LCWR 2016: Contemplation is key to leadership, discerning the future of religious life

This story appears in the LCWR 2016 feature series. View the full series.

On the second full day of the 2016 Leadership Conference of Women Religious annual assembly, former LCWR president Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell took the stage to give the assembly's final keynote address.

Farrell had been asked to share her personal experience with contemplation and leadership, and her remarks drew from her time as a leader both in her congregation and in LCWR. What she has learned, she told the LCWR membership definitively, is that contemplation and leadership are one and the same.

As a leader, Farrell said, contemplation "filled a deep hunger in me personally and seemed to enable me to respond to leadership challenges with some depth and creativity." Furthermore, "in the silence and solitude, something gradually expanded in me. I was aware of a slowly growing ability to be more compassionate, less reactive and less judgmental."

Farrell was aware that in lauding the benefits of contemplation to LCWR members, she was, in a sense, preaching to the choir.

"Nothing I've said this morning is new," she said. "Religious life has long been rooted in mystical soil."

However, what is new for today's leaders, she said, is a cultural urgency that requires them to dig deep to discern what is next for religious life.

"As elected leaders, you're invited to be leaven of the reign of God in our congregations," Farrell said. "And our congregations are called to be the leaven in the church and the world. The question is, How do you do that now?"

Of all the women to speak so far at this week's assembly, Farrell was the most vocal about the Vatican's investigation of the conference that ended last year.

Farrell was president during the doctrinal assessment and the subsequent meetings with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the crowd laughed when she joked that she never imagined that following the divine flow would lead her into a doctrinal assessment. But, joking aside, Farrell said it was contemplation and silence that allowed LCWR to respond to the Vatican's investigation peacefully and courageously.

"Before LCWR leaders visited CDF and received the mandate," she said, "we sat together in a circle of silent prayer for an hour. We entered that critical Vatican meeting in a state of deep peace. I was not aware of any fear whatsoever, either in myself or of the other LCWR leaders. I have often wondered what our initial response to the mandate might have been if we hadn't come together from that contemplative space."

Farrell ended her address asking everyone to join her in singing "Holy Mystery," which a sister later described as a "Magnificat moment," noting that as the women sang, there was a sense of oneness that could only be expressed in song because of its depth. Farrell received a standing ovation.

At the end of the day, it was announced that Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word Teresa Maya would be LCWR's new president-elect.

Maya, a native of Mexico, is the second Latina to serve as congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and she has dedicated herself to cultivating diversity in the Catholic church and in religious life.

She has taught at a number of programs for Hispanic theologians, including the Hispanic Summer Program in San Antonio and the Instituto Hispano at the Jesuit School of Theology's Berkeley campus. She currently serves on LCWR's Leadership Pathways committee and has been an active member of Giving Voice, an organization for women religious under the age of 50.

Maya has a master's degree in systematic theology from Graduate Theological Union and a doctorate in history from El Colegio de México.

She will be installed as president-elect Friday afternoon during the official transfer of leadership. At that time, rounding out LCWR's tripartite leadership structure, St. Joseph Sr. Mary Pellegrino will become president and St. Joseph Sr. Marcia Allen will become past-president.

The LCWR assembly continues through Friday's banquet and Outstanding Leadership Award. Global Sisters Report will have daily recaps and will be tweeting updates at @sistersreportAddresses can be found as they are uploaded on LCWR's site.

[Dawn Araujo-Hawkins is Global Sisters Report staff writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter: @dawn_cherie.]