In wake of Vatican report on nuns, Catholic Extension affirms contribution of women religious

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American nuns continue to have as much impact in the Catholic Church as any moment in history

“Throughout its 110 year history Catholic Extension has always benefited from religious sisters who have accepted the call to work in some of the most challenging places of this country.

Catholic Extension, a national fundraising organization that has been supporting Catholics on the margins since 1905, affirms the immense contribution that women religious continue to have in the U.S. Catholic Church. Catholic Extension supports the ministry of more than 300 sisters in the U.S., echoes the sincere gratitude expressed today by The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life for “the presence of women religious in the United States and for all that they contribute to the Church’s evangelizing mission.”

While their numbers may not be as robust as in years past, women religious continue to do the vital work of empowering people, building community, and reaching the marginalized. Many sisters funded by Catholic Extension are committed to training lay leaders who can carry on the essential ministries of the church that congregations have pioneered. In the last five years alone, Catholic Extension has provided nearly $7M to support the work of women religious in 48 U.S. dioceses. More than $2.3 million has already been committed for fiscal year 2015.

“You cannot go to the poorest areas of the country and not find the presence of the Catholic Church. In so many places the ministerial face of the Catholic Church is a woman religious,” said Fr. Jack Wall, President of Catholic Extension. “Throughout its 110 year history Catholic Extension has always benefited from religious sisters who have accepted the call to work in some of the most challenging places of this country. We echo the message of the Vatican report in praising women religious and thanking them for their tireless efforts.”

In this year in which Pope Francis has called on the Church to celebrate the contributions of religious life, Catholic Extension, a papal society, is doing just that. Following is an overview of how the organization’s programs, outreach efforts and even its highest national award supports women religious in America.

U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program

The U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program is a new initiative made possible through an initial $3 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, an organization which has historically provided strong support of women religious throughout the U.S.

The initiative involves 11 Latin American congregations sending 35 women religious to 11 dioceses throughout the U.S., and will have a two-way impact in the U.S. and Latin America. The initiative began this summer and is expected to influence tens of thousands of young Hispanics for generations to come. Participating sisters received enculturation training at the renowned Mexican American Catholic College (MACC) in San Antonio, Texas, before commencing work in their respective dioceses.

Arturo Chavez, MACC President, expressed gratitude as he described the sisters’ important role in evangelizing to those in need. “When there were no schools or hospitals in the U.S., missionary sisters came to be the Church’s presence among immigrants,” said Chavez. “Today, the growing pastoral needs of Spanish-speaking Catholics are an urgent priority.”

When speaking of the sisters and of this program Fr. Wall shared, “These are women who are so motivated by a profound sense of mission and a calling to serve the Latino communities that they asked to serve on the margins where they can make a significant impact. This program will help us expand more opportunities for religious women to share their teaching and evangelizing charisms in communities with great needs.”

At the end of the five-year program, the sisters will return to their home congregations in Latin America, which will benefit from their increased training and experience.

“The Sisters in the Exchange Program will contribute greatly to the vitality of the U.S. Catholic Church by being present, encouraging, and forming people in faith,” said Sister Guadalupe Ramirez, Associate Professor, MACC. “They will serve as bridge-builders (gente-puente) in the multi-cultural reality in which we live.”

Lumen Christi Award Recognizes the Impact of Women Religious on the Communities they Serve

The Lumen Christi Award (“Light of Christ”) is Catholic Extension’s highest national honor, created to recognize those who have devoted their lives to serving the poor and to fostering Catholic communities that build faith, inspire hope and ignite change, often in the country’s poorest areas. The award is presented to a priest, woman religious, layperson or group of people who have demonstrated how the power of faith can transform lives and society.

Of the 44 recipients since the award’s origination in 1978, 19 (or nearly half) of the award recipients have been women religious, demonstrating the impact they continue to make on their communities. The 2014 honorees – the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM) – are no exception.

Nominated by Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, Sister Carolyn Kosub, Sister Emily Jocson and Sister Fatima Santiago have transformed the lives of thousands of people on the border in the Rio Grande Valley who have been impacted by the harsh realities of the immigration crisis.

“The ICM Sisters recognized that the people of Brownsville, because of their faith in God, had hope and a belief that they are more than their circumstances,” said Fr. Wall, upon bestowing the award to the sisters last month during a celebration at the church the sisters helped build near Brownsville. The award includes a $50,000 grant ($25,000 for the honoree and $25,000 for the nominating diocese). Since its inception, $450,00 has been awarded in honor of women religious recognized as Lumen Christi Award recipients.

Catholic Extension to Present Panel Discussion on Women Religious at Loyola Marymount in January

As the third in a series of panel discussions presented by Catholic Extension at universities throughout the U.S., “Building Bridges through Intercultural Competency: A Symposium on the Future of Education and Ministry in the Church,” will take place January 24, 2015, at the Loyola Marymount University School of Education.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will deliver a keynote address, which will be followed by a panel entitled, “Women Religious Building Bridges Between Cultures”. This panel is expected to include, among others, 2014 Lumen Christi Award recipients Sisters Kosub, Jocson and Santiago, discussing their work on the border in Penitas, Texas.
The panel aims to offer a positive and inspiring perspective on the national discussion involving American nuns and shine a light on the crucial and positive work that they are doing in all parts of the U.S.

For more information on Catholic Extension, to request an interview or to learn more about Catholic Extension programs, please contact Lisa Gunggoll at lisa(at)lg-pr(dot)com, or visit http://www.catholicextension.org.

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About Catholic Extension: Catholic Extension is a papal society that has been supporting Catholics on the margins in America since 1905 and contributing to the growth of the Catholic faith by investing in people, infrastructure and ministries. Since its founding, Catholic Extension has distributed more than $1.2 billion in today’s dollars to dioceses that cannot support themselves. For more information visit http://www.catholicextension.org.

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