Community Days 2023: Standing at a New Threshold
Presentation Sisters, associates and administrative staff gathered at Mount Loretto in Dubuque on July 20-23, 2023, to participate in the annual Community Days experience. The opening prayer stated, “As we gather, we find ourselves at a new threshold, grateful for all that has brought us to this place. This holy journey we take together in faith, knowing that God’s promise to be with us gives us the hope and the courage to step into an unknown future.”
Those present literally stepped across a threshold into the gathering space to symbolize that they were stepping into new territory. They were asked, “Are you willing to … step with trust into this sacred space … allow the Spirit to take you to places you might not imagine … do your part to contribute to the unfolding of God’s dream for the world?”
A chorus of energized voices called out, “We are!” And so began the sacred journey of transformation of hearts, transformation of passions and transformation of dreams. There was an enthusiasm evident in the group assembled. Sister Jean Ann Meyer states, “There is a strength and gentleness in being together as sisters, associates and staff imagine how we can bring Nano’s love to the world.”
Associate Janet Leonard reflects, “As I looked around the room and saw the beautiful women and men of our community, I felt so blessed by God to be a part of this loving group.”
Associate Deborah Barrett shares, “Living in California, I try to participate in as many Zoom and online Presentation programs as possible. It is wonderful to sit down in person and have meaningful conversations.”
Associate Maureen Utter concurs, “It is always a gift to be here with sisters and associates in this beautiful place.”
And so a lively beginning provided a readiness to absorb the words and spirit of speaker Sister Nancy Schreck, OSF, of Okolona, Mississippi. She highlighted that any crossing-over a threshold into new territory requires a transformation. To leave one’s comfort zone requires a sense of adventure and courage. To live sacred lives is to be at the edge of what we do not know. There are times when transformation includes the gift of collapse on a personal, communal or societal level. Former constructs evolve into soul-stirring new ways of being together.
In this new-found connectedness is an invitation for “thick speech” which Sister Nancy defined as making time and space for heart-centered sharing of who we really are, how we really feel and how we can empower each other to “dive deeply” into one another’s dreams … dreams for justice … dreams for our world. Sister Martha Donnelly expresses, “Sister Nancy nurtured hope and challenge for us.”
Transformation happens at the speed of trust. Once a new threshold has been crossed, some skills needed to continue on the path of transformation include commitment, reverence for time, finding comfort in the process of discernment, letting go of whatever is being held too tightly, development of a mystical prophetic presence and deep regard for wisdom. Sister Louann Doering muses, “I was reminded of our baptismal call to be a mystical, respectful, prophetic presence.”
Sister Julianne Brockamp expresses sincere appreciation for “the profound input by Sister Nancy which engendered respectful, energetic dialogue and openness to the slow evolutionary process of emerging new life in the midst of collapsing current and past obsolete systems.”
Sister Carrie Link formulated this stirring question for Presentation Sisters, associates and staff, “Where do we invest our giftedness and imaginations in addressing the needs we observe in our culture, a culture that is experiencing so much collapse?”
Another discussion focused on documents evolved from several previous community-wide conversations under the auspices of Plante Moran consultants, Erin George, Sister Mary Pellegrino, CSJ, and Jerry Gumbleton. They presented “Catalytic Moments for Radical Transformation” which includes positioning community intentionally for mission; broadening scope and definition of community; enlivening the Chapter call to transform ourselves and embrace radical hospitality; and creating new ways for Mount Loretto to be an internal expression of mission.
These points will be realized through expanded strategic interaction with the local civic community and local agencies engaged in human services.
Attention centered on a discussion of an approach to member wellbeing and vital living for Presentation Sisters. Emphasis was given to the expression of the community’s values and hopes for each sister to live her vocation to the fullest wherever she is and whatever her circumstances. This focus will guide the
development and implementation of new and/or renewed resources (organization, personnel, systems/structures) to ensure the ongoing holistic wellbeing of every sister.
Participants appreciated the various modes of communication that were implemented by facilitator Sister Kate DuVal, SSND, of the Mankato, Minnesota province. Alternating sharing in groups of two, three or five persons provided an opportunity to exchange meaningful conversation in multiple settings. Sister Kate gave careful attention to prefacing each sharing session with significant contemplative silence so that each person could speak from her heart as she expressed any resonance, resistance or resolution she experienced regarding the topic at hand.
Sister Marge Loughren shares, “I like questions that do not have a single right answer.”
Associate Carol Kane offers, “Each participant has the freedom to express oneself in a table group or the large assembly.”
Theologian John O’Donohue wrote, “Because a threshold embodies a great complexity of emotions such as confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope, these vital crossings are always clothed in ritual.” Thus Community Days prayer was punctuated with sacred symbols of living water, weaving of textiles and holy oil.
Sister Donna Demmer observes, “Morning prayer set the theme for each day.” An evening gathering
provided a time for fun, music and laughter that calls forth healing for the soul of all.
Community Days closed with a symbolic threshold crossing that propelled sisters and associates from their sacred meeting place into their sacred world. Sister Jessi Beck affirms, “The world in so many areas is at a threshold as we are in religious life. How we navigate changes with authenticity and vulnerability has the potential to contribute to the life of the world.”
The threshold has been crossed as we journey into the future on the path of transformation.