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Potluck dinner supports women religious

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Monday, April 19, 2010

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — Delicious food and good conversation made for a meaningful evening March 23 when approximately 120 laypeople and women religious gathered at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Pleasant Ridge.
The potluck dinner was organized by members of various area parishes and spearheaded by a committee from Nativity to “provide support for our Sisters and to learn from them,” explained Mary Ellen Williams, who offered the welcome and prayer as the evening began.


Kate Kern
Kate Kern, left, a Nativity parishioner, visits with Ursuline Sisters Lucia Castellini and Phyllis Kemper. (CT/Eileen Connelly, OSU)

Religious life is “a prophetic life form based on Jesus’ prophetic life form and these women are called to live the Gospels intensely. They have been an example to the rest of us,” she said.
Father Paul DeLuca, Nativity pastor, also offered a welcome to those present. Each of the religious communities represented in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was invited to attend the dinner, and all but one had members there.
“We realized people wanted to show support for the women religious they know and admire and learn about the charisms of the different orders,” said Sister of Mercy Carren Herring, one of the event’s organizers. “The dinner provided a way for people to get to know the Sisters.”
After casual conversation over dinner, a panel of Sisters from five communities shared the history, charism and current ministries of their respective congregations, as well as their own call to religious life. “There has been nothing regular about my life,” said Congregation of Divine Providence Sister Alice Gerdeman. “I never in a million years would have expected the life I have lived. It has been a life of providence of a God who leads you where you need to go.”
During her years in religious life Oldenburg Franciscan Sister Ann Vonder Meulen has been involved in a variety of ministries, including education and youth ministry. “Each one has challenged me,” she said, “but it’s not so much what we do, but how we do it and how we serve.”
Although many members of her congregation now live alone, Sister Ann spoke of “the strong community presence” that still exists among the Franciscan Sisters, as well as the continued emphasis on service to the poor, care of the earth and prayer, ‘which is still very much part of our lives together.”
Dominican Sister Mary Sheila Maksim and Sister of Notre Dame De Namur Mary Ann Zwiejack also presented on their communities as the audience eagerly listened to the challenges the congregations faced with faith and dedication in their early days and the courage and flexibility they have demonstrated in embracing the changes in the Catholic Church and society. Small and large group discussions, along with the opportunity for questions, followed the presentations.
Organizers say they’re pleased with how the evening went. “I think it was very educational and created some relationships,” Sister Carren said. “Many people wonder why we left our traditional ministry and it seemed to help them undertand that we’re now meeting the needs of the times. The evening really increased awareness of the reality of religious life in the church today.”
For Chris Schroeder, a Nativity parishioner, the presentations and discussions demonstrated how women religious “have inspired the laity and taught us to do ministry. They have modeled service to others for us, shown us what it means to live out the Gospel and opened doors for all women.”
Cheryl Weisgerber, who served on the planning committee for the potluck, said feedback from the event was so positive that follow up events are under discussion.

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