Angela's Family: charism expanding

It was the most life-giving and exciting convocation I have ever attended. Oh, yes, we celebrated. The North American Ursuline Convocations have been celebrated every three years for about 30 years, so we are really good at them!

There were 182 of us from Canada, Mexico and all over the United States. The most prominent attendee was the Ursuline quilt, which has attended all 10 convocations, hanging in the front of the room. Each of its squares represents and was created by: an independent Ursuline congregation, the secular institute of the Company of St. Ursula, a province of the Roman / Canadian Unions, or the Tildonk or Irish Ursulines — 22 groups of Ursulines in all.

At least 59 of us were associates, co-workers in Ursuline ministries, students or friends. And the convocation was to a great extent planned and executed by our associates, co-workers and students: Seven of the 11 members of the planning committee were not sisters (two were men!), but they all owned the charism of St. Angela Merici.

We converged July 25-28 as we have been doing for 30 years, this time in St. Louis in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, marking "the gateway to the West," and in fact, it felt as if we were passing through a gateway to the future. There is a museum at the base of the Arch, formerly called the Museum of Westward Expansion, which mirrored our observation that Angela's Family is expanding.

And — what luck! — there to talk to us about our charism was keynote speaker Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word Teresa Maya, her congregation's leader and one of the presidential triumvirate of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She reminded us of our charism as history and as unfolding story as we "spiral around" our founding moment almost 500 years ago. She made us proud of how our sisters (as the first women religious in the United States and with the Augustinians the first in North America) had welcomed and helped other congregations coming in through New Orleans and Quebec.

Maya gave us a new way of thinking about charism. For each congregation, there is a founding call. Then, as need finds us, there is an apostolic response to that call. Charism happens in the present moment of the dialog between the two.

But I had to laugh. For me, one of the most striking events at the convocation was the absence of something: Would you believe nobody asked what "charism" is? After all those years of discussion after the Second Vatican Council and trying to figure it out and pin it down! Which makes perfect sense, since charism continues to unfold. Once you think you grasp what the charism is, Maya said, "It's a fossil!"

Teresa Maya stimulated and enriched us, but the breakout speakers in practical ways showed us the face of Angela for today: living Laudato Si', creating new ministries, walking with young adults, women's stories, associate programs, contemplation, new and old and transfigured forms of Ursuline life, Ursuline United Nations ministry and the Ursuline Education Network.

Happily, I was just editing a column submitted for Global Sisters Report by Benedictine Sr. Linda Romey, who must have been reading my mind. I have her permission to cite her column before it is posted and give you a little preview.

She says: "We are expanding the ways we live the traditions, but our language hasn't caught up yet. We have to be bolder, more prophetic, in naming them as ways of living religious life."

Some of us were called to the vowed life, but everyone is called "to care for the common good: to love others, to show mercy, to forgive. … Combine the longing for connection and the pull toward the good with the call to follow Jesus, and you have the makings of Christian community."

That's what we felt at that convocation.

Romey really nails it when she says we must see the "prophetic moment we are living now as our traditions grow in as-yet unrecognized ways. … We will never come to the point of exhausting the interpretation of any living tradition."

She gives an example of language needed: We are not just " 'turning over our ministries,' we're expanding our base ... [to include] those who love the tradition, find meaning in it, integrate it into their lives."

We just need to find language for the different ways we form the Family of Angela.

One of our own associates said she saw and felt at the convocation that the effects/graces of Vatican II are very much alive and making a profound impact.

"Thank God for the sisters who held this charism and helped introduce the rest of us to it. I can't wait to see where the Spirit will carry us!"

This is bigger than any of us, and it will take all of us to do it — form one family, celebrating, converging, expanding.

[Ursuline Sr. Michele Morek is Global Sisters Report's liaison to sisters in North America. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter: @MicheleMorek.]