Celebrating Consecrated Religious Women A Light for the World

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

June 11, 2023

Manitowoc, Wisconsin—So many hearts were uplifted and renewed as 80 Sisters from 11 congregations in the Diocese of Green Bay gathered in the Generose Center on the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Motherhouse grounds on May 13 for a day of spiritual renewal. We share reflections on this Corpus Christi Sunday from a number of our Sisters. The message continues to linger.

Fr. John Burns from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, whose assignment is to promote women’s religious vocations and consecrated life, was the guest speaker. Learn more.

“I came away being very much appreciated and affirmed,” said Sister Sue Ann Hall. Sister Marcolette Madden said it this way: “I left the Generose Center on May 13th with a spring in my steps, because Father Burns’ emphasis on the essential role of consecrated women in the Church was presented with such compelling clarity and ardor. The affirmation renewed my striving to be an authentic Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity—a visible sign of God’s Presence in the world. He reminded us: Your primary value lies in WHO you are as women consecrated to God, more than the work you do. The Church needs you, your presence, your God-given feminine traits, your quality of heart.

It’s important to intentionally keep this thought in mind each time I enter Roncalli Catholic Elementary School to serve as an Instructional Coach for new teachers. It’s my presence and witness, more than anything else, that touch hearts and minds. Consecrated life empowers women religious to bear fruit within their Communities, the Church, and the world.”

“Fr. John Burns is an excellent speaker. He was clear, inspiring and thoughtful in his delivery and content,” said Sister Laura Wolf. “A quote that I especially liked was: ‘Nothing can stop a woman who knows who she is and that she is loved.'”

“Father John’s presentations were indeed a positive, hopeful message about women in the Church. In spite of the many challenges that face us—fewer numbers, aging membership and the current concerns in society, there is much hope and a great need for the commitment of women religious. Our ministries are important but of greater importance is our consecration, our love for God. Celibacy is a gift of God. It is important that we let God love us,” Sister Adrianna Schouten said.

With a thought-provoking analogy—extermination and reintroduction of wolves from Yellowstone National Park—Fr. Burns spoke on the current lack of women religious and its effect on the rest of the Church. By 1926 the wolves were exterminated from Yellowstone National Park. Sister Lorita Gaffney summaries: “A productive ecosystem is maintained by a healthy balance between the predators and their prey interacting in that given area. If the top-level predators are removed (such as removing the wolves from Yellowstone National Park), the prey species (elk, rodents, etc.) quickly degrade and overrun the habitat. As resources become scarce, these populations become malnourished, sick, and either die or move.” The wolves were finally reintroduced to bring balance.

Likewise, the situation with women religious, said Fr. Burns. Sister Lorita summarizes the analogy: “Since the late 1800’s until more recent years, women religious in this country have assumed top leadership roles in catechesis and education in parishes, schools and higher education. Their numbers have drastically diminished since Vatican II. The Church has scrambled to replace them with other good Catholic men and women who can ‘get the job done.’ But the whole Church is suffering the loss of religious witness, dedication and support that only women religious bring to it by who they are ‘a visible sign of God’s Presence in the world’.”


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