2010 Symposium overview

2010 Symposium overview

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NRVC NATIONAL ACTION PLAN, approved by the NRVC Executive Board, Feb. 17, 2011.

Letter from Cardinal Rode
Prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
Letter from Cardinal Seán O'Malley, OFM Cap,
Archbishop of Boston, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations
Syposium Schedule

Catholic News Service stories on the Symposium:
Next steps for vocations; Fr. Robin Ryan on young adults (scroll to second story)



General Overview

Moving Forward in Hope Project
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL
September 16-18, 2010

In December of 2009, the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) was awarded a $47,450 grant by the GHR Foundation to sponsor a vocation symposium as a follow-up to the NRVC / CARA Study on Recent Vocation to Religious Life in the United States. This symposium was to serve as a think tank composed of highly skilled experts in various fields of church life and ministry. Currently, there is no structure for a gathering such as this to occur.

Given the significance of the study results, the NRVC executive board recognized that we needed to take the research to the next level. The board asked the question: How can we constructively use these important findings to help sustain the viability for religious life for generations to come? Because NRVC is the officially recognized professional organization for religious vocation directors in the American Catholic Church, and since NRVC sponsored the study, it only made sense that this next initiative rest with our organization.

The goals for this gathering were threefold:

  • To review the data and best practices for vocational promotion as outlined in the NRVC/CARA study;
  • To suggest creative strategies based on the study's findings to advance religious life from the various disciplines represented in this gathering;
  • To develop a strategic plan of concrete action steps that would increase the number of candidates in religious institutes.

A planning committee was established. The members of this committee included Brother Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, NRVC executive director, Sister Charlene Diorka, SSJ, NRVC associate director, Sister Elyse Marie Ramirez, OP, coordinator of religious vocation ministries for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Father Robin Ryan, CP, director of Catholics on Call, Brother Sean Sammon, FMS, former superior general of the Marist Brothers, and Ms. Patrice Tuohy, executive director and publisher of TrueQuest Communications. Sister Joan Scanlon, OP, was hired to serve as the symposium facilitator and joined the planning group in April.

The planning committee focused on the evidence in the NRVC/CARA study that showed a renewed interest in religious life found in a segment of younger Catholics. Given this reality, it was agreed that we definitely needed to champion new perspectives, fresh ideas, and innovative approaches to vocation ministry by generating new energy in our promotion of religious life.

Gleaning the wisdom of the 2002 North American Congress on Vocations, the committee compiled a list of potential invitees to this gathering that would be representative of the various diverse constituencies in our Church. The final list consisted of vocation directors, Catholic educators, major superiors, diocesan personnel, parents, youth, young adult and campus ministers, younger religious, media and communications experts, and church researchers and statisticians.

The symposium was held at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago, IL, from September 16-19. It was important that we host this gathering at an institution associated with religious life. CTU is the largest theological union in the United States and is also home to the NRVC offices.

Because of the diversity of the participants, after some initial tone setting on the opening night, an entire day was dedicated to placing the vocation question within the context of the study's findings, religious life as it is lived today in this country, and the faith and spirituality of young adult Catholics, whom we hope to attract. The second day was a work day where, through a facilitated process, all participants gathered in seven interest groups: church leadership, religious life, communications and media, youth and young adults, parents and family, ethnic and cultural diversity, and Catholic education. The task of each group was to develop a plan from their given expertise to promote religious life. This was to be done through the lens of the study's findings of today's candidates, the characteristics of the communities who receive them, and the best practices of vocation promotion.

A final report on this symposium with its proposed plans will be submitted to the foundation by December 31. An executive summary of this plan will be posted on the NRVC website by Christmas. The NRVC board will review and promulgate the final plan at the February board meeting.

For those of us who had participated in this gathering, it was an extraordinary experience. As one participant eloquently wrote in the final evaluation:

I met other religious with what I perceived to be a differing and even offsetting ecclesiology and approach to religious life from mine. I saw them as "other" and expected them to offer little that would be helpful or instructive. Instead, through speaking and listening, praying and altering my own narrow perspective, I found in that encounter other consecrated persons also committed to lives of ministry, prayer, and community in albeit very different lifestyles. In the course of the days at CTU, I realized that consecrated religious life is a large and amazing tent into which God invites a spiritual menagerie of charisms, communtities, and characters. Who am I--who are any of us--to set ourselves up as ringmasters or ticket-takers at the door of that mysterious tent?

Through honest dialogue and respectful listening, what started as a vocation symposium became an encounter with the sacred, which resulted in greater understanding, reconciliation, and solidarity.

The name for this symposium, the Moving Forward in Hope Project, was taken from the homily given by Pope Benedict XVI to priests and religious in St. Patrick's Cathedral in 2008. The Holy Father prayed: "May our Lord Jesus Christ grant the church in America a renewed sense of unity and purpose, as all-bishops, clergy, religious, and laity-move forward in hope, in love for the truth and for one another."

With a renewed union of hearts and minds, the symposium participants left Chicago with a clearer truth about religious life and its future, and a mutual commitment to "move forward in hope" with one another inspired by the wonder of God's Providence.

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