13 April, 2015. The Sisters of St Louis General Chapter Meeting 2015 began on April 8, and ended on April 29. This meeting, which happens once every six years, was held at Drumalis Retreat and Conference Centre, Larne, Co Antrim, Ireland. It was attended by 29 delegates (21 of which were nominated by the congregation), four support persons, and two facilitators.
The principal functions of the General Chapter are the:
• promotion of unity, vitality & growth of the Institute in accordance with its charism;
• review of previous Chapters and plan for ongoing renewal;
• election of the Central Leadership Team;
• formulation of modifications in the Constitutions;
• declaration, amendment and retraction of supplementary documents of the Institute;
• evaluation of the financial state of the Institute.
The preparation for the Chapter, which lasted approximately one year and involved the entire congregation, included reflection on the Chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel. From this process the theme for the General Chapter Meeting 2015 emerged: At the moment, you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand (John 13:7). A logo was also developed to reflect this theme.
The Chapter gives the delegates time to get to know more about all areas of the Institute and the challenges each area faces. The delegates also provide input on the world in which we live and serve, and discern where and how God might be calling the Sisters of St Louis to respond. This is done through small and large group discussions, keynote speakers, and refection/prayer groups etc. Through this process a vision for the future emerges, and the delegates begin choosing those women who can animate and move the sisters forward for the next six years, in conjunction with Leadership Teams around the Institute.
Below is an account of proceedings at the General Chapter 2015. Please click on the Image below to access our Flickr album, which will shows almost 100 pictures taken during the Chapter Meeting.
April 8 – Opening Ritual
The Opening Ritual for the Chapter Meeting takes place. The theme for the opening ritual is Stepping Stones on Our Journey. A beautiful centre-piece is prepared, which contains many symbols:
• large stones symbolising some of the significant moments of the Institute’s journey;
• bible containing the Word of God;
• SSL Constitutions and the Chapter 2009 document;
• Chapter candle and prayer leaflet;
• colourful flowers; and
• water pitcher, bowl and sandals, which remind us of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples in an act of service, and of the theme for the Chapter: At the moment you do not know what I am doing but later you will understand.
April 8/9 – Quiet Reflection
A period of quiet and prayer followed the Opening Ritual, where delegates went into individual prayer and reflection and:
• read and reflected on John chapters 13-17;
• reflected on the General Chapter logo, its written words and symbols; and
• reflected on the hopes and dreams for the General Chapter 2015.
Following this, the delegates met in small groups to share the fruit of their reflections, in a process called faith sharing.
April 10/11 - Workshop on Intercultural Diversity
Both days began with prayer and Eucharistic celebration. Facilitator Margaret O’Brien OSU reminded the delegates about Otto Scharmer’s four levels of listening, emphasising the need to listen from the other person’s shoes. The main focus of these two days was the workshop on Intercultural Diversity, given by guest speaker Maureen Gilbert, the purpose of which was to help the delegates engage deeply as a multi cultural group during the Chapter.
April 12 - Reflection on global issues and General Chapter opening Mass
Delegates spent Sunday morning reflecting on and discussing global issues and their impact the Sisters of St Louis as an Institute: how they affect our lives, our countries and ministries, and how we are called to engage in the world today and in the future.
The General Chapter 2015 Opening Mass was held in the afternoon, with some SSLs and Associates in Ireland in attendance together with the delegates. Chris O’Brien OSM was the celebrant and Éilis Ni Thiarnaigh SSL, the homilist. She gave a beautiful reflection on John 20:19-31. Among the symbolic gestures, representatives from different parts of the Institute placed candles bearing fruits of the Spirit on the centre piece. The rich liturgy saw cultural diversity in dress, music, prayers and dancing. The delegates were grateful to be part of such grace-filled celebration.
April 13-20 – Current realities and examination of current issues
During this time in the Chapter Meeting, each Region, Province and Mission presented a report that they had prepared on the current reality in their area.
This was followed by an examination of the current issues and challenges that the Sisters of St Louis face in the context of their charism Sint Unum, that they may be one. Experiential exercises were conducted as part of this process, along with a presentation by Dorothy Balfe OP on the New Story of the Universe.
April 21 - Free Day
The delegates enjoyed a free day away from the General Chapter Meeting and visited Glenariff Forest, Rathlin Island and the Titanic Museum.
April 22-24 - Deciding the Future Direction of the Institute and Thanksgiving ceremony
After returning from their day off, the delegates spent the next three days deciding the future direction of the Institute. On the evening of April 24, they gathered to give thanks to God for the life and gift of the outgoing Central Leadership Team (CLT) and to look together with hope towards the future. They came together to celebrate all that has been in the past, and to walk the road ahead with one another, with the Christ-light to guide them as they come to the end of one journey and are about to begin another. In a prayer of thanksgiving and hope, they extended their gratitude to the outgoing Team with a sincere Thank you. A party followed the Thanksgiving Ceremony, and each area of the Institute had a presentation for the link person on the CLT for their area.
April 25-27 - Election of New Central Leadership Team
The delegates spent the weekend in prayer and, following a communal discernment process, joyfully elected the following Sisters as the incoming Central Leadership Team: Winifred Ojo (Institute Leader), Bridget Ehlert (Institute Vicar), Patricia Ojo (Team Member), and Josephine Apiagyei (Treasurer). Their six-year term of office will begin on August 25, 2015. We pray that the Lord will bless their six-year journey.
April 29 - Closing ceremony of the General Chapter Meeting 2015
The closing ceremony of SSL General Chapter 2015 was a prayer of thanksgiving enshrined in rituals and symbolism. The centrepiece depicted symbols that helped the delegates to reflect and pray throughout the Chapter. These symbols included: the washing of the feet, the Chapter candle, candles and flags representing various parts of the Institute, important SSL documents, a portrait of Institute founder Louis Bautain, and a bible.
The theme of the General Chapter was based on the symbolic act of Jesus who assured his disciples that “…at the moment you do not know what I am doing but later you will understand” (Jn. 13:17), and inspired the Chapter delegates through and through. During the closing ritual, the oldest and the youngest delegates presented the SSL Mission Statement to the members of the CLT, who in turn missioned all the delegates to go and work with it. Delegates from the different areas of the Institute were called to bring home the candles of their areas, to bring the light of Christ from the General Chapter 2015 to all, and let it continue to shine.
Sharing the fruit of the Chapter during the prayer session, delegates affirmed that among other things, the General Chapter 2015 had been a period of prayerful discernment and transformation. It had also been contemplative and evolving, and delegates appreciated the insight of the “for now knowledge.” The Sisters of St Louis charism, Sint Unum, is still our business, and is still very relevant in the contemporary world.
And with Sint Unum as the backdrop from which we operate and a place to which we return, we are sent on mission to fulfill our founder’s dream of a world “healed, unified and transformed through the saving wisdom of Christianity.” It was in the spirit of joy and gratitude that the outgoing Institute Leader, Donna Hansen SSL, declared the General Chapter Meeting 2015 closed.