Sister Ann to be honored for her creative fidelity

Rehrauer_Ann_Sister2012-100pxby Renae Bauer
published Sumer 2012

Sister Ann Rehrauer will be among 35 women and men to be honored at a national Franciscan assembly for their efforts to live the Franciscan call to continually rebuild the church.

The recognition will be bestowed at the 28th annual Franciscan Federation conference, to be held July 27 to 30 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The federation is composed of 67 religious congregations and provinces in the United States. This year's theme is "Releasing Energies to Love: Creative Fidelity in the Church." To be honored, a religious community's Leadership Team must nominate a member and explain how a member fulfills the criteria, which are:

  • Embody Saint Francis' and Saint Clare's witness to creative fidelity;
  • Nurture that ecclesial communion of love to which Jesus invites us;
  • Embrace the Church with all its ambiguities;
  • Energize and give hope to the doubtful and the discouraged.

Sister Ann considers the nomination an honor.  "I have had remarkable opportunities and I have given my gifts to the church," she says, citing a few of her appointments such as chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay; associate director of the Liturgy Secretariat for the U.S. Bishops, headquartered in Washington, D.C.; and her election as president of her religious community. She currently serves as the director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship for the diocese.

Rebuilding both hearts and houses of worship

In reviewing the nomination criteria, Sister Ann speaks of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan order in the 12th century in Italy. It is believed that while he was praying in a neglected chapel, Christ instructed him to "go out and build up my house." Taking this literally, Francis began repairing the chapel. With time, he understood the instructions to mean rebuilding the church in people's hearts.

"Francis had a deep love and great respect for the church and its priests," says Sister Ann. Yet, he lived during a period of history when various reform movements challenged the Church's unity. "He spoke the truth and did so with respect but he didn't back down."

When asked how she embodies the spirit of Saint Francis or his contemporary, Saint Clare (who founded the Poor Clares), Sister Ann names Franciscan values such as prayer, simplicity, joy, service to the church as well as the integrity with which to provide honest feedback through the appropriate channels.

"It's important to be honest," says Sister Ann. "You have to be true to what is deepest in you, and people have a right to know, so speak it gently."

Influencial people

This Franciscan approach to life was first formed in her by her parents, Frances and Mark Rehrauer formerly of De Pere, who spoke of and demonstrated a strong work ethic and a responsibility to contribute to this world.  She also has been influenced over the years by great minds such as French philosophers Gabriel Marcel and Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (author of several books that were censured by the Church's teaching authority; then, in 2009, Teilhard was praised by Pope Benedict XVI for his idea of the universe as a "living host").

Sister Ann also credits a few contemporaries for their impact on her. She remembers Father James Provost, who, until his death in 2000, was of a member of the canon law faculty at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where Sister Ann studied in the mid-1980s. She remembers Provost advising his students on how to affect change -- whether in the church or the larger society. He said that rather than argue over what you cannot influence, devote your time and energy to what you can influence. If done well, more opportunities will present themselves.

When it comes to the Franciscan notion of rebuilding church, Sister Ann says Sister Ellen Lamberjack is someone who knows how. Sister Ellen, a member of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Tiffin, Ohio, was instrumental in the creation of the new "Franciscan Morning and Evening Praise" book. Designed to guide Franciscan women and men through their twice daily community prayer, the book is built on the four Franciscan values -- penance (or ongoing conversion), poverty, contemplation and minority (humility). The book is so significant to the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Holy Cross that they invited Lamberjack to Green Bay to discuss the book's history, practical application, Franciscan theology and prayer.

First a teacher but always a role model

And finally, Sister Ann speaks highly of Sister Urban Schumacher, a member of her own community. Sister Urban was Sister Ann's violin and music teacher in grades 1-3 at Saint Boniface School in De Pere and was her aspirancy director when she and 19 other high school girls were completing their education and considering religious life. Apparently, the girls didn't always get along but through it all Sister Urban "brought out the best in us by inspiring us," says Sister Ann. "Sister Urban is a gracious lady. She is authentic and she speaks with gentleness and clarity."

That gentleness and happiness exhibited by Sister Urban and many other Sisters resonated with Sister Ann who entered the community at age 19 after her aspirancy studies. "I was attracted to this community because there was great joy in simple things like playing volleyball in their habits and going for walks.  They didn't have much but they cared about people. Their love and Francis' deep love and respect for the church matched mine."

The Sisters of Saint Francis of the Holy Cross were first formed in Northeastern Wisconsin in 1868 and were officially established in 1881. Their mission is to further the reign of God by compassionately responding to people's needs through educating, healing and related ministries.  The Sisters are rooted in the Cross, Word and Eucharist, and they value simplicity, hospitality, and prayer.

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