A silver lining

This article appears in the Apostolic Visitation and See for Yourself feature series.

Yesterday I was chatting with two priest friends about the news that the report of the Apostolic Visitation would be released on Dec. 16. One said, “Well, you know it’s going to be good news or they wouldn’t be holding a press conference. Bad news would be buried and never mentioned again.”

I was surprised at how distant a memory it was for me to recall the Apostolic Visitation. Was it only six years ago, in the fall of 2008, that the entire thing started? Back then I was just beginning a four-year term on the Leadership Team of my order and the Apostolic Visitation was the first huge piece of business for our team of four elected sisters.

No, we weren’t overjoyed at having to endure the exercise. No, we weren’t happy with the underlying accusative tone that the American apostolic orders of sisters were not living as we should. No, we didn’t like the demeaning and negative affront to our very core as apostolic religious women. I admit that my first reaction was that all American sisters working in parishes should go on strike for one weekend – to spawn the realization of all we do and who we are when parishes are crippled by not having us.

Be reasonable. What if there’s a positive to all of this?

As congregational secretary, I eagerly embraced the assignment to shepherd our response. It was up to me to work on the Visitation’s questionnaires, to research the facts, and to gather the supporting documents. I saw it as a unique opportunity to tell the Vatican directly what a faithful congregation we Sylvania Franciscans are. I went at that with fervor and a positive attitude.

In May 2009 we did our own “Quality of Our Religious Life” survey of our members as a reflection opportunity, and 69 percent of our sisters participated. Our survey traversed eight aspects of our life: spiritual life; Franciscan evangelical life; communal life; ministerial and professional life; witness; health and recreational life; vocations; and temporal goods (stewardship).

Enlisting several sisters to oversee the survey work, including statistical gurus, we reached the following conclusion: “We see ourselves in 2009 has having a vibrant spiritual life, as being faithful to our Franciscan Evangelical Life with an ongoing commitment to deepening our Franciscan Charism and Values, as putting a priority on communal life, ministry, and witnessing as a Sylvania Franciscan, and using our resources wisely.  Areas for improvement included taking more responsibility for our own health and recreation and for promoting vocations.”

To me, the above provided significant findings not only to share with the Apostolic Visitation study but also to be reflection fodder for us.

Back in July 2009 I couldn’t wait to box up our submission and send it off to Mother Clare. The following year in 2010 I was hoping that our congregation would be selected for a visit by a site team, but only about 100 congregations had that privilege and, sadly to me, ours wasn’t among them. How great would it have been for these visitors to meet our wonderful sisters in person, hear their thoughts and visit our inspiring motherhouse?

Today, six years later, we await publication of the Visitation report. I agree with my priest friends that it will be good news. It has to be. The U.S.A. is loaded with congregations just like mine who are holy and faithful to the church. And that wasn’t only in 2009 – but continues to this day.

[Sr. Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio.]