The 2017 assembly for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in Orlando, Florida, is not going to be a business meeting. It will be a spiritual experience, said Sr. Catherine Bertrand, a School Sister of Notre Dame and the assembly's facilitator, with as many experiences as women in the room. The conference represents about 80 percent of the 48,500-some women religious in the U.S.
Because of the popularity of last year's format, the conference will engage in contemplative dialogue for the second time at its Aug. 8-11 assembly.
And for the first time, LCWR is presenting its Outstanding Leadership Award to a contemplative sister, Carmelite Sr. Constance Fitzgerald. Her academic work has transformed the understanding of contemplative life today, said Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Annmarie Sanders, adding that Fitzgerald was "the face of renewal for contemplative nuns after Vatican II."
"She really transformed the understanding of contemplative life today," said Sanders, LCWR's associate director of communications.
This year's contemplations will be laced with the theme "The Transformative Power of Love" as well as the subject of grief, which will be addressed by the two keynote speakers: Jan Richardson, a United Methodist minister, and Christopher Pramuk, a theologian from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
While the theme of love has been in the pipeline for some time, St. Joseph Sr. Liz Sweeney, who will be the contemplative guide at the assembly, said the timing worked out perfectly.
"I think the current world situation makes it even more urgent that we learn ways to be the presence of love in every situation," she said. "It's certainly needed in our world because it's a countercultural kind of presence."
Bertrand said she hopes this theme, coupled with the practice of contemplative dialogue, will encourage an "outward thrust and moment."
"This isn't something that women religious just thought out," she said. "There's like a movement of mindfulness, this desire to slow down, to be more aware, to listen more intently, to really have a different consciousness in how we relate to each other. And it seems it couldn't be more timely, given what's going on in our world and country and church."