September 14, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – For the past three years, Adrian Dominican Prioress Patricia Siemen, OP, has played a special role in a canonical network of Catholic Sisters throughout the world. Her term as delegate for the United States, North America Constellation 3 of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) has given her a greater sense of global needs and responses – and a profound appreciation of the commitment of Catholic Sisters throughout the world.
“The greatest takeaway is that there is an extraordinary organization in Rome that represents the interests of congregations globally,” Sister Patricia said. The congregations of women religious around the world “differ very much from one another, but I found a commonality in mission, to live religious life authentically, to be in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable, and to share the charism of religious life globally with each other.”
As a delegate, Sister Patricia had opportunities to meet with Sisters from other nations – and from throughout the United States. For the past three years, she has served in leadership at the regional and global level with the other U.S. delegate, Sister Constance Phelps, SCL, Community Director of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. Both were elected in 2017 and completed their term in August 2020.
The UISG offers an opportunity every third year for the Major Superiors of all member women’s congregations throughout the world to gather. The most recent general assembly was May 6-10, 2019, in Rome. About 820 Major Superiors from 80 communities attended that meeting under the theme “Sowers of Prophetic Hope.” As a delegate, Sister Patricia helped to plan the event.
The plenary gatherings offer the opportunity to “learn the story of women religious from other cultures and other countries and a chance to support each other and to be formed,” Sister Patricia said. “It is a forum for women religious to meet and share on issues of religious life.”
The United States Constellation is one of 37 constellations in the UISG structure, each based on regions of continents and each represented by one or two delegates. The U.S. Constellation represents 143 congregations of women religious. Membership in the UISG is made up of the Major Superior – in the case of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, the Prioress – of each member congregation.
“The delegates form an international council,” Sister Patricia explained. “We are available to advise or be consulted by the UISG office in Rome in matters regarding religious life.” The UISG has its own board, which consults with the office on a regular basis, she said.
Sister Patricia attended the November 2017 international delegates meeting in Manila, the Philippines, which drew about 46 delegates to discuss and learn about interculturation. “It’s becoming a global institute for leadership on canonical issues and formation,” Sister Patricia said. The meeting also serves as a “forum for women religious to meet and share on issues of religious life.”
“I have learned from Sister delegates the common commitment to meeting the needs of the people of God, wherever they are,” Sister Patricia said. “I have learned the incredible resiliency and joy that Sisters from other countries exhibit, and their commitment to the Sisters and to the people they serve. I benefitted tremendously from [interacting with] people from different cultural and racial backgrounds and identities.”
The delegates also convene an annual meeting of all Superiors General in their own Constellation. Members of the U.S. Constellation usually gather the day after the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) assembly, Sister Patricia explained.
Sister Patricia and Sister Constance worked together on the agenda for this year’s August 15 gathering of the United States Constellation, highlighting care for Earth and updating members on the work of the UISG.
The Zoom call technology was arranged by the Communications and Technology Departments of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Brad McCullar, Director of Technology, and Sheila Wathen, Assistant Director of Communications, did “yeo-people’s work in getting this organized,” Sister Patricia said. She also gave credit to her assistant, Mary Weeber, and Sister Constance’s assistant, Pamela Logan, for the “behind-the-scenes organizing.”
During their service together as delegates, Sisters Patricia and Constance strove to increase the connection and conversations between the UISG and the LCWR. “LCWR’s mission is to attend to the needs of the elected leadership in the U.S., but there are so many common commitments [between the two groups] – to the environment, anti-human trafficking, protection of girls and women,” Sister Patricia said. “When we can build those connections globally, it enhances the work that we can do locally.”
Just as the Adrian Dominican Congregation served the needs of the Constellation, Sister Patricia said that her service as delegate benefitted the Congregation tremendously. Serving as a delegate “gave me a wider global view,” she said. “Congregational leadership isn’t only about the Congregation because we live in a wider world.”
Feature photo: Sisters Constance Phelps, SCL, left, and Patricia Siemen, OP, delegates for the U.S. Constellation, stand outside the retreat house during the UISG international delegates meeting in Manila in November 2017.
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:
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.”