Diocesan News

Holy See recognizes women religious

Nov. 26 Mass to celebrate School Sisters of Christ the King, formally ‘a religious institute of diocesan right’

Story by S.L. Hansen

LINCOLN (SNR) - The Solemnity of Christ the King Nov. 26 will be especially festive in the Diocese of Lincoln this year. On that day, the School Sisters of Christ the King will be established as a Religious Institute of Diocesan Right with permission from the Holy See.

The special Mass, which will include the sisters’ public profession of sacred vows, will be celebrated at 2 p.m. that day at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln.

“The word gratitude is the huge word that is in my heart now, because God’s providence is so prevalent,” said Mother Joan Paul, C.K., mother general of the community since 1994.

“He has taken care of us every moment of every day of every year up to this point.”

Founded by Bishop Glennon P. Flavin in 1976, the School Sisters of Christ the King have educated thousand of children, both in Catholic schools and CCD programs. Currently, the sisters are in four Lincoln diocesan schools full-time as principals and teachers, providing sacramental preparation in another school, and serving part-time as religion teachers in four schools outside Lincoln.

Mother Joan Paul was one of the first novices in the order, entering on the same day as the founding. She said that during the 1970s, Bishop Flavin had become concerned that there would not be enough religious to serve the schools in this diocese.

“He wanted to build an apostolic laity, and he said, ‘I can’t do that without religious in the Catholic schools and the catechetical program,’” she recalled.

Bishop Flavin contacted a number of orders to ask for teachers, to no avail. In time, he realized that the Holy Spirit was calling him to start a new religious order with a teaching apostolate.

“He just reached out, without knowing if God was behind it or not,” Mother Joan Paul marvelled.

Last March, Bishop Conley received a letter from the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issuing their decision about the Sisters. It read, in part, that the Congregation, “is happy to give its consent for you to erect the public association of the School Sisters of Christ the King… as a religious institute of diocesan right.”

For those who have known the sisters and the good work they have accomplished as catechists, teachers and principals during the last 40 years, it might seem strange to think that the sisters are only now classified as religious.

“It’s a little hard to understand,” Mother Joan Paul acknowledged. “We have been living as if we were religious in order that someday we would become religious... We’ve really just been a public association of the faithful.”

The first step of the process to become a religious institution of diocesan right is called charism. This is when the Holy Spirit gives a person a foundational charism. In this case, it was Bishop Flavin.

The second step was to become a private association of the faithful. The founder seeks others who have a similar vision, mission and spirituality to establish the order. While there is no official recognition by the Church, the members operate very much like a religious order under the guidance of a bishop. They may take vows and wear religious garb to signify their commitment.

After a lengthy period that demonstrates the community’s stability, fidelity to the Church, charism, and formation, the overseeing ecclesial authority grants official recognition as a public association of the faithful. Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz bestowed this status on the Christ the King Sisters in 1996.

At that point, the order goes through another extensive period of formation and development before the overseeing ecclesial authority consults with the Holy See about an elevation to Religious Institute of the Diocesan Right.

When Bishop James Conley concluded that it may be time for the School Sisters of Christ the King to receive this recognition, he met with Mother Joan Paul. She collected the necessary documentation, including a letter from Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where the School Sisters have a house for sisters who are getting teaching and school administration degrees from Benedictine College. This was sent to the Vatican with Bishop Conley’s letter of recommendation.

There was a great deal of joy when the sisters learned that they would be, at long last, officially recognized by the Church. They are preparing for a great celebration that will include professing public vows, as opposed to private vows.

“Somewhere I read that every time a religious makes vows, the whole Church reverberates,” mused Mother Joan Paul. “It’s not just for the person herself to be happy about the fact that she’s giving her life to Christ. There is something much, much bigger happening here.”

She continued, “The Church’s life becomes more vigorous and fruitful through every gift, every self-offering...My self-offering, all these other sisters’ self-offering, will affect the Church in a very significant way.”

There is no telling how exactly this new phase of the Christ the King Sisters’ role in the Church will be fruitful, but the sisters will remain faithful, obedient and watchful in anticipation of the graces that will come.

“The members [of our community] will be richly blessed, and I hope that will show in their lives,” said Mother Joan Paul.

Bishop Flavin will surely be on the minds of all the sisters as they celebrate their new status in the Church.

“He loved this community, and I’m sure he is very pleased that God has granted this great gift for us,” Mother Joan Paul said.

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