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August 23, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sister Elise García, OP, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), opened the organization’s August 11-13, 2021, annual assembly – held virtually this year – with a presidential address that outlined the history of racism in the United States and noted the complicity in racism of the Catholic Church, as well as among women religious.
“We, as Americans, have cheated ourselves of the full truth of our history, ignoring or eliding the painful stories that inextricably interweave and form the full fabric of our lives as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Euro Americans, and Latinx Americans,” Sister Elise said in her Presidential Address, Creating Space for the Future: Cutting Deeper Grooves of Transforming Love into Evolution.
The issues of systemic racism and white privilege became especially clear in May 2020 with the murder of George Floyd and the killing of other African Americans by white police officers.
Sister Elise challenged the women religious to do the work of identifying racism and white supremacy, “acting to dismantle them in our personal lives, institutes, Conference, and ministries.” She encouraged all Christians to follow Jesus and to take on the way of the cross, a “giving over of oneself to the radical love and solidarity that Jesus lived, extending ourselves as kin to all who are marginalized, excluded, disinherited.”
Finally, Sister Else spoke of the inspiration of African American slaves, whose mysticism and faith were described by Dr. Shawn Copeland in her book, Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Spiritual Experience. “Dr. Copeland has gleaned insights into what she calls the ‘dark and hidden wisdom’ of the enslaved by drawing on their narratives, their stories, and their spirituals.”
Sister Elise’s address was followed by a ritual asking forgiveness for the way in which women religious participated in racism and white privilege. Sister Elise was joined by Sisters Jane Herb, IHM, President-elect; Jayne Helmlinger, CSJ, Past President; and Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director.
During the prayer, each woman formally delivered an apology. “Before God and all who have been grievously harmed through the generations by our complicity as women religious in the enslavement of children, women and men, I – on behalf of our Conference and members – acknowledge these sinful acts by our congregations, offer a profound apology, and pray for forgiveness.”
Read Dan Stockman’s article about the opening of the LCWR Assembly in the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report.
Feature photo: Sisters Elise García, OP, left, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Jane Herb, IHM, President-elect, take part in a ritual marking the sorrow of women religious for their complicity in racism.
May 11, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Elise D. García, OP, General Councilor of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, and Angie Kessler, Director of Communications, were part of a six-member panel of leaders and communicators of congregations of U.S. Sisters who spoke on successful collaboration between practitioners of the two disciplines. Angie succeeded Sister Elise, who was Director of Communications before she was elected to the General Council in 2016.
The webinar, Successful Collaboration between Communicators and Leadership, was offered May 3, 2021, and sponsored by Communicators of Women Religious (CWR) and the International Union of Superiors General (UISG).
Other panelists were Sister Eileen McKenzie, FSPA, President, and Jane Comeau, Communications Director of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Sisters Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP, Prioress General, and Beth Murphy, OP, Communications Director of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois.
The webinar focused on best practices, success stories, and challenges in collaboration. Sister Elise noted one success story for the Adrian Dominican Sisters is the ability of the General Council to issue statements on a broad range of issues. Once the General Council has agreed on a statement, she said, it relies on the Communications team to prepare it for release and to get it out to media outlets and on social media.
Occasionally, Sister Elise added, Angie suggests a topic or issue on which the General Council might want to issue a statement. “That’s a huge help because it means we’re all attuned and have our ears to the ground to issues of importance to our world and to our congregation,” Sister Elise said.
Angie noted that one component to successful collaboration is respect, specifically the General Council’s treatment of the Communications team as partners. “I know many times communication can be seen as a tool, but we are really seen as a partner in the mission of the Adrian Dominican Sisters,” Angie said. “That means being at the table, being part of the planning process, which gives us a broad understanding of the issue that we’re trying to create a message for.”
In discussing the challenges they face, Sister Elise noted the “incredible pace at which we’re working across the board.” Both she and Angie spoke of the importance of taking the time to study new forms of communication and to plan the best way to reach each audience with the various means of communication, from bulletin boards to electronic media and new forms of social media. The best practice to face that challenge, Angie said, is to “think through everything very carefully … making sure we’re doing the communicating as we need to, in a timely way, but also making sure that everything is communicated well.”
The panelists also discussed the role of trust and confidentiality in their successful collaboration and shared stories on challenging efforts, such as sharing a difficult message about the Congregation’s past in a way that was transparent and honest.
Watch the recording of Successful Collaboration between Communicators and Leadership.