National Catholic Sisters Week is an annual event in honor of women religious across the United States. The week starts on International Women’s Day, March 8, and ends on March 14. Communities of Catholic sisters undertake a series of events and activities in their convents, schools and organizations to enlighten and bring a greater awareness of the call to religious life and the work of Catholic sisters. The essence of religious life is a call to a deep personal relationship with God that is publicly expressed through vowed commitment, radical discipleship, and faithfulness to the charism (core spirituality) of the religious institute. National Catholic Sisters Week is also a time to shine a light on the work and lives of women religious and an opportunity to recognize the credible role Catholic sisters continue to play in the United States through their prophetic witness in the communities they live and work.
Catholic sisters continue to live as long-standing members of some of the most impoverished communities on the planet. They are resourceful agents of social change who selflessly serve in places where human needs are deepest, and are respected moral voices in these communities. Catholic sisters affect change from the ground up in health care, education, human rights promotion, anti-human trafficking work and care of the environment.
In his last will and testament, Conrad N. Hilton recognized the good works of Catholic sisters:
“Give aid to their protectors and defenders, the Sisters, who devote their love and life’s work for the good of mankind.”
As we celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week, we follow our founder’s footsteps. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation acknowledges the commitment of Catholic sisters, their resilience and service to humanity. We pause to ponder and give thanks to Catholic sisters: for their spiritual witness, and their commitment to improve the lives of the vulnerable and disadvantaged people through their healing presence and ministerial services.
Pope Francis called upon Catholic Sisters in 2016 to “wake up the world” through their “prophetic and counter-current witness.” Pope Francis described the work of sisters as “shining witness of life as a lamp,” placed where it can “give light and warmth to all of God’s people.” Indeed, Catholic sisters are leading by example. Their leadership and commitment to making the world a better place is worth recognition as we celebrate Catholic sisters this week. They are frontline actors in human development efforts and share a commitment to serve people from all walks of life and religious beliefs. It’s important to recognize their role and work in advocacy on issues such as environmental justice, refugees and displaced peoples, and anti-human trafficking.
Human trafficking is an issue that is especially close to the heart of Catholic sisters. Globally, there are 2.4 million trafficking victims worldwide at any given time, more than 70 percent are girls and young women and more than 30 percent are children under 18. However, trafficking is a hidden phenomenon, and Catholic sisters in the United States are recognized for their committed, collaborative partnership to advance common good in local communities. By building networks of the global sisterhood for good, Catholic sisters are increasing to scale the scope of the services they offer, and becoming more effective in bringing renewal, protection, relief and justice to underserved persons. Catholic sisters have networked and collaborated to create U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking and have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness and to support those affected by human trafficking.
In his Apostolic Letter in 2014, Pope Francis reminded consecrated persons: “You have not only a glorious history to remember and recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished. Looking to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater” (Vita Consecrata #110). Catholic sisters in the U.S. have played a significant role in building education and health systems, and continue to provide services in these areas. By the influence of their prophetic witness, Catholic sisters continue to work quietly, transforming individuals and impacting communities in significant ways. The Global Sisters Report provides insightful stories on the work of sisters in the U.S., partnering with sisters internationally.
As disciples of Jesus and women of the Gospel, Catholic sisters are called to share our faith, hope and joy with an active presence that is reconciling, compassionate and prophetic in our Church and our world. This National Catholic Sisters Week, let us shine a light on the work of Catholic sisters nationwide as we honor their leadership in sustainable human development.