Seeking to ‘live the community for which Christ prayed’


By Barb Arland-Fye
Sisters of Humility strive to be who they are called to be in changing times

Sister Johanna Rickl, president, left, and Sister Greta Fitzgerald, vice president, were elected this summer to the leadership team of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, based in Davenport.

DAVENPORT — Responding to what’s happening in the Church and world today, the Sisters of Humility are focused on examining their lives within community and collaborating with like-minded partners outside of it.
Members of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary elected a new leadership team this summer: Sisters Johanna Rickl, president; Greta Fitzgerald, vice president; and Cabinet members Sisters Jeanie Hagedorn, Mary Bea Snyder and Mary Ann Vogel.
The new president and vice president sat down for an interview with The Catholic Messenger earlier this month, following their community’s general and representative assemblies. Members recognize the importance of working together, of doing their part for the sake of the whole. Prayer is integral to their gatherings, to their discernment of sense of purpose and mission, the two leaders said.
“There have been major changes in the way we understand and live religious life. This is like a stop and notice time … recognizing the new that’s already here and recognizing how that affects how we live our mission,” Sr. Rickl said. “We’re looking at issues that concern us and, seeking together, to strengthen our community.”
The Sisters of Humility (CHM) have 109 vowed members and 96 associate members; the latter are women and men who carry the CHM spirit into their personal and professional lives.  Building membership and an aging population are two pressing issues for the community and, consequently, the Sisters need to reach outside the community to maintain their many ministries. These include transitional housing; homeless shelter; retreat center; immigration reform; care of the earth; education; spirituality; pastoral care; counseling; health care; and prison ministry.
A team will be appointed to explore opportunities for potential new members, but just as important is nurturing existing members, the leaders say. “Our own continuing spiritual growth and helping each other move into the future involves integrity, being who we are called to be,” Sr. Rickl said.
As a group, the Sisters are exploring their strengths and the ways in which to best utilize them. They seek to open themselves to more and more “profound partnerships with like-minded people and work with them,” Sr. Rickl added. “We’re working hard to collaborate with others. In the past, we did many things on our own.”
The Second Vatican Council called women religious to go back to their roots, to find their charism and adapt to the times. In the Summer 2012 issue of The Flame, a publication for the Sisters of Humility and their friends, Sr. Rickl reflected on a section from the community’s constitution: “Joined together through a common commitment and call from God, the sisters seek to live the community for which Christ prayed, a community rooted and built on love. Their model is the early Christian community which was faithful to the teachings of Christ through the Apostles, shared with those in need, prayed daily, and broke bread together in their homes with glad and generous hearts.” (Acts 2:42-47)
Sr. Rickl noted in the article, “I emphasize that we are dedicated not only to CHM community but also to other communities with whom we are interdependent.”
“Each of us has different gifts and areas they can work with,” Sr. Fitzgerald said. “Will we be able to solve all of the problems? No. But we can do the best we can to work with the community and we’re all enthusiastic.”
Several years ago, when a Davenport homeless shelter was about to close down, the Sisters of Humility took a leap of faith and took over the shelter. It wouldn’t have been possible without support from outside the community.
Nonetheless, “we need to make ourselves better known in the community,” Sr. Rickl said. “We’re so accustomed to working under the radar, but the downside is that people don’t know what we’re doing. Others may be moved to help in that effort if they’re aware of it.”
She’s pleased with the way the housing and shelter ministry are working, but “we need others to help.”
“We have to work together. We have to know each other better,” Sr. Fitzgerald said. “We’re all responsible for our city, our state and our country.”
The Sisters recently commissioned a survey to determine people’s familiarity with the Congregation of the Humility of Mary. “In general, people think of us as friends and as supporters in their struggles,” Sr. Rickl said. They think of “the presence and the accompaniment of a caring person who makes a difference in people’s lives.”
“They know Sister will be there if you need her,” Sr. Fitzgerald said. “People respect that Sisters have worked hard in the Church.”
“We are also very aware of people who think the Sisters are on the wrong path,” Sr. Rickl said. But that’s part of the challenge of striving to be faithful to one’s calling, she added.
Five years from now, she envisions the Sisters of Humility as “faith-filled, joy-filled women living out what they were called to be and do.”
Sr. Fitzgerald said, “My vision for the Congregation of the Humility of Mary is that it will be flourishing and revitalized due to more women choosing to dedicate their lives to the congregation. But really, I think we’ll be fewer in numbers, but mighty in spirit.”
“I trust in God,” Sr. Rickl added. “We’re not called to be successful. We’re called to be faithful.”

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