By Barb Arland-Fye
CLINTON — A yearlong process of study, discussion and prayer inspired creation of a new leadership model that the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton will implement Sept. 1. For the first time, three Sisters will comprise a General Leadership Team and two of those will focus full-time on their leadership positions. Two other Sisters will serve as councilors to fulfill canonical requirements and will be consulted in specific situations. Previously, one elected Sister served full-time as president and the other four elected Sisters combined leadership responsibilities with other ministries.
“Leadership has become more complex in this day and age. It requires more attention,” said Sister Anne Martin Phelan, the new president. “At the same time, there’s a growing desire of the members to help out. They want to be a part of this, to make it not such a great task for just a few people.”
“What I love about the team idea is that each of us doesn’t have to have all the gifts,” said Sister Mary Smith, vice president. “I think we can be a leaven, or a model for communal governance, participatory leadership.”
“We can really work together with people. We can get better ideas. If people want to be involved, we can help them find ways to do that,” said Sister Eileen Golby, the third member of the General Leadership team, who serves as councilor. Sisters Martinelle Bonnell and Ruth E. Westmoreland serve as canonical councilors. All five were installed during an Aug. 26 ceremony in the chapel of The Canticle, motherhouse of the Clinton Franciscans.
With more time to devote to leadership, the Sisters can concentrate on broadening and deepening the outreach of their Franciscan spirituality and their corporate mission of active nonviolence and peace-making. They also plan to expand programs for sojourners and associates, non-vowed members that the Sisters consider to be part of the Clinton Franciscan family.
“We’re all working to make our mission and our charism come alive,” Sr. Golby said. Peacemaking is at the heart of that charism, or gift of the Holy Spirit. That charism will be the Clinton Franciscans’ central focus, a shift of focus from viewing the congregation as the central element to centering on the Franciscan spirit and way of life. The Sisters acknowledge that many young women are not ready to make lifelong commitments that the Sisters made at the same age in a different era.
At present, the Franciscan Family includes 62 vowed members, 73 associates and seven sojourners. The vowed members minister in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon and Peru. They engage in prayer and contemplation, education and rehabilitative services, pastoral and health care, ministry to immigrants, persons with developmental disabilities and persons who are elderly or infirm. The Sisters also provide religious education, spiritual direction, care for homeless persons, peace and justice advocacy.
“Our task is to invite people to awaken to their own giftedness and to provide the training necessary so that commitment translates into action for peace,” said associate Sallyann McCarthy, who also serves as communications director for the Sisters of St. Francis.
“The important thing is that the charism is carried on,” Sr. Smith said. “However our lives unfold is not known; we’re committed to the Gospel and sharing that Gospel message for the sake of the world.”
The Sisters 2012 Chapter Commitment Statement lays out their strategy:
• Begin a major educational process/program that integrates Franciscan spirituality and mission of active nonviolence and peacemaking.
• Provide ongoing training for facilitators; allocate seed money for creative new programs; develop and expand online media usage; partner with other peacemaking groups and organizations.
• Explore models of relationships among associates, sojourners and vowed members; articulate the purpose and distinction of each expression; develop a common orientation and education process, and empower associates and sojourners to assume more responsibility for self-organization and ministerial initiative.
“The benefit of being an associate or sojourner is that they come to us wanting to know about Francis and Clare and … we want to share the way we live and what we have and build on that,” Sr. Phelan said. “We are blessed by their presence, by their stories, their experiences,” Sr. Smith added. “They keep us more real.” Having associates nearby while she ministered in Kentucky meant a lot to Sr. Golby. “Associates are the people I depend on for community support when I’m not able to get home.”
Sr. Smith sees all of these efforts as building on integration of spirituality and ministry. It’s awakening people to the purpose and service of the common good. “This is the new consciousness, that everyone has this call to love and to serve.”
Public acknowledgement of their contribution to the greater community encourages the Sisters about the future. “Here in Clinton the Sisters of St. Francis experience a great deal of respect,” Sr. Phelan said. “The Sisters have been awarded every peace award the community has to give,” McCarthy added. “I think they’re seen as a model of active nonviolence and peacemaking.”
The Sisters’ involvement in the greater community goes back to Vatican II, which called Catholics to be engaged in the world in which they lived. But Vatican II remains a work on progress, Sr. Phelan noted. The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October “is an opportunity to explore and redefine ourselves in response to the call of the Council for the laity and the Church in the world,” she said.
Clinton Franciscans’ mission statement:
We Clinton Franciscans, in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, are called to contemplation and continuous conversion, and are sent as instruments of God’s peace. We promote active nonviolence and peacemaking, seek justice for those marginalized, and care for all creation.