The spirit of the ministry: community charisms in action

This story appears in the The Life feature series. View the full series.

Being "neighbor." Preaching truth. Accompanying. Practicing radical hospitality. Proclaiming the Word. Engaging in ministries of leadership or education.

This month, the panelists consider the unique charisms of their particular congregations and discuss how their individual ministries reflect that charism. They addressed this question:

How does your personal ministry reflect your congregation's charism?


Pat Farrell (2) c.jpgPat Farrell is a member of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, California. After serving in congregational leadership and vocation ministry, she now lives in the Chicago area and is executive director of the Dominican Sisters Conference, which unites 19 congregations of Dominican Sisters in the U.S.

The quote that best illustrates the Dominican charism for me is the one by Catherine of Siena that's stitched on a tapestry hanging in my office: "Preach the truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world."

Our motto is truth, and our charism is embodied in our name, The Order of Preachers. Certainly, we feel the challenge of our charism profoundly these days, as some of us wrote in a series on truth for Global Sisters Report last year. As executive director of the Dominican Sisters Conference, it was my privilege to invite sisters from our 19 member congregations to contribute to this timely project.

Though we aren't offered many opportunities to preach at eucharistic liturgies, sisters have been faithful to this charism in many ways, preaching through their teaching, retreat ministry, art, music, or justice work.

Our ministries resemble those of other congregations, but what differs is the lens through which we see that ministry. Whereas Mercy Sisters minister through the lens of the corporal works of mercy, our Dominican lens is proclaiming and preaching the Gospel.

Even as a novice in the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate in St. Louis, I was inspired to "do something" for the larger Dominican family, not just my own congregation.

While serving in elected leadership, opportunities presented themselves in board membership for various collaborative Dominican organizations, and I gladly embraced the opportunity to serve the sisters in this ministry.

Over the last four years leading the Dominican Sisters Conference, it has been my delight to discover the many ways sisters proclaim the Gospel throughout our member congregations and my privilege to share it through email, in our online newsletter DomLife, and on our website.

This has been a ministry that enlivens and keeps the charism alive within me. Hopefully, it animates and encourages our sisters and strengthens the bonds of our relationships as we see how our charism is alive locally, throughout our country, and across the globe.

And on a personal note, I engage in our charism of preaching through photography. You can check this out on my webpage Get the connection?

Eilis McCulloh  c.jpgEilis McCulloh professed first vows with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in June 2017. She is a program assistant with Migration and Refugee Services — part of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland — after volunteer experiences in Immokalee, Florida, and Haiti.

As Sisters of the Humility of Mary, we are called to respond to the needs of the times by "bringing more abundant life to God's people, especially the poor."

One way in which I understand our charism is through radical hospitality. This requires us to open our hearts to give and receive God's light and love. I have learned that I can only do my part in bringing about more abundant life if I am open to encountering Christ in the people I meet on a daily basis.

In my work with a refugee resettlement agency, I am privileged to accompany many of Cleveland's newest residents.

In the midst of practical tasks like teaching them how to pay bills, find jobs and speak English, I get to share in the tiny miracles of new life — this is the "bringing about of more abundant life."

I am welcomed into families and get to share laughter and joy over heaping plates of fufu and sardines or momo.

From these women and families, I learn the true meaning of radical hospitality: how to welcome others, expand my understanding of family to include more people, share love and witness the beauty of abundant life for all.

Giselle 2 (2) c.jpgGiselle Gomez was born in Nicaragua and entered the Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus in San Antonio, Texas. She taught religion and psychology and served as school principal in Nicaragua. She was elected provincial of the province of Central America and Cuba and now serves as general counselor in Rome.

Whenever I explain our congregation's charism, I quote one of the articles of our constitutions, where we really did a good job at describing it:

With Teresa [of Avila], in a community of disciples, we learn to know and love Jesus and make him known and loved. We allow ourselves to be moved by situations that affect the life and dignity of people and become involved in them as educators. We live our Teresian spirituality as a faith journey that generates and requires love for each other, detachment, and humility. We express this in attitudes of solidarity and communion, especially with the poorest.

Being part of the general leadership team of our congregation during the past 12 years (2005-2017) has given me the opportunity to live my ministry with a high level of consciousness of its connectedness with our charism.

Accompanying sisters in their lives and ministries — those in initial and ongoing formation, formators, coordinators, lay associates, teams — has deepened my experience as educator.

Different threads were woven together throughout conversations, workshops, retreats and spiritual exercises: a spirituality that led people to discover God's indwelling and all-abiding presence; an ever-growing awareness of the need to become involved with justice, peace, solidarity, integrity of creation; a way of relating to myself, to others and to God that implies love, detachment and humility as Teresa of Ávila states in her The Way of Perfection.

The conviction that no matter what we do, we Teresians are educators has been very important both for me and for many of my sisters. Being in leadership is not something that has to be put between parentheses so that after six or 12 years, you can go back to "real ministry." No! Being in leadership can absolutely become one of the ways of living our ministry, deeply rooted in our congregation's charism.

Lucia Guerra (2) c.jpgLucίa Aurora Herrerίas Guerra is a member of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity from Mexico. After years of ministry in education and as a missionary, she now serves in Rome as the president of her congregation.

My present ministry as president of Verbum Dei reflects an essential trait of our institute, which is composed of three branches: missionary men, missionary women and missionary married couples. As president, my mission is to care for the unity of the three branches, beginning with enhancing communion among the members of the general board, which includes representatives of the three branches.

Our mission is to form apostles of Christ and small communities that evangelize through prayer, testimony of life, and the ministry of the Word.

In my present service within the institute, I practice my ministry of the Word in my visits to our communities in different parts of the world. I have the opportunity to give talks, retreats and to lead the spiritual exercises for fraternity members and for our wider Verbum Dei family.

I enjoy meeting my brothers and sisters, hearing about their different challenges as they share the Word of God and bring people to a personal encounter with Jesus, and celebrating the fruits of the often painful "childbirth labor" of their everyday mission.

Our founder, Jaime Bonet, who passed away last June, was dedicated to the common mission and dignity of all baptized, especially the promotion of women in the church.

Our founder saw the potential and capacity of women to be leaders and shepherds, so the role of president of the fraternity has to alternate between a missionary woman and a missionary man for each six-year period.

In cities or countries where more than one of the branches of the institute is present, an important part of my mission is to help them organize a structure of government that integrates the branches at a local level as it is in the general government.

For these six years, which will end in September, the Lord has entrusted to me this small portion of his people. Together with my brothers and sisters of the general government, I hope we have helped our institute to be a sign of the kingdom and of the common dignity and mission of all the daughters and sons of God in his church.

Sarah Puls (3) c.jpgSarah Puls was a social worker before becoming a Sister of the Good Samaritan in Australia. She currently works with asylum-seekers and refugees as a caseworker.

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan is a congregation founded in Australia in the Benedictine tradition to minister with compassion in a variety of settings and ministries: to be "neighbor," as was the Good Samaritan.

The "Good Sams" ministered in education for many years, but now our ministries are diverse embodiments of Jesus' call at the end of the parable to "go and do likewise."

My own ministry is with vulnerable migrants, including refugees seeking protection in Australia.

Like the man in the parable, the people with whom I walk have fled situations of violence and persecution. For their race, belief or identity, they have been targeted, beaten and left to die, figuratively and sometimes literally.

Through some combination of grace, strength and resilience, they found their way to Australia, where they hoped to be safe from further harm.

Sadly, when I hear their stories, I see that many people have "walked by on the other side" and chosen not to respond to their needs. The modern Pharisees are the individuals, institutions and governments in transit countries and in Australia who have made them unwelcome, doubted their experiences and their need for safety, and put them at risk of further harm.

As a Sister of the Good Samaritan, I am called to imitate the compassion of the kind Samaritan who saw the man who had been beaten, who approached him with gentleness and practical compassion, and who used his limited resources to help the man to safety.

I believe the most essential but challenging aspect to "doing likewise" — being a bearer of compassion and healing — is in walking toward the person who is beaten, being open to see our shared humanity, and having a heart that can be moved with compassion.

My own experience of knowing Jesus' love and care for me supports and shapes my desire to see the people I meet, their strengths and their history, and to respond in whatever ways I can to move with them to a place of healing and safety.

Maria de Lourdes Lopez Munguia 2 (2) c.jpgMaría de Lourdes López Munguía is a Franciscan Missionary of Mary from Mexico who now lives in Chile. She is a psychologist and entered religious life in 2001.

"Make me a little host, as little as your love wants me to be."
Mary of the Passion

As a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, the center of our charism is the offering: We join the "yes" of Jesus like Mary did and share St. Francis of Assisi's experience of "minority" (his internal expression of poverty — depending profoundly on God).

At the time of our founding in 1877, Mary of the Passion told us we are called to be victims for the church and souls. How are we reading and interpreting these words today? Over the past years, we have reflected on these words and their relevance in our vocation today.

I believe that the answer I can give from my own experience and mission is: I am called to offer myself with those who are victims in our world today.

As I listen to the cry of people who are poor, I know my experience of spiritually accompanying women deprived of their liberty is a concrete way to offer my life. In Chile and in Latin America, people who live in poverty are the ones imprisoned.

Women have a double and triple "sentence" because most of them committed a crime to feed their children. While they are deprived of their freedom, their children are deprived of their mother's presence in the family. Additionally, some of them are immigrants who came here looking for a better life only to find themselves imprisoned. In this sense, their prison sentence is a reality that affects the entire family.

From my own perspective, my mission and vocation are not to do great things or exercise great leadership. What is essential for me is to be a eucharistic woman in the midst of these women; to be a piece of bread. 

So often I listen to them, helpless to do anything. But I offer myself as this piece of bread, to be taken into God's hands, broken and shared as the body of Jesus in the silence, in the small things.

In the experience of contemplating the miracle of God that restores these lives that have suffered so much, I can be the witness of the life that God is generating. 

Read more in Global Sisters Report's The Life series.