Religious reflection gave spiritual renewal, respite
The beautiful and serene grounds of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Retreat Center on the lake in Metairie was the setting for a first-ever, week of reflection for men and women religious nationwide in early December.
The retreat was organized in direct response to Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Consecrated Life (Nov. 30, 2014, to Feb. 2, 2016) and his encouragement of special events for religious during this time.
“The Holy Father was clear at the beginning of the Year of Consecrated Life (in his apostolic letter to all consecrated people) that religious life is prophetic,” said Sister of Mount Carmel Beth Fitzpatrick, co-organizer and executive director of Religious for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “We knew what (religious life) meant in the past, but what is it today?”
Approximately 32 religious brothers and sisters from congregations nationwide participated. There were Marist brothers, Christian Brothers, Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, Holy Ghost religious, Dominican Sisters of Peace, Ursuline Sisters, Sisters of Christian Charity, religious from St. Joseph Congregation of the Holy Faith and Congregation of St. Joseph, Felician Sisters, Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady, Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Sisters of Mount Carmel, Sisters Servants of Mary, Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities and Missionaries of the Precious Blood.
“It’s like sisters and brothers enjoying each other,” Sister Beth said of the time of reflection. “It’s a good family spirit.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond opened the retreat with prayer on the first night. Main speakers were Franciscan Sister Nancy Schreck and Christian Brother Jeffrey Calligan, who led talks about consecrated life. Daily Mass, including one at St. Louis Cathedral, morning and evening prayer and a pilgrimage to sites where New Orleans religious leaders – some of them saints who led their Catholic ministries – highlighted the six days.
“This is such a transitional time in terms of religious life that we wanted something that would encourage hope,” Sister Beth said, adding how the two speakers complemented each other.
Speakers stirred thought
Sister Nancy, past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious who now works in Mississippi as director of community service for Excel, Inc., spoke about the challenges of the time, emphasizing the best of religious life.
“Sister Nancy looked at religious life historically,” Sister Beth said.
Brother Jeffrey is a life-long educator, currently ministering at St. Paul’s School in Covington, where he was previously a principal. He also was De La Salle High School principal, a member of the Lasallian Education Services in Melbourne, Australia, and an international lecturer and retreat director.
“Brother Jeffrey spoke about how Pope Francis talks about religious,” Sister Beth said. “What does it mean to be church today? The church is more than a collection of dogmas and buildings; it’s more than a hierarchy and the people of God.”
Sister Beth said the religious were advised not to always look to persons and monuments from the past when current times are challenging. The fire of the Holy Spirit remains inside of them, she said; they just have to be open to it.
Brother Jeffrey called on present day religious “to be a ‘triage station’ for a confused and suffering world, and that we share our charisms (gifts of the Spirit in God) freely given to us by God with our coworkers, associates and lay partners. The future is in God’s hands.”
During another of his presentations, Brother Jeffrey cautioned the religious not to be caught up in a definition of church that is too narrow.
“(Pope) Francis is calling us to be open to others outside of our faith traditions,” he said.
At one breakout session, an ABC News special hosted by anchor David Muir, which featured Pope Francis interacting with a virtual audience of Americans from several U.S. cities, was shown to the participants. The video, “Pope Francis & the People,” aired prior to his historic visit to the United States.
Several who attended expressed their gratitude for the refreshment of spirit.
“What an insightful week this has been,” Missionaries of the Precious Blood Brother Daryl Charron of the Kansas City Province said. “I felt challenged to be innovative and creative about the future of religious life in union with the members of both monastic and apostolic congregations. I experienced a certain interdependence among our group that really felt right because we were both male and female figuring it all out together.”
Sister Beth said the week of joint reflection was so well received that she is proposing to repeat it.
“They were just so grateful,” she said. “The men and women loved being together.”