Growing Pains?

I’ve had some great chats with Marianist friends recently about the current situation of laity within our Church in general, and the lay branch within the Marianist Family in particular. David and I are in the early days of the “empty nest” stage and my mind is in analogy mode! ;-)

The youngest of our five children has just left home to start her College education. The transition time is filled with diverse emotions. We mourn the loss of our wee ones, now all young adults. Photos of babes and toddlers tug at our hearts, and our arms ache to hold a tiny bundle once more. Yet memories of teen-age angst are still fresh. The passionate ups and downs of adolescence were not easy. Battle-grounds were marked. On one side was the child’s desire (demands!) for freedom and independence. On the other were a parent’s genuine fears for the child’s well-being and security. Behind the fights over social lives, car keys and curfews, was the tug-of-war over power and authority. Both sides had their heels dug deeply, determined not to let go of the pressure. Both sides were determined to be the winner.

The years preceding the fullness of adulthood are difficult and exciting. Maybe the rebellious soul is nature’s tool for leaving behind the security of childhood. Hopefully, when the dust settles, we discover a new confidence and maturity. And, we learn the need for interdependence. David and I are blessed to have experienced this with our own children. Entrance into adult life with its many responsibilities brought the realization that parents DO have wisdom that comes with experience and years! Our children now seek and value our advice. And we, as parents, are eager to learn from their experiences as they embrace new skills and careers. Of course, these new relationships need constant nurturing and adjusting – as all relationships do.

In some ways, these stages of life are reflected in Marianist Lay Communities and our relationships within the Marianist Family. We depended greatly on the Society of Mary and Daughters of Mary in the early years of birthing and nurturing Marianist Lay Communities into an independent organizational structure. As we grew, we also experienced the same growing pains of adolescence. We did not need or want any authority figures. We could do it all on our own. Perhaps this was a necessary stage to go through?

I believe that we are at an important time in our development. The past years have been a time of identifying our mission as lay Marianists. In Nairobi, it was clear that we are ready to take greater responsibility as lay women and men in the Church and in the world. And, we realize that our greatest potential is found working side by side with all branches of the Marianist Family. We are a discipleship of equals, but we are not all the same. We must respect our different gifts. We must generously offer – and accept – these same gifts to work together for our common mission.


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.

Spiritual Accompaniment for Marianist Lay Communities

According to our Statutes, ” In each community and in each level there is a lay person or team leader and a Marianist advisor, either lay or religious.”(5) During our International Assemblies, these religious advisors act as observers. (8) The General Assembly “appoints the International Team for a four-year term. It is made up of a President, the Regional Responsibles and an observer Marianist religious advisor, either male or female.” The advisor is elected by the International Team pending ratification by their Superior General.

Who is this “religious advisor” and what is their role? In our international vocabulary, they are called “Assessors”. This word is more commonly used in Spanish and French (assesseur). In English we usually speak of ‘advisors’. Within our Statutes, the Assessor for the International Team must be a vowed religious from the Society of Mary or the Daughters of Mary. But, this is not always the case on the local level.

Domingo and Team 09

Bro. Domingo, Ana, Tony, Ezequiel and Lorna - Feb. 2009, Rome

The Assessor for our past leadership team was Brother Domingo Fuentes, SM from Brazil. The first discernment of our present team was to ask Domingo to journey with us, also. We are happy that he has agreed to do so. When Domingo began his role as Assessor for the past team, he shared honestly his uncertainty about his role. I, too, was uncertain at the beginning of our term. But, as the years passed I experienced the gift that he was to us. Domingo modeled the characteristics of Mary during our meetings. He observed. He pondered. He allowed events to unfold, waiting for the right time to intervene – if intervention was necessary. He shared his own experience and wisdom. His voice was always respected, because it was not a domineering or controlling voice. He led us in prayer as we began each task, and led us back to prayer when we floundered.

Domingo also brought the voice of the vowed religious to our discussions and discernments. It was not the voice of authority, but the voice of fraternal collaboration seeking mutual understanding in our common mission with Mary. He was also a valuable liaison when it was time to seek support for our International Meeting.

Domingo’s desire to study more deeply the role of a Spiritual Advisor or Assessor continued each year. And it developed into the broader question of how to form lay women and men into this role in a time of decreasing vocations and increasing burdens of responsibility in religious life. It was an issue that was voted on in our recent General Assembly as Challenge #6 for the present International Team.

The timing is prophetic. On October 31st, the Rector’s Office at the University of Dayton and the North American Center of Marianist Studies (NACMS) are presenting a work-shop called “Spiritual Accompaniment of Marianist Lay Communities“. In conversation with Carol Ramey, Director of NACMS and one of the presenters, she shared her hope that it will be the start of a continued and larger dialogue on the role and value of Spiritual Accompaniment for both the community and the larger Marianist Family. It is my hope that we can connect and enrich this dialogue with conversations around the world.

World Council of the Marianist Family

The World Council of the Marianist Family is one of our best kept secrets. The Council consists of the General Administrations of the Society of Mary and the Daughters of Mary, plus the MLC Leadership Team and the Directress of the Alliance Mariale. We meet in Rome annually each November. The MLC leadership team coordinates this meeting with our own annual organizational meeting. Our week is divided between MLC tasks and World Council work.  More information about the World Council can be found on the World Marianist Family website at under the “Family” link.

World Council of the Marianist Family - Rome, 2008

World Council of the Marianist Family - Rome, 2008

The Presidency of the Council rotates in two year terms among the leaders of the four branches. This November it is the turn of the Marianist Lay Communities. It is a time for me to ponder the reality of the World Council and all Marianist Family Councils, and their possibilities for the present and the future.

The concept of a Marianist Family Council is a simple one. Representatives from all the Marianist branches that exist within a certain geographical area gather to meet on a regular basis. The purpose of the gathering is to share updates on our community life, projects, and current issues. The sharing provides an opportunity to discern ways that we can better collaborate in areas such as: formation, our common mission, vocation ministry, prayer, and specific projects. It is also an opportunity to pass on news from the international level.

Marianist Family Councils exist around the world at regional, national, and local levels. Here in Winnipeg, Canada, we have a local Marianist Family Council that meets twice a year. It consists of a member of the local Society of Mary community, and a representative from each of our four Marianist Lay Communities. Quebec also has a Family Council. There is a North American Marianist Family Council that exists of two leadership members each from the Society of Mary, the Daughters of Mary and the Marianist Lay Network of North America. In Latin America, leadership from all branches in all the countries have gathered in continental assemblies to share and vision together as a Marianist Family.

In Nairobi, international delegates voted on and approved eight Challenges for the Future for the present International Team. Challenge number 4 states:

The International Team will promote new models of relationship within the Marianist Family. Specifically, the International Team is asked to evaluate with members of the World Council how the World Marianist Family Council is effective in promoting and collaborating in a common spirituality, family spirit, and formation among the four branches of the Marianist Family.

While Family Councils are based on the early history of our sodalities, the modern day model is still relatively new. The World Council of the Marianist Family came into existence in 1996. We have only begun to tap into its potential.

Why are Family Councils important? They concretize our Marianist vision of leadership which is more participatory, egalitarian, inclusive, and dialogic. In a world where leadership is too often exclusive and elitist, we offer seats around the table for a diversity of women and men. And we work hard to respect our diversity- which at times is not an easy task! As Marianists we are committed to “stay at the table” especially when the dialogue is difficult. In a Church where the final decision making powers rest with the ordained, we provide the model of a “discipleship of equals”, of “union without confusion”. Each member’s vocational call in life is respected and supported- lay, vowed religious, or ordained. Leadership within the Council is not tied to one’s state in life, but to one’s vocation to Marianist life.

Family Councils are not advisory bodies such as parish or diocesan councils. No one branch has the definitive decision making power. In the World Council, each branch has an equal vote. Four branches. Four votes.  And women are well represented in our Family Councils.

The work of the World Council of the Marianist Family is often difficult work – work that must be coordinated with the many responsibilities of leadership within our own branches.  Yet it is important and valuable work. It is not only for the good of our Marianist Family. It is a practical and viable model of collaborative leadership for both Church and society.

The World Council of the Marianist Family will be meeting in Rome from November 11th to the 13th. It will be the first meeting for our new MLC Regional Responsibles and the new Director of the Alliance Mariale. Please pray with us for rich dialogues and wise discernments!

MLC Leadership Team 2009 – 2013

Here is our new leadership team for the 2009 to 2013 term.



Isabella R. Moyer (Canada)



Félix Arqueros Perez (Spain)


Isabel Duarte Quapper (Chile)


Ernest Kasono (Congo Kinshasa)


Susan Vogt (USA)



Brother Domingo Fuentes, SM (Brazil)

MLC Document in Portuguese

Thanks to a wonderful Marianist friend in Brazil, Walderez, we already have our document, “Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World” available in Portuguese. Also translated are the final letter and Challenges for the Future that were approved at our meeting in Nairobi. Thank you so much, Walderez! The documents can be found on the web-site for the Marianist Family in Brazil at It’s a beautifully designed site with lots of resources, news, and information on projects. Some of you may not know, but we have a Portuguese speaking MLC here in Winnipeg, Canada – Circulo da Boa Nova. They have been grateful for the resources that come from our sisters and brothers in Brazil. This web-site will be a valuable addition to their resources. Thank you to all who have worked on it.


Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World

With much gratitude to our writing teams in Spain and in Nairobi, we have a new international MLC document. The writing process mirrored the complexity of the issues that were being explored. We speak of our Marianist “way” as one of family spirit, inclusivity, commitment to dialogue (especially difficult ones!), and giving an opportunity for all voices to be heard. And, at the foundation of all our efforts is prayerful pondering. It was a challenge to remain faithful to our methods as the document was being drafted. But faithful we remained. And, the prayers of many guided our work to completion.

The result is a document that reflects two years of intense work by Ana Blazquez Ubach and the writing team in Spain. Much of this work focused on an international survey of all lay Marianists to gain a “snap-shot” of where we stand on various issues facing the Church and society today. Despite technical, cultural, and linguistic difficulties, the team persevered and gleaned enough results to begin work on a document. The survey results were respected, even when they were different than expected. This is the challenge of allowing all voices to be heard so true dialogue may take place. And the writing team and translators in Nairobi continued to remain true to our “way”, despite the many long and late hours of hard work. The survey results are woven through the document, reflecting our strengths as well as the concrete challenges of our present reality.

Our first four documents formed the foundation of “who we are”. As a new international organization we explored our identity, our mission, our life in community, and the role of Mary in our mission. “Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World” reflects our maturity and challenges us to take all the gifts that we have acknowledged and embraced and to use them in service to our Church and our world. It is a document that reflects the apostolic balance of our Founders. It is both prayerful and practical. It is seeking to understand the signs of the times. It nudges us to ponder deeply. It challenges us as lay women and men to put our faith into right and just action in our own place and time. And it encourages us to embrace our Marianist charism as a timely and prophetic gift to be shared with all.

Marianist Lay Communities in the Church and in the World

El Papel de las CLM en la Iglesia y en el Mundo

Le Rôle des CLM dans l’Église et dans le Monde

Nairobi 2009

The 5th International Meeting of Marianist Lay Communities is now over, but the energy and excitement of the participants is spreading through cyber-space in a true spirit of contagion! Our Founders would be proud of the skilled use of words and media to share the good news of our meeting with all members of the Marianist family. Check out our International Meeting web page for links to news, documents, photos, reflections and more. Reflections and links to more Nairobi 2009 discussions can be sent to

5th International Meeting of MLC - Nairobi, Kenya