Some of the Sisters who gathered for the 2018 Chapter in Portland, OR.
Religious life, just like any other way of living, has its cycle of predictable events. Whether it’s a regular gathering for Mass, an annual feast day celebration, or a once-in-a-lifetime Jubilee milestone, Sisters follow the beloved traditions they’ve always known. Until this year.
At the beginning of 2020, the Sisters of the Holy Names were filled with happy anticipation of holding a Chapter, their largest gathering, with the important purpose of selecting a new leadership team for the next five years. Chapter brings together Sisters from every corner of our sprawling Province – from Lima, Peru to Windsor, Canada – to see each other in person for joyful hugs, catch-up visits, worship and a week of deep conversations and prayer about the direction of the community.
Suddenly, as COVID-19 drastically rewrote the rules for traveling and gathering, the SNJM community faced the realization that Chapter could not go on as planned this summer. But go on it will, thanks to the tireless work, mutual support and ingenuity the Sisters always bring to a challenge.
Without forgetting their existing ministry commitments to people on the margins of society, the Sisters started charting a new course toward Chapter. Instead of gathering in small groups to share insights about their pre-Chapter readings, Sisters of all ages learned how to click on a videoconference link and talk to each other on a computer or iPad screen. Chapter leaders recognized one advantage that technology offers – Sisters could meet with Sisters from different regions, rather than with their accustomed conversation partners.
Providentially, a group of technology-savvy Sisters who are committed to expanding the use of digital communication tools had already equipped and started training many Sisters to use Apple iPad devices for staying in touch with each other. As a result, an increasing number of committee meetings, surveys and information-sharing initiatives have taken place with the use of iPad apps. Now, the iPad is part of the Chapter preparation process in which Sisters invite one another to consider taking on the responsibility of leadership for the next five-year term.
When the 2020 Chapter begins on July 9 with the theme “Hope Rising,” it will be the first to happen virtually. Instead of sharing a huge meeting hall, Sisters will stay home and log into a secure video stream to hear from their leaders and each other. Using the technology skills they have worked to develop for more than a year, they will do what they’ve always done – find a way to live religious life in the present age. There are no traditions to follow, except the one established by SNJM foundress Blessed Marie Rose Durocher: “As we tread the same path, let us extend a hand to one another to surmount the difficulties that present themselves.”