Marianist Women`s Summit

A Marianist Women`s Summit was convened today in San Antonio, Texas. The Summit is a combined vision and effort of Sister Grace Walle, FMI, Sr. Laura Leming, FMI and Pati Krasensky, Director of the Marianist Center in Philadelphia. The Summit was timed to coincide with the Assembly of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate from the Province of the United States of America. In total, over fifty Marianist women – lay and professed religious – gathered to begin a weekend of celebrating who we are as Marianist women, and visioning together possibilities for our future in our church and in our world.

The evening began in the art studios of Brother Cletus. The colourful paintings of this well re-known Marianist artist added a joyous atmosphere to the gathering. We then moved to the Center for Legal and Social Justice (former Marianist Sisters` Retreat Center) for opening remarks and a prayer service. The Feast Day of the Annunciation provided the perfect theme and setting for us. We followed our reflection with an activity focused on our personal naming of Mary.

We thank all who have sent their prayers and support for this Summit from around the world, including Sr. Marie Joelle Bec, the Superior General of the FMI, and Brother Michael McAward on behalf of the SM General Administration in Rome.



Tomorrow, we will be spending time learning about the graced collaboration between Blessed William Joseph Chaminade and Mother Adèle de Batz de Trenquelléon and Marie-Thérèse de Lamourous. As we celebrate the 250th Anniversary of Blessed Chaminade, it is good to remember the prophetic and inspiring model that he has given to our Marianist Family. In the evening, we will have a Cana gathering to reflect, ponder, and celebrate Mary`s role at the wedding feast.

International Women`s Day

As women are remembered and celebrated around the world, I`d like to offer a prayer of gratitude for all our Marianist women! Take a moment to pause and think of the Marianist women in your life. For me, memories come quickly to mind of women who have been, and continue to be, my models, mentors, inspiration, and true spiritual sisters.

We are blessed in our Marianist family. We are not intimidated by strong women. With Mary as our model and guide, how can we be? We know the power of true collaboration – women and men, lay and religious. And, we work hard to live this collaboration in reality, in true family spirit.

Our church and world still struggles to live with true gender equality and justice. May we, as Marianists, have the courage to shout out the good news of a discipleship of equals. May we show that it is not only possible, but necessary if we are to empower the gifts of all for the good of all.

Synod for Africa

The Catholic Church has made headline news in Canada these past weeks. Sadly, it was focused on the resignation of Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish, Nova Scotia upon being charged with possession and importation of child pornography. The news story was not only deeply depressing, but it renewed and increased the hurt, anger, and distrust that many Catholics in North America have with the hierarchical leadership in our Church. It’s becoming harder and harder to not only defend our faith, but to defend our Church. Many have given up trying.

Yet, there is hope in our Church. I’ve been following the Africa Synod of Bishops taking place in Rome from October 4 – 25. There are some interesting ideas coming from the African bishops, ideas that reflect our own Marianist vision in many ways. Unfortunately, the words of these progressively thinking Bishops, speaking out for justice and peace, aren’t making even a small blip in our secular media.

I’ve been reading the coverage of John L. Allen Jr., the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter in the USA. There is a complete index of his articles online. On October 14 he wrote, “As the Synod of Bishops for Africa reaches its midway point, its key themes seem to include empowering women (both in the broader society and the church), a perceived Western assault on the African family, globalization and its discontents (especially chronic poverty), and dialogue with Islam.”

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi was described as one of the ‘big guns’ in the African church. Njue asserted that “Africa continues to thirst for good governance”. Bad governance is too often the reality “where unchecked hunger for power has led to impunity, corruption, manipulation of people, and other similar social political evils.” (Cardinal Njue celebrated the opening mass for our Nairobi meeting. We were all moved with his affirmation of the role of the laity in the Church.)

Archbishop John Onaiyeken of Abuja, Nigeria spoke of irresponsible actions of multinational oil companies in Africa. He also observed how it was time for Catholic/Islamic relations to go beyond dialogue to concrete collaboration in issues of peace and justice.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the general secretary of the synod stated “The synod fathers have heard the cry of women…women need to be recognized in society as well as in the church as active members.” Fellow Ghanaian, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, gave an interview to John L. Allen Jr. where he posed this intriguing idea. Instead of a synod of bishops, why not a “pastoral congress of the universal church.”? The full interview is well worth reading, especially for his concrete strategies for integrating women into Church leadership within the present structures. These include actively promoting the education and formation of women, and promoting “women’s affairs” diocesan offices.

Those who attended our International Meeting in Nairobi, were deeply moved by the faith and energy of our sisters and brothers in Africa. Pope Benedict, in his opening address to the Synod, called Africa an “immense spiritual lung” and praised the “extraordinary human wealth” of Africa. I echo his sentiments, and smile at the images of African drums and Congolese choirs in St. Peter’s Basillica!

Cardinal Njue

The past leadership team meets with Cardinal Njue in Nairobi. August 2009

Nairobi – Faith in Action

I’m still pondering about my time in Nairobi this past summer. Certain experiences defy words. Perhaps there is a fear that feeble attempts at descriptions will take away from the deep truths that are still being processed within the mind and heart? I wanted to write a ‘post- Nairobi’ post, but where to start? This morning, I received a wonderful email from one of my new friends, Ann Kihagi. She is a perfect example of that certain “something” that I find so humbling and inspiring in our Marianist sisters and brothers in Africa.

Ann works for an organization called BasicNeeds in Nairobi. The purpose of BasicNeeds is “That the basic needs of mentally ill people in Kenya are met and their basic rights are respected.” As is the situation in most parts of the world, poverty and mental illness often go hand in hand in Nairobi. Job training is offered as well as treatment to nurture and promote dignity and independence. For Ann, “My work with people with mental illnesses or epilepsy also gives me lots of joy when I see the levels of hope being restored by a touch of love and concern.”

Ann (center) at BasicNeeds

Ann (center) at BasicNeeds

In addition to her work with BasicNeeds, Ann is now working on a new initiative with Lorna Mueni Kilonzo – our past Regional Responsible for Africa. This is a collaborative project among the Marianist Lay Communities of Kenya to address the many needs of youth, especially in the target area of Makadara-Nairobi East. The project has a holistic approach of providing spiritual, educational, and vocational formation for children who are at risk due to the extreme poverty and violence of the area. Lorna is a dear friend of mine. She and I worked together on the past leadership team. We are also members of the cyber-MLC, “Our Lady of the Round Table”. Upon Lorna’s retirement from international work, she told me that she was going to spend more time working with youth. Little did I know the energy and work that was going into this project! Ann gave me a sneak preview into the draft proposal. Wow!

Anastacia Wangari is yet another “Magnificat” woman who gives her time and energy to attack the root cause of poverty. A mother of four, she worked at IMANI (Incentive from Marianists to Assist the Needy to be Independent). IMANI’s Maria House is a job-creation program for women. It teaches skills such as sewing, book-binding, weaving, and knitting. There is on-site child care for young mothers who are learning a trade. Anastacia also helped to found a small school for children who cannot afford the required tuition in the public school system.

Bro. Jack Ventura and Anastacia at IMANI

Bro. Jack Ventura and Anastacia at IMANI

These brief descriptions of the works being done by Ann, Lorna and Anastacia are but a small example of the generous spirit we experienced in Nairobi. And, the words are still insufficient to describe the tugging of mind and heart that is taking place as I continue to ponder it all. Our document, Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World, challenges us to bridge the gap between words and action. How do we incarnate the gospel of Jesus into a world so in need of justice, peace, hope and love? How are we, as Marianists, called to do this in our own place and time?

Women in the Church and in the World

In our Nairobi document, Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World, we state

We promote a more active role for women and their participation in decision-making of the Church. (3.9)

How do we promote this more active role for women? One way is by being involved in the current discussions within the Catholic Church on the role of women. The Pontifical Council for the Laity has a special Women’s Section . In February, 2008, an international congress was organized to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem , “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women”. Our International Organization of Marianist Lay Communities received an invitation to attend this congress, “Woman and Man, humanum in its entirety”. I was fortunate to be the delegate, and wrote a Report for the Marianist Family.


Our involvement in international dialogues within the Church is still very new. It comes as a result of our ecclesial recognition as a private association of the faithful. It is a valuable gift to have the opportunity to bring our Marianist voice to the table. But, as always, tasks come with the gift. We need to be informed of present views that are being presented. The women’s section of the PCL began an initiative through their web-site to open the conversation to all those in the Church involved in promoting women in the Church and in the world. Online resources are being updated regularly. A special invitation was given to Ecclesial Movements that are in relationship with the Pontifical Council of the Laity to share their writings and research. That’s us!

We need to take advantage of this opportunity. There is a growing desire within our Marianist family to study the Marian dimension of Church as a model of more egalitarian, inclusive, participatory and dialogic model of leadership. We need to promote this conversation on local, national and international levels. We need to explore concrete ways to answer the challenge from our Nairobi document. We need to identify lay Marianists who can research and write on the topic of women in the Church and in the world, or who have already done so. We need to bring this voice to the Vatican table.