Sponsorship Conference gifts ‘The Grit and Grace of Prophetic Hope’

They were called to discern disillusionment.

Pat Kerrigan and Sister Jean Moore
As Sister Jean Moore, right, transitions to a ministry of education, affiliate Pat Kerrigan steps into the role of director of FSPA Mission Integration.

On Oct. 28, at Viterbo University, leaders of FSPA sponsored-institutions, Assisi pilgrims, sisters, affiliates and guests were called to discern disillusionment by Rhea Emmer, Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes. As keynote speaker of the 27th annual conference Sister Rhea called attendees to discern “Disillusionment: the Grit and Grace of Prophetic Hope.”

“It not only impacts us,” stated Sister Rhea about personal, political and professional disillusionment, “but the people we serve and with whom we serve.” Of the perils of health care she asked, “When was the last time we had a constructive bipartisan conversation?” Teachers are instructed to “Make sure those test scores are good because your job depends on it.” And politics and religion demand “critical conversations ... to discern the greater good, but we can’t go there.” If we “lessen our ideals and values” can we put a cap on disillusionment? “I’m not sure how FSPA feels about watering down their core values.” 

She spoke of illusion, of being “in control all the time: most of us who’ve been in leadership long enough know that’s not true.” The need to be right, said Sister Rhea, “has more to do with ego than accuracy.” And there is the need for perfection. Perfectionists and pursuers of excellence “are the same,” both owning high intelligence, values and focus on mission. “It covers everyone in this room.”

Good news
Sister Rhea brought good news, indeed. “As we become a more reflective people, we not only face our illusions but allow ourselves access to a resource already deep within us ... the goodness given to us by our creator.” By claiming it, “no amount of suffering can take it away from us. That’s powerful.”

She recognized such good news comes by different designations like “Fire of God’s love.” In Christian Scripture “Jesus looked at his disciples and said ‘The Kingdom of God is already within you.’” And Thomas Merton named it and wrote of it as “Divine spark within us ... ‘le point vierge’ ... the importance of knowing the pure glory of God is in every single one of us and those we serve. Like a pure diamond in everyone.” 

Sister Rhea invited reflection upon the “Prayer of St. Francis,” “your articulation of love’s capacity to transform suffering,” and to recognize those “who mirror goodness to you today.” They are essential to accountability in goodness. She asked “How do we, as leaders, call each other to that? Being Franciscan gives you the capacity.”

One of the heaviest forms of disillusionment in leadership and the hardest spiritual wound to heal, theorized Sister Rhea, is betrayal. She shared a story of embezzlement “to the tune of millions of dollars over five years” that hit those affected “like a brick wall.” It was duplicity of personal, professional and organizational proportions. Then came sorrow, self-doubt and anger. “Healthy anger is like throwing up toxins,” yet we need safety nets, colleagues we feel are strong enough to catch us. She warned that “getting stuck in anger” can lead to resentment: “a spiritual cancer corrosive to ourselves and others” and can give way to “powerlessness, loneliness and addiction” to our jobs. 

Prophetic hope
But if we do the inner work to dissolve anger we can move into a “willingness to change ... make better choices for ourselves, our teams, our organizations ... tap into le point vierge ... prophetic hope.” Sister Rhea asked attendees to reflect upon their own personal, professional, communal or organizational experience of disillusionment. “Who helped you ... come out the other side, transformed? It’s what your Franciscan heritage calls you to ... that level of honesty, support and accountability.” 

Sister Rhea named three levels of authority in the Catholic faith: “bishops, theologians and informed laity. What this really means ... is to claim the authority of our baptism.” She invited “All non-FSPA: stand up and look around at each other because you’re it. You are the future legacy to carry on that Franciscan charism because the people sitting down aren’t going to be around forever.”

And within a successful model of sponsored leadership, imparted Sister Rhea, is the critical context of community. “This is familiar to you because you ... are already sowing the seeds of prophetic hope in our world by core values.” Begin staff meetings, she invited, “with prayer and reflection. Invite everyone to slow down ... make space for that divine spark.” 

Christian Mission Award honors the Homelessness Initiative Committee 

The FSPA and Affiliate Homelessness Initiatives Committee accepted the 2016 Christian Mission Award during the annual sponsorship conference. The award recognizes a group that is creatively meeting the needs of others. The homelessness committee has worked tirelessly to provide safe places in the La Crosse, Wisconsin-area for our homeless brothers and sisters and to bring agencies together. 

Christian Mission Award Winners 2016
 L to r, Sister Karen Neuser, affiliates Linda Kerrigan and Vince Hatt, Sister Rita Feeney, affiliate Rosalie Hooper Thomas, Mary Jacobson (Catholic Charities), Chuck Berendes (Gerrard Hoeschler Realtors), Sister Romana Klaubauf, Meredith McCoy (YWCA), affiliate Shirley Huhn, Sister Catherine Kaiser, Kristy Walz (Confluence Consulting), Laurie Swan (Franciscan Spirituality Center)

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