Clinton Franciscans discuss community’s future at summer gathering

Sisters Joan Theiss, Teresa Kunkel and Judy McKenna converse during the annual summer gathering of the Clinton Franciscans last month at The Canticle in Clinton.

By Amanda Eberhart
For The Catholic Messenger
After a two-year hiatus, the annual summer gathering of the Clinton Franciscan family took place July 13-15 at The Canticle in Clinton. More than 50 Sisters, Sojourners and Associates attended the meetings and special events.
Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP, offered a day of reflection July 13 on creating sacred spaces for reconciliation and repair of harm on multiple levels, which relates to the congregation’s 2021-2025 Chapter Commitment Statement. During the presentation, “Another Way of Seeing, Another Way of Being,” Sister Rebecca shared insights and practices on the spirituality of reconciliation and peacemaking.
“To create a space for reconciliation and to repair harm on multiple levels, we need to first begin with the spiritual underpinnings that give us a foundation from which to move forward,” explained Sister Rebecca. “Wounds remind us that our lives have been changed in some way. Wounds unattended to and allowed to become further festered can poison subsequent events.”
Participants explored ways of living, acting and being by focusing on two practices of reconciliation — contemplative prayer and the creation of safe and hospitable spaces. Contemplative prayer teaches patience in waiting, makes it possible to hold one’s woundedness in the Spirit, and increases the capacity to imagine peace.
“Consistent practice of contemplative prayer helps to open our own inner space, let go of superficial matters, sense the interconnection with all, and ground us in the Christ present in everything,” said Sister Janice Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis. “This enables us to be more open to the humanity of the other, less judgmental and able to listen attentively. Creating sacred spaces by accepting the humanity and experience of the other releases healing energy.”
“It is within safe and hospitable spaces that the oppressed can dwell and explore their own wounds and come to imagine a different future,” Sister Rebecca said. “It must be a place where the oppressed are not victimized again. That sense of safety is one of the most important things that an agent of reconciliation can mediate,” she concluded.
For the past year, Mark Clarke of CommunityWorks Inc., has been assisting the congregation with strategic planning. On July 14, he presented the topic of vulnerability, highlighting the core elements of safety, identity, sense of security and belonging.
“We live in very shifting times. That is why reconciliation and vulnerability are virtues. We often see vulnerability as a problem. For change to happen though, it requires vulnerability, perseverance and resilience. Quoting Brene Brown, ‘Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s our greatest measure of courage,’” Mark explained.
Comparing vulnerability to the framework of Disney creative strategy, he shared a pattern to face and deal with vulnerability in terms of vision, belief, risk and courage. To shape going forward, participants reflected on congregational history and what enabled resilience over the years.
Participant Sister Jeanne d’Arc Untz shared, “As our community moves forward into the future, our vulnerability, our not being in control; our relationships with God, with others and with ourselves is the most important aspect of our Franciscan lives. Like Saints Francis and Clare, we live in Jesus the Christ who was 100% vulnerable. We, too, will be able to be among those who bring about reconciliation, healing and forgiveness.”
Franciscan Peace Center employees provided an update on their ongoing advocacy and outreach efforts and presented a report on the progress and future activities of the Laudato Si’ Action Plan. The Clinton Franciscans have committed to carrying out an action plan centering on three of the seven focus areas: eco spirituality, cry of the Earth and cry of the poor.
The summer gathering concluded with a business meeting for sisters, the celebration of commissioning and adoption of a new theme: Venture Along New Paths. Sisters, Sojourners and Associates were commissioned to their local communities and particular ministries within the Clinton, Chicago and western regions.

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