The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are planning a revolution during their quadrennial General Chapter Meeting at their La Crosse motherhouse, but they’re not fomenting hostility.
Rather, they are intent on promoting the opposite, “A Revolution of Goodness” aiming to ratchet up kindness in the world, in the manner of St. Francis of Assisi, says Sister Karen Lueck, president of the FSPAs.
“Where others see division, we see family,” Lueck said in launching a daylong meeting of FSPAs, their affiliates and members of the general public from a variety of faith traditions during a Mission Assembly at the La Crosse Center on Saturday. “Where others see brokenness, we see possibility.
“If we focus on goodness, that becomes our reality,” she told the more than 300 Franciscan-inspired participants who gathered to sort out the meaning of goodness, how they find it in themselves and how they perceive it in each other.
Tapping into as many resources as possible, the FSPAs and the order’s affiliates prepared for the chapter meeting by seeking input from the general public for only the second time in the order’s 169 years. They interviewed 136 people in the Coulee Region and other areas of the country, as well as Canada and in the Central African Republic of Cameroon. Nearly 60 of those interviewed participated in the Saturday sessions.
Affiliates are lay women and men, both single and married, who find that they would like to align themselves with the order because they are attracted to Franciscan values. They take up to three years of formation in preparation to assume the commitment of affiliate members.
Rosalie Hooper Thomas, a five-year affiliate who co-chaired the assembly, referred to Pope Francis’ call for a “revolution of tenderness,” adding, “It’s not a bloody revolt.”
Perceiving goodness in the world — even during times when bad might seem to carry the day — means “it’s not unrealistic to believe we can create a future of hope,” Hooper Thomas said Saturday.
Providing the foundation for the weekend assembly and the sisters’ chapter Tuesday through Thursday is a technique called “Appreciative Inquiry,” which facilitator Sue Weber explained Saturday.
“If you address just problems, it sucks the energy out of the room,” said Weber, project evaluator for the Lilly Endowment’s Religion Division in Indianapolis.
“Asking what gives life … (promotes) the best of what can be to imagine what might be,” she said.
“The moment you ask a question, you create a change,” she said.
Weber saluted the FSPAs’ decision to include affiliates in the 15-month planning process, saying, “Accepting gifts from the affiliates spreads the (Franciscan) charism.
“The mission is different now,” she said. “You weren’t ready eight years ago — or even three — and you can’t do it alone.”
During the actual chapter meeting, which wraps up Thursday, the sisters are reviewing and reflecting on all of the information to determine “what is stirring in our hearts,” as well as examining their own religious lives, Lueck said during an interview Wednesday.
Three sisters will be designated to glean the findings and write the chapter’s conclusions and proposals, which may be polished and released later, she said.
Asked to predict what actions might result, Lueck said that would be a collegial decision rather just hers as president — echoing the chapter’s position that members are equal in the process.
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However, she suggested that the direction will be “a culture of encounter and a culture of accompaniment” for the marginalized elements of society.
“It will not define particular actions” as the sisters return to their stations but rather, will serve as a guide, Lueck said.
The FSPAs — sometimes described as the moral compass of La Crosse and their other locations — will elect leaders for the next four years in July, and candidates are surfacing, Lueck said, adding that she plans to take a break instead of running for re-election.
One of the sisters balked at using the term “revolution” in the chapter’s theme, saying Saturday that she found it so off-putting that she wasn’t inclined to attend the assembly. Opting to substitute “revelation” eased her mind enough to participate, she said.
Lueck said she appreciates the concern but said, “I think revolution has a power factor. Revelation is goodness, too. But this juxtaposes the two: Goodness is nice, but revolution is getting out and taking a risk. Some are even saying it’s an evolution.”
She acknowledged the declining numbers of FSPAs but expressed confidence that the order and its mission will continue even with fewer numbers, especially as the affiliates increase. The order now has just under 200 sisters and about 275 affiliates.
“Big numbers were more of an aberration,” she said. “We are becoming more like a leaven. It will be different, but we always will be here.”