Sister Niurka Burgos, C.S.JB., quickly realized she belonged at Giving Voice’s 2017 National Gathering at Iona College and must clear her schedule to attend the next meeting in two years.
“It’s full of hope,” Sister Niurka told CNY. “Like I said when I was introducing myself (at the first meeting here), I was hesitant because my ministry is very busy, especially on the weekends. But to see the room filled with hope tells us we are the present and future of religious life. So, it’s encouraging.’’
Sister Niurka was one of about 70 sisters under age 50 at the gathering organized by Giving Voice in New Rochelle July 6-9.
The conference theme, “Poised to Lead: Healing Divisions and Building Bridges,” concentrated “on the vital work of bringing Pope Francis’ focus of compassion and mercy and Christ’s Good News to those in the Church and world during a time of bitter division and hostile rancor,” according to Giving Voice. The gathering included circle conversations, open-space technology, project-based collaboration, liturgy and prayer, and relationship-building and networking.
“We need to do this more often and connect,” said Sister Niurka, a native of the Dominican Republic who is immersed in her mission with the Sisters of St. John the Baptist as a youth minister and coordinator of religious education at St. Fortunata parish in Brooklyn. The Sisters of St. John the Baptist have a provincial house in the Bronx.
Sister Sarah Heger, C.S.J., principal of Marian Middle School in St. Louis and an avid runner who has competed in the Boston Marathon, is a member of the Giving Voice core team and national conference planning team.
The national gathering is held every other year, Sister Sarah explained, and is solely for sisters under 50 who are invited from different communities from across the United States and beyond “to come together to support one another in that peer network that we need as young sisters and look at what the future of religious life holds and how we are called to be for the Church today.”
Giving Voice, she continued, offers the opportunity “to get to know sisters from different communities in different parts of the country and different parts of the world and really challenges us to collaborate for the sake of the mission and for sake of the Gospel. That collaboration piece, building relationships across communities, is going to be an awesome contribution to religious life.”
Sister Vicki Wuolle, C.S.A., represents the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes with the Leadership Collaborate and has been involved with Giving Voice since 2002.
“I think being together helps us with identity,” said Sister Vicki, who is from Wisconsin and who moved to Manhattan a few months ago. “As younger religious sisters, it helps us build relationships with one another that are enduring. It also helps us to have a sense of other as we learn about different religious cultures and different living cultures as we have become more international over the years. I think it’s a way for us to have support for one another so we can really live the mission.”
Sister Susan Francois, C.S.J.P., is based in the Archdiocese of Newark and has been attending the national gatherings since 2009. Sister Susan, an organizer for the 2011 conference in Chicago and the 2013 meeting in Belmont, Calif., said she hoped each sister would leave the gathering with the names of three sisters to call when feeling down or excited and could share the dream of creating something new in the future.
“This is a place where we can come together and really bond over our love for Jesus, our care for the Gospel, our care for the poor and our own experiences of being a sister as a younger woman,” Sister Susan said. “We get to talk about the longer future, and to build, to dream and to listen to what the Holy Spirit is calling forth for religious life in the future.”
Sister Sarah returned to St. Louis encouraged by what she experienced in New Rochelle. “The future is amazing,” she said. “The younger women gathered here are amazing professionally, spiritually and personally. It’s one of the most amazing groups of people I’ve ever been with.”