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Remembering CSA General Chapter 2022

December 10, 2022
By By Sister Mary Christine Fellerhoff, CSA

Cover of Reflections and Connections

This article appears in the December Issue of Reflections and Connections

In the Catholic Church, general chapters are meetings of the entire religious congregation or representatives thereof. The chapter “fosters spiritual and apostolic vitality, protects [the] founding charism and spiritual heritage, makes decisions affecting the life and welfare of the entire congregation, and elects the general superior and her councilors.” [CSA Constitutions, ¶ 91] When it is in session (and only then), the general chapter is “the highest authority in the congregation.” [CSA Constitutions, ¶ 92] The general chapter, which CSA ordinarily convenes every four years, is a deeply sacred moment for a congregation.

Delegates, arriving at chapter titled “Together, embracing the transformative journey,” had for months been involved with the community in identifying themes for direction-setting. After hearing detailed reports on the state of the congregation, delegates, in small groups and in the whole, refined the themes, eventually developing statements for future direction. From these statements, a writing committee drafted a “chapter statement.” The chapter body reviewed and tweaked each draft until it was ready to approve the final Chapter Statement (click here to view the statement) to move the congregation into the future.

Interspersed between bouts of direction-setting was election of new leadership. This process involved nominating sisters with gifts needed for the directions developed and formally electing the general superior and three councilors to lead the congregation for the next four years. It was a time of sacred discernment for electors and of vulnerability and trust for the nominees, who are also electors. These processes were guided by a trained facilitator under the leadership of the outgoing general superior and councilors.

All this work of chapter was woven together with prayer, song, liturgy, contemplation, deep sharing and listening. These movements shaped the heart and spirit of the chapter, remembered by delegates long after chapter is over. Sister Jean Steffes’ opening remarks identified three themes key to the work of this chapter: listening, discernment, and kindness. Beginning the first full day, a prayer-poem opened the delegates to listening with these inspired questions:

Who is this miracle speaking to me?
And who is this miracle listening?
What amazingness will [we be] creating?

Discernment requires listening deeply to the Holy Spirit. It asks not what I, nor what we want, but what God wants. Keynote speaker, Sister Mary Pellegrino, CSJ, placed discernment in a global perspective, viewing the journeys we are on as a world, as a country, and as women religious through the lens of the paschal journey. Resurrection disrupts all our assumptions, she said, calling us to recognize the new and to frame a new story with new purpose. Contemplative spaces throughout the chapter drew delegates into deep discernment about direction-setting and elections in light of global realities as they listened for God’s call to CSA now.

A contemplative “Prayer of Loving Kindness” opened the fifth day of chapter. But kindness was experienced and expressed throughout the days by attentive listening to one another, working through differences with respect, holding sacred the vulnerability of those who opened themselves to leadership consideration, blessing Earth and the entire world in prayer, and showing appreciation for all the people and work that made chapter a blessed event.

Chapter was not the end, but the beginning of “Together, embracing the transformative journey.”

Read the full issue of Reflections & Connections here.

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