A special group met at the Catholic Center in Buffalo in December to plan events for the 2015 Year of Consecrated Life. Pope Francis officially designated the World Year of Consecrated Life to occur between Nov. 29, 2014, and Feb. 2, 2016.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been encouraging dioceses to use this opportunity for laity to become more familiar with the lives of men and women religious and how they serve God each day. The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men are organizing "Days with Religious" this year.
Activities planned for the "Days with Religious" include a "convent crawl" to allow laypeople to visit multiple religious communities in Western New York on Jan. 31. Feb. 8 is also a designated day for religious open houses in dioceses across the country. During summer of 2015, the USCCB will designate a "Day of Mission and Service with Religious," where laypeople will be invited to help men and women religious in their service projects, and a "Day of Prayer with Religious" to pray with them on Sept. 13.
The planning committee for the Year of Consecrated Life in the Diocese of Buffalo plans to issue full-color, informative brochures to educate laypeople about the many communities of men and women religious within their diocese, as well as the long history of service and unique cultures that designate each order from the others, many of which the public might lump together. On Dec. 10, the committee met at the Catholic Center in downtown Buffalo to make changes to the brochures before they go out to parishes.
When asked what the Year of Consecrated Life means to her as a woman religious and an event planner, Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, said, "For me, it's following the lead of Pope Francis, as to raise awareness and have the public better understand the place and the work of religious men, women and brothers."
Sister Patricia emphasized that planning for the events has not been solidified, and more is to come. The religious orders plan to use social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to promote the events and encourage younger adults to find out more about religious life, and possibly join an order.
"It's a celebration of what religious life, consecrated life, is all about. What is religious life all about in this century?" added Sister Sheila Stevenson, RSM, another event planner for the Year of Consecrated Life. "We're looking for ways to express the charism of the communities that serve in the Buffalo area, both past and present, so we hope to do that in various ways that will engage the public. I think people will better understand who men and women religious are, and how we continue to serve in ways that are consistent with our founding charisms, and that it's still relevant, we're still relevant today."
Sister Jean Thompson, OSF, diocesan coordinator for the Retirement Fund for the Religious and vicar for the religious, will also play a major role in the event planning. Sister Patricia said Sister Jean will serve to "connect the dots" between the planning committee and the religious leaders in deciding what to do for the Year of Consecrated Life to decide exactly what the finalized diocesan events will be.
Sister Ann Therese Kelly, CSSF, an artist best known in the Western New York Catholic community for her stained glass work, plans to host an art exhibit May 19 to May 30, in the library of Villa Maria College in Cheektowaga, with setup on May 17 and 18. A committee to plan for and arrange the art show consists of Sister Ann Therese, Sister Amelia Pieczynski, CCSF and Sister Mary Reichelderfer, OSF.
Sister Ann Therese plans to include visual art by living men and women religious and possibly poetry readings, musicians and other art forms. A call for artists will be sent out to local orders sometime in early spring, with specific guidelines for submitting work. "I need to formulate the entire list of the congregations in the Buffalo Diocese," Sister Ann Therese said. "It's my main vocation, my main work and mission. For other people, they might be teachers, primarily, and they do art on the side."
"That's going to be part of it, too - trying to feature women and men religious as real people who have other talents," Sister Jean added. "We talked about prayer and spirituality. This is developing the artistic talents, to get religious who have those abilities to do this."
Sister Ann Therese also emphasized the importance of finding what the different religious orders have in common and emphasizing the similarities, rather than their differences. Additionally, while service to people of God is a large part of what women and men religious do, that is not all they do.
"For me, I think we are more than men and women of service," Sister Nancy Zelma, OSF, added. "To celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life is not to celebrate a group of women who serve the people of God, which we do. That's part of who we are. But I think we have a deep call to prayer and to God - we're religious women, we're not a Peace Corp group. We're more than just (service)."