By Sister Mary Jo Nelson
Being open to God’s future “There is an appointed time for everything …
A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant
A time to tear down and a time to build
A time to rend, and a time to sew
A time to hold and a time to let go.”
(Ecclesiastes 3, adapted)
In Visions magazine, January 2017, I wrote about the “critical time in history for Sisters and their congregations in the United States” and in Visions, June 2017, I wrote about “how Victory Noll Sisters are called to pass on their mission and charism as they grow smaller.” In this issue I want to reflect with you about “our planning for the future and how navigating the change is a deeply spiritual journey and that this is a common journey for all of us, not just the Victory Noll Sisters.”
Each of us has a story of change: of starting a family and moving out of the family home because it is too big and no longer meets our needs; of shaping a career and leaving it because we have entered into another phase of our life; of being the picture of perfect health and receiving the devastating news of a terminal illness.
The Victory Noll sisters also have a story of change. We have experienced changes throughout nearly 100 years of presence and service: working and living in small groups in neighborhoods to returning to Victory Noll for the latter part of our lives; witnessing a great growth of members in the congregation as well as experiencing the community growing smaller.
In all the changes in our lives, we are invited into a deeper journey with God. We are invited to grieve and transform our lives — to take a long, loving look at our whole life: to name its blessings and to name the losses experienced in our families and communities. We are called to see with new eyes, to connect our story to the story of all people, to be with God in a new way, and to find a new way to be for others.
All of us — you and the Victory Noll sisters — continue to experience changes that are uninvited, but nonetheless demand our open heart, open mind and open will.
The Victory Noll sisters are on a two-fold journey. The first part of our journey is to complete our “estate planning” – this includes exploring a collaborative plan with other congregations for our archives and heritage items and telling our story to future generations. It also includes completing a plan for our corporate governance and congregational leadership. In this planning we have sought the assistance of consultants, sisters from other congregations and colleagues on our boards and committees. They are working with us and offering their insights, questions, and wisdom, as no congregation can do this work alone.
Currently, the most visible planning is related to our motherhouse. As many of you know, Victory Noll has been a place to train catechists and prepare sisters for mission. As we grew smaller, we were able to establish the Victory Noll Center, which prepares adults and young people to deepen their journey with God and to be of service to others. At this time, because the buildings are only 22 percent occupied, and because we are growing smaller each year, we need to sell our Victory Noll buildings. But more importantly, we need to claim anew that we are a temple of God, that we do not need buildings to continue the mission of God.
Our deepest hope is that we can sell them to someone who will be able to continue our charism and mission in some way. Although selling is very hard to do, it is an expression of being good stewards of all our resources. Another way we are stewarding our resources is through our foundation, which we started a few years ago. This helps us serve God’s mission through others who also carry our mission and charism.
The second part of our journey is to deepen our commitment to the core of our life as sisters — prayer, relationships and the vowed life. The best gift we can now give to the Church and the world is to live our life in a deep and alive way without our active ministries of the past. We are also being called to articulate anew our mission and charism as we enter into a new phase of our life as a congregation.
The faithfulness of our lives is not about having buildings, nor is it about having large numbers in our congregation. It is about presence, encounter and communion not just with ourselves, but with all who share life with us in some way. We are on this journey of life together. Everything in your life connects with us and our life connects with yours. And, deep in our hearts we know that there is a time for everything … there is a time to hold, and a time to let go. There is a time to be open to God’s future, and that time is now.
Sister Mary Jo Nelson is the president of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters. Reprinted with permission from Visions magazine, November 2018.
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