Getting to Know Younger Sisters in Their Own Words

Sister Susan Francois, CSJP and Meg Olson
August, 28 2018

In Our Own Words: Religious Life in a Changing World is a collection of essays written by 13 younger women religious about the issues central to religious life today, ranging from vows and community life to ministries and leadership. The book was written over 4 months, with the authors meeting over video chat, forming a community, and writing on their own. Then, they came together for a week-long retreat where they work-shopped their essays.

I had the opportunity to attend a book reading and panel discussion moderated by one of the editors, Juliet Mousseau, RMCJ, and featuring four of the contributing authors, including a member of our 2016 Nuns on the Bus trip, Susan Rose Francois, CSJP. I was so moved and curious about the writing process that I needed to ask Susan a few more questions!

Meg: Why did you decide to say “yes” to the editors Juliet Mousseau and Sarah Kohles and participate in this writing project?

Susan: For years, I had been saying that it was up to us, the newer generation, to write the next chapter of religious life, literally write it.  So much of recent writing about religious life explores the life in relation to the changes after Vatican II, or as Juliet says, in relation to what it is not.  For those of us born years or even decades after Vatican II, it felt like we needed an updated take on the core issues of our life, such as vows, charism and mission, community, and leadership.  In the end, since I had been encouraging others to write, when Juliet and Sarah invited me to participate, I felt had to say yes.

Meg: Tell us about your chapter, “Religious Life in a Time of Fog.”

Susan: The title was inspired by Sister Nancy Farrell, OSF who spoke at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) assembly a few years ago about our time in history and in religious life.  She talked about this time as one where breakdown and breakthrough tussle with one another and the path forward is hidden in fog.  It certainly feels like that in the civic space these days, but also in religious life.  We keep saying that things will look different in the future, but I want to know how we get there. So, I look at the tremendous needs of the world at this time for things like peace, mercy, charity, and justice.  How are Catholic sisters being called to respond in this time of fog?  I believe that we are being called to de-commission the large-scale structures of religious life, both physical structures, but also how we organize our lives together, and recommission ourselves as critical yeast in a world yearning for our charism, witness, and presence.

Meg: What did you learn about women religious during this project? Did anything surprise you?

Susan: We had a lot of fun together. We shared deeply and found common ground so quickly, even though some of us had never even met.  We love our sisters in community and believe in the future of religious life. If anything surprised me, I guess it was the realization that what we hold in common as women of the Gospel is so much bigger than any differences, whether it be cultural or whether our community members wear a habit. No matter our congregation or leadership conference, we are sisters.

Meg: What is something that the NETWORK community should understand about this new generation of sisters under 50?

Susan: Collaboration and networking come natural to us.  Because there are fewer of us in individual congregations, we have been building peer relationships across congregational lines since the very beginning of our religious lives.  We also build networks outside of religious life, through our ministries, advocacy, and other connections. I think this experience will serve religious life, advocacy work, and the church well into the future.

Order the book at: https://litpress.org/Products/4520/In-Our-Own-Words

Susan Rose Francois is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  She was a Bernardin scholar at Catholic Theological Union and a Nun on the Bus in 2016.  She has ministered as a justice educator and advocate. Follow her on Twitter at @susanfrancois.

Meg Olson is NETWORK’s Grassroots Mobilization Manager.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

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