Giving thanks for 2015

In our fast-paced world, at times filled with sound bites of superficiality, it's a blessing to be reminded of what is important, to be called to center our lives on the Gospel and to touch God in the depth and breadth of it all. To help us realize all is interconnected.

That's the gift our GSR columnists offer us. One of the delights of my role here at GSR is to work with the sisters and other writers to help make their reflections, insights and wisdom available to you. We are grateful to all of the columnists for what they've shared, whether they've written one time or on a regular basis. And, you can add your gratitude by clicking the "Say thanks" button at the end of their columns and by sharing them with others.

Our year began and ended with images of displaced people. Their plight and their resilience gripped us. Dominican sisters here in the U.S. reminded us that we all have family in Iraq as they made their way there in early January to visit their Dominican sisters and to witness the courage of all those forced to flee their homes. (Website tip: click on the Iraq tab at the top of the column to read other pieces about Iraq.) With fear-filled calls at year's end to shut out refugees from Syria, Sister of Charity Tracy Kemme, one of our regular Horizons columnists, wrote poignantly about Christ among us in her column, The right thing: the moral response to refugees is clear.

One of the advantages of moving into our second year of GSR's presence online was the opportunity to coordinate some of the columns with the stories written by journalists.

To accompany Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans' series about contemplative communities, we learned that Trappistine nuns find a home in Lutheran Norway through the eyes of Sr. Sheryl Frances Chen and the early history of the establishment of contemplative communities in the U.S. from professor and author Margaret M. McGuinness.

The termination of the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in April sparked plenty of coverage. GSR invited women religious and others to reflect on its questions and significance from various perspectives:

The role of contemplation: Exercising contemplative power with the Vatican by Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Nancy Sylvester

Women in the church: The Vatican, 'feminism' and U.S. women religious by Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Anne E. Patrick

Women religious in other parts of the world: Open letter of gratitude by Mercedarian Sister Filo Hirota

Historical context: Uneasy alliance: A look back at American sisters and clerical authority by Carol K. Coburn

The exercise of authority: Pope Francis acknowledges women religious as allies not adversaries by theologian Richard R. Gaillardetz

Discussion about how LCWR's leaders approached the assessment: A case of secrecy and self-silencing by Sister of Loretto Jeannine Gramick; Two ways to speak the truth in love by Betty D. Thompson (second most read in 2015); A case study review of the LCWR-CDF encounter could benefit whole church by Carol Stanton; What next? by Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Helen Garvey.

Many were interested in the leadership exercised by women religious both during the doctrinal assessment and the apostolic visitation of U.S. Sisters which concluded in late 2014. I found St. Joseph Sister Kathleen Duffy's reflection Apostolic visitation: Sisters learn from the starlings to be most creative.

Illuminating trends in religious life is important to GSR's mission. All around the globe, women religious are moving to the margins, as Presentation Sister Dorothy Fernandes testifies to from Patna, India in Called to widen our tents. They are forming partners with the laity as Good Shepherd Sister Clare Nolan observed in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of the Congo in her column about mission effectiveness.  As they engage in ground breaking work against human trafficking, they find strength in those who have gone before us, as Sister of St. Joseph of Peace Susan Francois points out in Bakhita: Resistance and Solidarity, the second most thanked column. They ground their work of empowering women in both scripture and their culture, as Handmaid of the Holy Child Jesus Sister Caroline Mbonu writes from Nigeria in A transformative effect of murmuring.

The changing demographics here in the U.S. has raised questions about the future of religious life. Incarnate Word Sister Teresa Maya's An open letter to the great generation which she provided in both English and Spanish sparked discussion and was among the top five most read and thanked columns in 2015. Models of leadership needed for today were shared at the Giving Voice conference, which was captured by Sister of Charity Tracy Kemme in Beyond middle space.

A highlight of the year was Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si' which was published on Pentecost. Women religious have been involved in environmental concerns for decades, including groundbreaking work such as Dominican Sister Pat Siemen's on the rights of nature. Several sisters responded to the encyclical, with Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio contributing Lex credendi, lex vivendi: A response to Laudato Si' which was both the most read and most thanked column for 2015. The year wrapped up with Dominican Sister Elise Garcia giving us a behind-the-scenes view from Paris during the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

In addition, two "sleepers" on critical topics are ones I hope you won't miss. Dominican Sister Margaret Galiardi's A lovely white peony opens up the contemplative dimension. And as the issue of women in the church continues to move to the forefront Sister of Mercy Mary Aquin O'Neill points out that the question "What is woman's role in the church?" is really nonsensical.

With gratitude for all the gifts of 2015, we here at GSR look forward to the blessings of 2016.

[Jan Cebula, OSF, is liaison to women religious in the United States for Global Sisters Report.]