I know I say this every month, but the most recent Women on Wednesdays events were truly eye-opening and inspirational. Again, I went into the event on Wednesday, Modern Day Sister, Shattering an Image thinking it would be difficult to relate to the topic and the panel. I consider myself to be a faithful Christian and have a very personal relationship with God, but have never been a big “fan” of the more formal organization of the church and its hierarchy. My naivety about the role Sisters play in the church and outside of the church, especially in the Modern Age, was indeed shattered.
I went in thinking that a “Nun” and a “Sister” are the same entity, and it turns out that they are very different. I went in expecting habits, rosaries, and seriousness, but instead discovered a group of fun-loving, stylish, and humorous women. I was under the impression that these women spent their whole lives focused on God and church and thought of little else, and soon found that these women are some of the most educated, worldly, and well-rounded women that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. As I learned early on in the session, many of the stereotypes that I had associated with Sisters was due to media portrayal i.e. The Sound of Music, The Flying Nun, and even more recent examples from The Family Guy and American Horror Story. These depictions of Sisters have been proven to be outdated, over-exaggerated, and in many cases just plain wrong.
I was also very inspired by a choral reading that was written and performed by several of the local Franciscan Sisters. During this reading, the Sisters expressed who they are now and their vision and hope for the future. I wrote down several adjectives they used to describe themselves; compassionate, strong, committed, gifted, engaged, alive with fiery spirits, empowered, active and many more. I was amazed that these women, whom I considered to be so different from myself, have such similar goals, values, and personal aspirations for themselves as I do.
The diversity of the Sisters was also eye-opening for me. While they all seemed to share similar faith-based values, their mission, their personalities, and their journey into becoming a Sister were all very different. Each Sister graciously shared her story and pathway into the “Sisterhood” and her experience, which ranged from hermitage, to working with Mother Theresa, to helping immigrants in the South. They did seem to share the common theme of a desire to help the poor, but the methods in which they achieved this mission were as varied as the Sisters who spoke.
The second portion of this month’s panel took place at stunningly beautiful Assisi Heights. I finally got to see and enter the “castle” I had wondered at in my youth. I do not know why I hadn’t visited before; I guess I always assumed it was not really somewhere I belonged as a non-Catholic Christian. I couldn’t have been more wrong! This is one of the most important things I have discovered based on my recent interactions with the Franciscan Sisters of Assisi Heights: they are more welcoming and inclusive than any other faith-based organization I have ever experienced. They do not judge or try to convert you as I assumed they would (ridiculous I know) but I have had some less than satisfactory experiences with other organizations of this type, and it was refreshing to be proven so wrong.
As I entered Assisi Heights I felt an immediate calm, and as I had arrived a little early I was able to do a little exploring on my way to the panel meeting. I was so in awe of the beauty and peaceful feeling the complex exuded; I probably could have roamed all day. (I will have to go back soon for the formal tour and to participate in many of the diverse and wonderful activities offered at Assisi Heights!) I finally made my way down to the panel meeting room and was greeted with food and beverage and another outstanding turnout for Sunday’s topic of Women Religious: A Place at the Table.
The Sunday session began with an excellent video entitled “Doing Good in the World” that highlighted many of the efforts and accomplishments of local Sisters of Assisi Heights, several of whom were present at or participated in the discussion. The panel was made up of 5 sisters who all have some connection to the local community and a moderator who asked them a series of intriguing and thought-provoking questions about the Sisters and their roles as a part of the church and its hierarchy.
The moderator started with somewhat easier questions like “What is your definition of Church?” (Most agreed that the church represents the people of God and that church does not begin or end with religion, but is about doing the most good.) There were also several toughies like “How do we achieve equality for women, both inside and outside of the church?” and “What is the most effective means of integrating women’s voices into the structure/hierarchy?” Again, there were differences in the responses, but the big theme was that when women stand together and have their voices heard, we will see the most change occur. The Sisters also noted that we need more female mentors and more women in leadership roles.
After these two wonderful discussions I have new prospective on many things. First, the Sisters and other Women Religious are not the past; they are not going to fade into the history of the church. They are not the archaic institution that I once believed them to be. In reality, they are the present and the future of the church, more than the past. The Sisters are out there accepting others, helping others, and continually educating themselves how to make not only the religious community, but the entire world a better place. If we could all take a page from their book and show a little more acceptance and be a little more willing to help ANYBODY in need, not just those that share our values and beliefs, the world would be a much better place.
I was amazed by how similar the issues these women face are to the struggles that I face as a woman in institutions outside of the church. I was able to relate to these women and their struggles and was in awe of their accomplishments and their drive for positive change in the world. Now, I am not saying that I have any intention of becoming a Sister (nor do I qualify), but I will take the values and inspiration they have instilled in me and apply it to my own life as a woman trying to gain acceptance and equality for all in the world.
I just want to say thank you to the Sisters for providing me the opportunity to learn from them and for motivating me in such a positive way. I cannot wait to be inspired the next Women on Wednesdays panels relating to The Politics of Beauty. [The first panel in this series, Black Hair - Still Tangled in Politics will be Wednesday, April 13 at 5 pm. The second, Advertising Messages - What Are We Selling? will be Wednesday, May 25 at 5 pm. Both will take place at the Rochester Civic Theatre.]
Do yourself a favor and join us! Get inspired, learn something new, or at least know that if you try it and don’t enjoy it as I do, that there is always food and drink (even wine!) Get Civic Minded, I dare you!