2023 IPA Assembly: Listen! God of the Universe Beckons
The International Presentation Association (IPA) is an association of Catholic religious congregations of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Presentation people, friends and associates. Inspired by Venerable Nano Nagle, who founded our congregations, together, we work for personal and systemic change for people and Earth. IPA vision is a world in which the oneness and sacredness of all life is honored. IPA mission is to speak and act in partnership with others for global justice from a contemplative stance in a spirit of oneness with the whole of creation. (Seventh Assembly, 2017)
In June 2023, nearly 70 Sisters of the Presentation and women and men associated with the various congregations from 16 countries gathered for seven days in St. John’s, Newfoundland, for the 8th Assembly of the International Presentation Association (IPA).
Thirty-five years ago, leaders of Presentation congregations f rom around the world gathered in Los Gatos, California, to establish the IPA with a commitment to deepening a corporate understanding of the Presentation charism. With a desire to share in an ongoing conversion toward serving those living in poverty, the Los Gatos participants committed to developing a process for speaking and acting collaboratively for justice.
Coming together every five years, Presentation Sisters and Presentation people acknowledge and celebrate the ongoing work of IPA and join in focusing the common commitments to the works of justice going forward. Sisters Carmen Hernandez, Mary Lou Specha, Joetta Venneman and Joy Peterson, representing the Dubuque Presentation Sisters, were among the attendees in Canada.
Dr. Jesse Rogers, Scripture scholar and Dean of Theology in St. Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland, was invited to break open the assembly’s theme of listening to God’s beckoning in the universe. Her reflections reminded the group of the interconnectedness of the universe as a reflection of God’s unifying love. Drawing from Scripture stories of God’s faithfulness, she challenged listeners to perceive God’s actions and invitations in these times.
This framing of the work of the assembly opened the way for the following days of listening to the stories of the efforts of Nano Nagle’s daughters and sons who work for justice on six of the world’s continents. Sister Mary Lou describes the experience of hearing those stories, “The IPA assembly reconfirmed my commitment to serving as a daughter of Nano. We shared many stories of the cries of women and children around the world desperately needing our love to heal so many injustices. There is a unique spirit that is joy-filled and contagious when a group of apparent strangers meet but know we are deeply connected to bring hope to our world.”
One of the common efforts of IPA has been the support of a non-governmental representative at the United Nations. Taking the corporate concerns for the work at the United Nations and at the grassroots, Presentation people respond to the cry of Earth and to those made poor by embracing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a human rights framework, addressing the issues of women and children, care of Earth and indigenous peoples. Speaking about the global goals of IPA, Sister Joetta states, “One of the aspects that touched me was how those gathered made efforts and progressed at being together interculturally. We sought to understand more clearly our collective identity as IPA.”
From hearing stories of the care for Bedouin women in the Holy Land, to the work of the Papua New Guinea sisters who help women heal from trauma, to the efforts to educate Roma children in Slovakia, and so many more stories, came a sense of solidarity in believing that because one Presentation person is there offering care, the whole Presentation family is giving support.
At the 2017 assembly in Sydney, Australia, there was a call for developing a new structure for IPA. This new structure established the position of an executive director along with a team working together to promote the work of the United Nations, to network the efforts of the justice contacts and to provide support through meaningful reflections of Presentation spirituality and charism. While COVID-19 interrupted plans for meeting physically, under the guidance of Sister Ann Marie Quinn, executive director, multiple Zoom meetings were held to develop a strategic plan of action to direct the work of the justice contacts. These virtual gatherings strengthened the sense of collaborative international efforts to eliminate violence against women and children, attend to care of creation and deepen advocacy for indigenous and tribal peoples. The assembly offered time for the justice contacts to meet and share their resolve to continue their work toward these commitments.
Recognizing that the communities of sisters in Europe, Australia and North America are diminishing, the assembly called for a governance structure that will expand participation in the continuance of Nano’s charism of love and service. For the first time, a board of directors made up of sisters and Presentation people with passion for the mission will be established to guide IPA into the future. Nano’s dream of serving those made poor “in any place in the world” will be the guiding light for this new board.
During the assembly, the participants frequently reminded each other that, “We are all IPA no matter where we live.” Sister Carmen captures that outlook in her words, “The IPA Assembly was filled with great energy and provided me a new appreciation of the work that is being achieved all over the world by Presentation people. The conversations and diversity of peoples left me with a deep sense of unity that we are all in this together trying to carry on IPA’s mission.”