A year in The Life: We have interwoven our lives and dreams

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

Inspiring. Enriching. Expanding. Sustaining. Nourishing. Creating solidarity. A profound sisterhood. A shared community of life around the world.

That is how the panelists described their experience of writing for The Life this year. This month — the last month of the 2017-18 panel — we invited all the panelists to reflect on the year. They thought about what it was like, what they learned, whether they gained a deeper appreciation for the global sisterhood, or what challenged them, surprised them, gave them new insights, or which question they liked best. For their last word this year, they responded to this question, suggested by one of the panelists:

How would you describe your experience as a panelist on The Life?

Global Sisters Report would like to thank this charter group of sisters who participated on the 2017-18 panel, and we hope they will continue to write for us as columnists. We all wish them well.


SrTerryAbraham (2) c.jpgTeresita Abraham is a Presentation Sister from India living in rural Zambia. She developed the Garden of Oneness, a sanctuary of peace and harmony where she lives and works.

"Set your life on fire ... seek those who can fan your flame." These words of Rumi capture for me The Life panel experience. It was a time to see the light within, to experience the light within others, and together to light up the world.

It was my first time to be on such a panel, and the experience gave me an opportunity and a challenge to reflect on my life and the life of my community. The accompaniment of the Global Sisters Report staff, their approachability and affirmation of all of us were energizing. So thank you to all of them for leading us with enthusiasm. That was a good inspiration for me to live life with enthusiasm.

To my sister companions, thank you. I experienced a sense of solidarity, companionship, inspiration. I looked forward to the writings by each one. What touched me most was when others shared from their personal experience. What is real is what is true, and what is true is of divine nature and touches the heart, changes the heart. I loved very much the reflections on what sustains and nourishes spiritual life written by a number of you, and it just gave me a lift in my own heart. So to you and to all who read our reflections, I pray with Meister Eckhart: "If the only prayer we ever say is 'thank you,' it is enough." Thank you.

janet2 (2) c.jpgJanet Gildea is a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. A retired family physician, she is liaison for women religious for the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, and directs women in initial formation for the Sisters of Charity.

Writing for The Life was an affirmation of my vocation as a woman religious. I responded to God's call to be a Sister of Charity at a time when nobody was paying much attention to religious life. Everyone assumed that there would be an endless supply of women entering the convents. No one spoke about vocation promotion.

Meanwhile, sisters were quietly disappearing from the parish schools and hospitals. They surfaced, one by one or few by few, in universities and homeless shelters, at the United Nations and in refugee camps. The Life has helped me find them in the marginal places where they are needed most, doing what nobody else wants to do.

I love knowing that sisters are living the life and reimagining it according to the signs of the times and the ways of the Spirit.

Eden Panganiban (2) c.jpgEden Panganiban is a member of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit. The former president of the College of the Holy Spirit in Manila, Philippines, she has served in leadership positions since 1989.

Being a member of The Life panel has been an expanding and enriching experience for me. Writing has brought me deeper into myself and helped me articulate certain experiences that would have otherwise remained unreflected. It was also a joy to share them with others. Doing so expanded my circle digitally.

Words are valuable and could really connect us with others. There is so much beauty, truth and depth in the life of a consecrated person today. And there is so much richness that could be shared and multiplied as The Life provides the venue to share the good news at work in and through each sister.

Even as we write for The Life, we receive fuller life from others worldwide. How the Spirit is alive in different ways and places! Thanks!

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 & Refugee Services, Catholic Charities-Diocese of Cleveland, after volunteer experiences in Haiti and Immokalee, Florida.

Writing for The Life panel has been a wonderful way to connect with sisters around the world. I strongly believe that it is important for us to recognize that we are a part of a global sisterhood — all working together for the good of all people.

Our charisms and communities are different, but we all share the love of Christ with all people we meet. I have loved reading about each sister's life and ministry.

Helen Graham (2) c.jpgHelen Graham is a Maryknoll Sister and a native of Brooklyn, New York, who has lived in the Philippines for 50 years. At the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies in Quezon City, she teaches sacred Scripture and mentors students from across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

It was a challenge to think about the question possibilities, to see which one I felt I could respond to in some kind of meaningful way and then to think about what to write ... to write ... to reread ... to rewrite ... and finally to send before I made any more adjustments.

It was good to have a deadline. As it approached, I got myself busy typing, although the topic had been floating around in my mind since I had signed up for it. It was a trick to meet GSR deadlines along with all the other stuff I had to do!

I am happy that I agreed to join GSR for this and encourage others to join in, too. Now, before I make more adjustments here, I will send this in. Amen!

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.

The experience of being part of The Life has been very deep for me! Even if I could not answer all the questions we received each month, they helped me reflect on different topics about the world, society, the role of religious and consecrated life in general, and on the charism and mission of my own institute.

The insights of the other panelists truly enriched me. I learned so many things and reinforced my conviction that we women can contribute so much to the world and to the mission of the church. We provide so many works and services that are rarely acknowledged but are a real presence of the kingdom of God!

I hope that the 2018-19 version of The Life panel is as exciting as this one, or even more! Thank you for the possibility of sharing with you this period of my life!

Winifred Ojo (2) c.jpgWinifred Ojo was born in western Nigeria and is a trained teacher and formator with experience in administration and retreat work. After many years in leadership, she now leads the Sisters of St. Louis and lives in Ireland, where her institute is based.

When one of our sisters urged me to write a column for Global Sisters Report in 2016, I was somewhat reluctant at first because I had never written for a major magazine or newspaper before. The first column was published, and the response from religious in different parts of the world was encouraging. I was glad to see that they actually read what I wrote and appreciated the thoughts shared.

Therefore, when the idea of being on The Life panel was raised, I didn't find it too daunting. Rather, I was excited at being part of the panel because it was like belonging to a global community of religious sharing on issues that are common to all yet from different points of view. I found it enlightening to read the diverse and rich contributions of other panelists from different parts of the world. It opened my eyes to the realities of various religious communities, their ministries, their joys as well as struggles.

I thank GSR for giving me this opportunity, for the GSR staff's encouragement and for ensuring that the voices of religious are heard and shared by fellow religious and other readers all over the world. I hope other religious respond to the invitation to form part of a new panel being set up by GSR. I wish GSR blessings on the great work of promoting the life and mission of religious worldwide. Thank you.

Mary Lan 1 (3) c.jpgMary Nguyen Thi Phuong Lan is a Dominican Sister of Our Lady of the Rosary in Vietnam. She studied in universities in Vietnam and the Philippines and has worked in formation in Vietnam.

I have been so happy to be on the GSR panel, and I am glad to share my thoughts about what it was like to take part.

First, I am very grateful to GSR for giving me the chance to join an international panel. From this group, I have learned about many different thoughts, cultures, traditions and customs from countries all over the world.

Second, writing has opened my mind. My knowledge is wider and more progressive, and I was especially glad to observe different writing styles. I also appreciate the help of the GSR staff in developing my drafts.

Finally, I really liked all of the questions posted by GSR for panelists every month. They were meaningful and practical for me as an individual, and for sisters and congregations all over the world.

I hope that more and more panels contribute new thoughts and provide GSR with much useful information for the church and congregations everywhere.

Immacula Chukwunyere (2) c.jpgImmaculata Chukwunyere is a member of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus. She was a headmistress and teacher in Nigeria and Kenya before moving to the U.S. in 1999. She now teaches high school English.

Being a panelist on The Life is one of the best things that happened to me in 2017. Before I was introduced to Global Sisters Report, I earnestly longed for a platform for learning and sharing insights on the lives of women religious. My acceptance as a panelist on The Life granted me this opportunity.

It gave me an ear to listen, a heart to reflect and a voice to speak. The stories each of us shared about our respective charisms, challenges and shifting ministries provided me an inspiring model for true discipleship.

I was particularly touched by GSR's collaborative governance article by Dan Stockman. The narrative on the future of women religious congregations, the completion of the mission — when there are none to continue with the charism — got me seriously thinking about the future.

Overall, sharing with The Life panelists have been very enriching.

Susan Kidd (2) c.jpgSusan Kidd is a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame and is currently the campus minister of the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. She has worked in education and parish ministry in Toronto and Cameroon, West Africa.

I hesitated when our communications director at the motherhouse sent me the invitation to participate in The Life. There are days when life gets in the way of The Life. The high resolution required for the submitted pictures was enough to turn me off — finding images to go with the text was not always easy, but it was worth the dig.

Each month, it was exciting to see the article. It was rejuvenating to read other submissions on the same question. My simple contribution seemed to resonate with others when GSR put them all together.

As religious life continues to shift and evolve, connecting across boundaries will remain a lifeline for me and hopefully for others. I am glad I said yes.

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.

Sometimes, after a long workday at the women's prison, I just need to come home and have a good cup of coffee. Here in Chile, families come together around a cup of mate, a traditional South American caffeine-rich drink shared from a common gourd. More than anything else, the mate is a sacred encounter, the space where each one shares the stories of the day, dreams, laughter and pain.

As the year of The Life passed, I often found myself longing for these encounters. Even if we haven't shared a common space, I know we have a shared community of life around the world, with sisters praying for me as I pray for them.

Especially when my country had the earthquake last year, I experienced a profound sisterhood based in love, compassion and solidarity. Maybe we can't share a mate, but we've shared our souls.

With some of the panelists, I have shared a common space in Managua with Giselle Gomez and in El Paso with Janet Gildea.

But now each of the panelists is part of my life and my consecration. We have interwoven our lives and our dreams.

Florence Nwaonuma (2) c.jpgFlorence Nwaonuma is a member of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She has served as president of the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious.

The first thing I would like to do is to thank God for the opportunity to interact with fellow sisters from a global perspective. It was indeed a thing of joy and a rare opportunity for me to participate.

From the topics to which we contributed, I got the insight that as religious, we actually face nearly the same challenges. The difference, then, is in the cultural context in which the religious institute is located.

I acknowledge, however, that some have greater challenges than others do: For example, sisters who are ministering in war-torn cities will have greater challenges having to cope with the crises presented by the war situation.

But we are really not far from one another. We are united with each other through prayer and communication — like that in which we have been participating as we write for The Life!

Karan Varker (2) (392x500)_0.jpgKaran Varker is a Sister of Charity of Australia. She has been a teacher, principal and teacher-trainer working in Papua New Guinea, America Samoa, Australia and the Solomon Islands. Her present ministry is in nurturing the spirituality of teachers.

It has been a delight, honor and pleasure for me to have been a member of The Life panel. One challenge I had was trying to respond effectively to questions for a worldwide audience.

Reading about the sisters and their ministries in so many amazing situations gave me a feeling of hope for the future of women religious and religious life. Corresponding with GSR administration was always positive and encouraging.

I loved the global vision The Life panel offered me, and I am so grateful to have been part of it.

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