Chapter reignites commitment to hope-filled future

by Renae Bauer
published Fall 2013

Sometimes when good things are happening, when synergy is taking place, you have to chalk it up to the Holy Spirit.

That's the overwhelming reaction of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay as they reflect on their most recent Chapter of Affairs meeting. Held every four years, chapter is the most important gathering of the sisters where they pray, discern and determine the community's direction.

"I thought the participation was greater and more involved than we've ever had," says Sister Connie Wavrunek.  Chapter "was certainly guided by the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt about that."

"For me it was the overall atmosphere of the whole chapter," says Sister Nancy Langlois who along with Sister Ann Rehrauer were elected community vice presidents in January. They join Sister Donna Koch who was re-elected community president. "There was this strong sense of 'we have a future, we have a very clear gift to give the Church, and this is how we want to do it.' There is a deep sense of hope."

"It (chapter) was set in such a prayerful atmosphere," says Sister Sharon Lasee. "We started with Eucharist every day, and there was time for quiet prayer built in to the day after we would talk about things."

Preaching the Gospel and supporting vocations

Among the major items discussed were spiritual renewal, membership, environmental sustainability and a corporate stance on modern slavery. For the first two, the sisters drew heavily from three major church documents:

  • Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life) proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1965
  • Vita Consecrata issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996
  • Third Order Regular Rule and Life for Franciscan Brothers and Sisters which dates back to 1223.

These documents, along with Sister Donna's opening address, provided the sisters with two major themes: the need to effectively preach the Gospel according to the times, and the need for the entire Christian community (pastors, deacons, laity and consecrated persons) to welcome and support new vocations.

Said Sister Donna: "I believe the gifts needed for the next four years and the future include discernment in the choices we make which impact the global community, collaboration with others on national and regional levels, grace to allow ourselves to be stretched  beyond the walls of our comfort zone, hope and gratitude where a welcoming presence can contribute to world peace,  embracing life with all its uncertainties, and living in the Paschal Mystery where we trust that God will sustain us, recognizing that we ourselves are the Spirit's work."

Sister Connie found inspiration in witnessing the Gospel beyond church walls. "Now that many of us (sisters) are retired, we aren't publicly staffing church institutions like we once did. But we are called upon to live interiorly the witness to the Gospel which is the real core of why we exist as religious."

As for vocations, "It's not simply a matter of do you accept someone to your religious community but it's what your responsibility is in terms of promoting religious life and the charism of religious life in the church, and helping people discern where God is calling them," says Sister Ann. All three documents "are consistently looking at the charism of religious life in the church. Religious life is a gift to the church. The church would be impoverished without religious life."

Caring for creation

Regarding environmental sustainability and modern slavery, the sisters again looked to their Franciscan roots and considered their commitment to care for all creation.

"As part of our policy on sustainable living we explored renewable sources of energy for our motherhouse," says Sister Ann.  Prior to chapter, a committee studied the pros and cons of solar, wind and biofuel energy and shared its findings with the sisters. The sisters continue to explore the topic of sustainability strategies for their motherhouse which was constructed in 2006 using sustainability strategies.

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Sister Donna
Koch, president


Sister Nancy
Langlois, vice pres.


Sister Ann
Rehrauer, vice pres.


Sister Connie


Sister Sharon


Sister Margaret
Mary Halbach

Ending Slavery

Probably the most visible outcome from Chapter of Affairs will be the Sisters' decision to understand and work to end modern slavery, including human trafficking, a crime that traps children and adults to work against their will for little or no money in legal and illegal trades.

The urgency to address this issue is due, in part, to the attention it is receiving from two national organizations to which the Community belongs. "Both the Franciscan Federation and LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) are taking stances on the whole issue of human trafficking over a three-year period. We're simply a piece of that," says Sister Nancy Langlois.

Before voting on the corporate stance on modern slavery at the chapter meeting, the sisters devoted a day to the topic. They educated themselves by reading and hearing from experts with knowledge of trafficking cases in Northeastern Wisconsin.

"I thought the day we had on modern slavery was very powerful," says Sister Margaret Mary Halbach. "We saw videos and heard (from law enforcement officials). After we reviewed all the information and had a chance to pray, we then signed the statement. We were united. But we didn't just look outside (our community). We considered how we 'enslave' others right within our own community."

"It's not just a corporate stance against something. It's a corporate stance to something.  It's a commitment to action. We will commit ourselves to specific actions that will change this," says Sister Ann.

The Sisters' Corporate Stance on Modern Slavery reads:

"We, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross and Associates, believe in the sanctity of every human life and are committed to upholding the dignity of every human person. Therefore, we denounce all forms of modern slavery, including human trafficking, and pledge to work for their elimination."

The Associates will review and vote on the stance at their September meeting. Once that is completed, the community will take action.