the same time we have all the internal aspects of running a congregation at a time of incredible change.”

Sister Elise expressed her appreciation for the gifts and the support of the other members of the Adrian Dominican General Council: Prioress Patricia Siemen, OP; Sister Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, Vicaress; Sister Frances Nadolny, OP, Administrator; and Sister Patricia Harvat, OP. “We all check in with one another once a week to make sure that we’re connecting as sisters and are mindful of each other in terms of who might be carrying extra weight this week or the next,” Sister Elise explained.

Sister Elise is also appreciative of Patrick O’Neill, a facilitator who works with the Congregation’s Leadership Council – the General Council and Chapter and Mission Prioresses – at least quarterly to discuss the larger question about who they are as individuals and leaders. She also appreciates the Co-workers on the Motherhouse campus, who keep the campus running smoothly, allowing the General Council to focus on its own ministry: looking ahead.

Sister Elise spoke of the “extraordinary experience” of leadership. She noted that many Sisters have taken on various leadership roles in their ministries, “day-in and day-out in all kinds of arenas.” Yet, leading at the congregational level is a unique experience. “It focuses on our life in the Congregation or religious life more broadly,” she said. “There’s something about serving the life itself that is really inspiring, and I just love it.”

She encouraged those who feel called to leadership at the level of a congregation or religious life to pursue it. If you should be elected, she said, “you’re in for an extraordinary experience that is both hugely demanding and hugely rewarding.”


 


 

 

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