Sr. Helen Maher Garvey, BVM, is an organizational consultant for religious congregations. Presently she serves on the Board of the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company. She was the director of the LCWR History Exhibit, Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America. Garvey held the position of Director of the Office of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Lexington for 10 years. She served in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) from 1986 to 1989 and was a U.S. Delegate to the International Union of Superiors General. Helen was president of her congregation, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Dubuque Iowa. She received her B.A. in English from Clarke College and her master’s degree and doctorate in Organizational Development at Columbia University, New York.
There is a restless peace among women religious. The Vatican and the congregations of women religious in the United States have completed the apostolic visitation process initiated by the Vatican. Some people will continue to debate the terms of the settlement between LCWR and CDF, but sisters are moving to other issues. Sisters were passionately involved in other issues before and during and these events. But before we squander this moment, it would be a loss not to seek its fullest meanings, its learnings. What can we discover in these events? What we will take with us from this crucible? How do we navigate an environment relatively free from conflict between the official church and women religious in the United States?
It is Holy Thursday, a day when practicing Catholics (very practicing Catholics) yearn to be in their own parish, their own Motherhouse, their own Newman Center. For older folks, the strains of “Pange Lingua” rise from the past. For younger members, “Jerusalem My Destiny” may evoke similar grace. For all these believers a certain mystical sense of Holy Thursday penetrates the day – the practical mysticism of the washing of the feet, the drying of the feet, and for Pope Francis, the kissing of the feet. It is nourishment, communion and the overwhelming experience of the ritual.
One more Lent, one more chance to return to God with all our hearts. How does that happen?
Light streams through the ancient stained glassed windows into the silent chapel. Quiet figures steady their wavering bodies, grasping the familiar chair, coming to rest in the hallowed space. Ready, ready are the pure white cloths, the corporal in its chaste folds, the cup, golden in the morning sun, the sisters in their irrevocable places. Slowly they gather, these women of the Lord.