The din in the La Crosse Center’s South Hall rivaled that of many other gatherings, with the conversations and laughter among Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, their affiliates and members of the general public indicating that they won’t go quietly into the night as problems swirl in the world.
The theme of “A Revolution of Goodness” stimulated the exchanges among nearly 350 people at the Mission Assembly Saturday, the precursor to the FSPA’s General Chapter Meeting taking place this week.
“We want to create a more caring, more loving society,” said Rosalie Hooper Thomas, who co-chaired planning for the revolution, along with FSPA Sister Eileen McKenzie.
“It is so easy in this climate to be against something,” Hooper Thomas said during an interview Tuesday reflecting on Saturday’s daylong meeting.
They opted for the “good revolution” theme because “We wanted to create a movement, a way of living and a way of life, recognizing the sacred in all of us,” said Hooper Thomas, who has been an FSPA affiliate for five years.
Affiliates are lay women and men, both single and married, who are attracted to Franciscan values and seek a formal connection with the order. They take up to three years of formation before embracing the commitment as affiliates. The order has just under 200 sister members, and about 275 affiliates.
Hooper Thomas confesses that she didn’t set out to become an affiliate, even when she was program coordinator at the Franciscan Spirituality Center, saying, “For me, I was surprised because I resisted institutions.”
A pilgrimage the stomping grounds of St. Francis of Assisi and one of his first followers, St. Clare, in Assisi, Italy, shredded her institutional bias in favor of being connected “with people who believe in the goodness of people,” Hooper Thomas said.
In addition to including affiliates in the planning for the chapter meeting, preparation also included gathering input from the general public for only the second time in the order’s nearly 170-year history. Sisters and affiliates interviewed nearly 140 people to glean ideas.
“From the beginning, we knew we wanted to be inclusive of everybody — that we didn’t want to just sit in a room and stare at our navels,” Hooper Thomas said. “We had conversations with the ‘nones’ to look at new ways.”
Mike Schnitzius, also a member of the planning committee and an affiliate since 2011, said, “It is part of the Franciscan tradition to be involved in actions in the world.”
The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are planning a revolution during their quadrennial General Chapter Meeting at their La Crosse mo…
Schnitzius cited that tradition to explain his longtime volunteering with the FSPAs in general, and specifically at the St. Clare Health Mission, the La Crosse Warming Center, the Franciscan Hospitality House and other initiatives through the convent and before he retired as a teach at Logan High School to provide succor for homeless and other disenfranchised individuals.
Reaching out to the public for input helped build relationships among the FSPAs, affiliates and community members, he said.
“Those relationships cross all categories and can have a tremendous impact,” Schnitzius said. “Walking with our neighbors and people of different faith traditions is quite empowering.”
Saturday’s meeting culminated with participants’ declarations of their interests, including working with homeless individuals, focusing on care of creation and the environment and fostering relationships with other faiths, especially Muslims, among other goals, he said.
“This is our tradition,” he said. “St. Francis lived in his community and had an impact. We’re engaged in our community in a spiritual collaboration.”