First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Collaboration Is Key for New ACWR Executive Secretary
Editor’s Report
John Woods

Sister Mary Ellen O’Boyle’s first event as executive secretary of the Archdiocesan Council of Women Religious (ACWR) certainly holds a lot of promise.

More than 100 religious sisters have signed up to attend “Planning for the Future: Alternatives to Reconfiguration,” a daylong conference being offered March 22 at Dominican Convent in Sparkill by Father Dan Ward, O.S.B., and attorney Donna Miller, who serve on the staff of the Resource Center for Religious Institutes in Washington, D.C.

Conference planning was already under way when Sister Mary Ellen began in her new part-time position Feb. 1. She succeeded Sister Rose Vermette, R.C.D., who left the post so she could fully devote herself to her responsibilities as president of the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine.

It’s no secret that the needs being faced by religious congregations today are far different than when their foundresses were playing a major role in establishing the systems of Catholic education, health care and social service for which the women religious of this country became famous. Many religious congregations are getting smaller in number, with few younger women entering religious life.

“Each congregation is looking at and planning for its future...You choose a road for the future,” said Sister Mary Ellen, a member of the Sisters of Charity of New York for 55 years.

There are more than 60 religious congregations whose leaders belong to ACWR. Sister Mary Ellen said she is looking forward to coordinating membership activities, corresponding with members and advertising and advocating for the efforts of ACWR and its member congregations.

“That’s a powerful group of women to have stand behind an issue, offer support and to share skills and resources,” she said.

The conference’s eight-member executive council, along with the vicars for religious, met with Cardinal Dolan March 6. Sister Mary Ellen said the sisters shared their ideas with the cardinal and expressed a willingness to be of service to the archdiocese.

Most recently, Sister Mary Ellen served as secretary to the president of the Sisters of Charity of New York, under Sister Dorothy Metz, S.C., from 2003 until last year. That position gave her a close-up view of the many demanding projects with which the congregation’s leadership becomes involved.

Earlier, she had spent 28 years with Grace Institute, first as teacher-director of its outreach program in the Bronx and then as job training program director and administrator of Grace Institute in Manhattan. She also taught at St. Barnabas High School in the Bronx and at two elementary schools in Manhattan.

Her experiences as a religious sister have profoundly influenced her perception of life and society, she said.

“I’ve been exposed to wonderful people, events and causes that have made me aware of the poor and marginalized in society,” she said. “It’s been a privilege. I have great gratitude for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had educationally and spiritually.”

Since her official retirement last year, Sister Mary Ellen has served as her congregation’s representative to a coalition of more than 30 local religious congregations working together to combat human trafficking.

A core team of sisters, working with other organization and professionals, has set up a “safe house” recently opened to provide refuge and many levels of support to women rescued from trafficking.

The collaborative effort by women religious of many congregations in the anti-trafficking work offers a good model for future cooperation. The prospect of such collaboration was one of the things that attracted Sister Mary Ellen to her new position with ACWR.

“We can no longer work in isolation,” she said. “We have to collaborate among ourselves and with many, many organizations that are out there doing the same kind of good work.”


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