International Union of Superiors General elects Polish educator as new president

This story appears in the UISG 2019 plenary feature series. View the full series.

by Joshua J. McElwee

News Editor

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The umbrella group representing approximately 450,000 Catholic women religious around the world has elected Polish Sr. Jolanda Kafka, the general superior of the Claretian Missionary Sisters, as its new president.

Kafka, who has led her congregation since 2017, takes over leadership of the International Union of Superiors General, or UISG, from Maltese Sr. Carmen Sammut, who had led the organization since 2013.

The election took place May 14 following the group's May 6-10 triennial assembly in Rome. Sammut, who led the group for two three-year terms, was ineligible for reelection.

Marianist Sr. Franca Zonta, an Italian, was chosen as vice president. She replaces St. Joseph Sr. Sally Hodgdon, an American, who was also ineligible for reelection.

Among the eight others selected for the group's board of directors are sisters from New Zealand, India, Mexico and Zimbabwe.

The International Union of Superiors General is a membership organization of about 1,900 leaders of the world's congregations of Catholic women religious. Its assembly last week, which included about 850 members, had focused on the theme of sowing hope.

The international group had taken on a more proactive role during Sammut's tenure, pushing for better inclusion of women in positions at the Vatican and in global meetings of Catholic bishops, known as synods.

UISG gained worldwide attention in May 2016, when it asked Pope Francis to create a commission to study the history of women deacons in the Catholic Church. The pope accepted the request, creating such a commission that August.

During a meeting together last week, Francis told the UISG members in Rome for their assembly that the 12 members of the commission had been unable to come to agreement about the role of women deacons in the early centuries of Christianity.

The pope also formally presented Sammut with a report detailing what the commissioners were able to agree on. UISG has not said yet if it will make that report public.

Kafka, the new president, has worked primarily in the areas of religious formation and education, according to a provided biography. She has been a member of her congregation's general council since 2000 and was elected for a five-year term as superior in 2017.

Kafka has a licentiate in theology and has worked on the beatification cause for Sr. Maria Antonia Paris, the 19th-century Catalonian founder of her order.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]