New energy, focus for justice
Committing ourselves to our chosen justice focus on the environment
“What are these times calling us to do on behalf of justice? How can we harness our collective voice for the common good?”
These are the questions that led the Sisters of Providence to seek a new approach to their collective justice work.
With fewer vowed members, a growing number of Providence Associates, and needs as great as ever, it became clear to the sisters that unity and collaboration would deepen our impact on the world. These questions set in motion a broader conversation. This culminated with setting a corporate justice focus during the Sisters of Providence 2016 General Chapter assembly.
Before discerning a focus, sisters and associates gave input on their priorities. Six key justice issues emerged: environment, human trafficking, immigration and refugees, anti-racism, women’s issues and nonviolence.
If you know the Sisters of Providence well, you will not be surprised by this list.
- The sisters’ bold commitment to environmental sustainability has been lived out through the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and its programming over the past 20 years.
- The issue of human trafficking might bring back memories of the sisters’ involvement in a human trafficking awareness campaign leading up to Super Bowl 2012 in Indianapolis.
- Ministries like Providence in the Desert in Coachella, California, and Providence Family Services in Chicago, Illinois, have extended support for years to immigrant families through English as a second language classes, adult education, and more.
- The Sisters of Providence Anti-Racism Team formed after the community won a discrimination lawsuit on behalf of one of their own sisters in the 1990s. For well over a decade this committee has led sisters and the broader community to a deeper understanding of white privilege and institutionalized racism.
- The founding of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College as a women’s college is one manifestation of the sisters’ dedication to developing leadership in women and recognizing their value.
- And the sisters’ “Litany of Non-Violence,” prayed daily by many sisters and associates, acts as a clear testament to a non-violent way of living very present in sisters’ ministries and relationships.
Still, as more than 200 sisters, Providence Associates and partners in mission gathered on June 28, 2016, to discuss a new, collective way of approaching justice issues, there was a clear desire for focus. This was day two of the Sisters of Providence General Chapter meetings, and O’Shaughnessy dining room bustled with impassioned table conversation. Interspersed at these tables were the 12 newly appointed members of the Justice Coordinating Commission, the group that would put the justice directives of the General Chapter into motion.
We engaged in a “Big Picture Conversation.” Those gathered were asked to observe personal leanings among the top six issues that had been surfaced by the community over the past year.
Jeanne Rewa, a Candidate Providence Associate, local justice advocate and member of the Justice Coordinating Commission, reflects on this process:
“Though I have long been influenced by the justice work of the Sisters of Providence and have worked in collaboration with the sisters on justice issues, I am new to the discernment process that happens within the community. I was struck by the compassionate and open way in which my thoughts were welcomed and in which community members listened to each other. The way in which the community embodied the principles of nonviolence within the process of strategic planning was very powerful.”
Sister Barbara Battista was also moved by the process:
“It truly was the process of praying with and discussing significant issues with folks who come from different perspectives. There was no tension or defensiveness! The way we spent the time together will form the way we move forward into enacting our agreed upon desires and goals.”
“To see so many diverse voices unite behind a common mission represents, for me, the true picture of Church,” said Andrea Beyke, justice commission member and campus minister at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. “We are stronger because we share our opinions, and even more so because all of those opinions point toward hope for the future of the sisters, the world, and the Church at large.”
Following this contemplative process, all present identified their top two choices for a justice focus. Each person moved quietly and deliberately to stand by a sign representing their top issue to show their preference. We then repeated the process for second preferences. Jeanne describes the experience:
“The feeling in the room as everyone moved to stand with their top justice issues during our Big Picture Conversation was incredibly powerful. As so many people stood and walked together, even though we did it without talking, you could hear and feel the shifts of energy in the room. It was a beautiful way to embody how we were individually and collectively moved to act.”
By the end of the afternoon, the delegates voted unanimously for Environment as the Congregation justice focus for the next five years.
This is the first time in the community’s history that the sisters committed to one corporate justice focus. If the energy of the room on June 28 was any indication, the sisters, associates and mission partners are ready to embrace this new model wholeheartedly. As stated in the Chapter document, it is a choice “for the good of the whole – the Congregation and all creation.”
(Originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)