The 2023 Congress will feature exceptional thought-leaders and practitioners in the areas of religious life and formation. 

Pre-Congress Workshops (3)

Keeping Your Balance: Resilience and Healthy Boundaries in Formation 

Formation work requires resilience, excellent self-care, and healthy boundaries in order to be life-giving and sustainable for you, and to provide a healthy supportive environment for those discerning religious life. Because the ‘medium is the message’ in formation work, your personal resilience and emotional balance as a formator are key ingredients to being effective with those you work with. We will talk about basic pillars of resilience (physical and emotional wellness, social support, meaning and purpose) and how to build healthy practices for self-care and resilience into formation so they can become part of everyday life. 

Healthy formation also requires excellent boundaries. We will explore how formators can establish and maintain healthy boundaries in formation that allow for meaningful connection but also leave appropriate space. We will talk about how to stay in your role while still being a compassionate and supportive presence, and how to navigate self-disclosure, dual roles, and other tricky areas. Finally, we will discuss case examples of common dilemmas and develop strategies for decision making in complex situations. 

KathyDr. Kathy Galleher, Ph.D is a licensed psychologist who specializes in working with men and women in religious life. She received a doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology from Colorado State University in 1993 and has been a university professor, psychotherapist, and presenter. From 1998-2006 she was a staff psychologist at the St. Luke Institute. In 2006 she left SLI to start “KMG Consultation,” which promotes healthy ministry through workshops, therapy, and consultation. She is director of a program for Healthy Sexual Integration in Religious Life for men in formation in D.C. and Chicago.  She presents to congregations and formation programs on topics including self-care, conflict management, transitions, and healthy boundaries. She has worked with a number of national groups including the Institute for Religious Formation, Religious Formation Conference, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the National Religious Vocations Conference. 

Restorative Justice: A Way of Life

This workshop is an introduction to restorative justice and circle keeping, a fundamental practice of restorative justice. It will include the origin of restorative justice, its use in our criminal legal system and its potential to create a new paradigm of justice. Participants will experience sitting in circle-which creates safe space, flattens hierarchy, and elicits authentic sharing and relationship building. Participants will deepen their understanding of restorative justice, its applications, and their skill in participating in talking circles, check-in circles, celebration circles and healing circles. This will provide formators creative ways to foster relationships and to build community.

Sr. Janet M. Ryan, OSF is a Sister of St Francis of Clinton, Iowa whose mission is "Living and Promoting Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking." Originally from New England and the Boston area, she earned a bachelor's in Communication Sciences at the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry from St. John’s Seminary Boston, MA. Since 2013, Janet has been ministering on the South Side of Chicago at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a Restorative Justice Hub. She oversees a high school diploma program for adults and facilitates circle-keeper trainings. She is also involved in prison ministry and advocates for criminal justice reform. Janet enjoys being outside, riding her bike to work, and promoting nonviolence and restorative justice wherever she can.

Ongoing Formation: A Seamless Garment of Religious Life 

This workshop will consist of a blend of both theory and application. At the outset there will be an overview of some basic concepts of formation, with a focus on ongoing formation. It will then present a case study of a congregation that recently set up an ongoing formation program. Other examples will be used throughout, including those of the participants. Time will be allotted to create a basic ongoing formation plan for one’s congregation and to share it within a small group. 

Ellen DauwerSr. Ellen Dauwer, SC is a Sister of Charity of Saint Elizabeth. In December 2022 she completed her second term as Executive Director of the Religious Formation Conference. Prior to that she served in congregational leadership. Most of her ministry has been educational: as a high school math and computer science teacher, as a college professor in Computer Information Systems and Educational Technology, and as a college administrator at both the College of Saint Elizabeth in NJ and Fordham University in NY. Sister Ellen holds a BA in Education and Math from the College of Saint Elizabeth, an MA in Measurement and Evaluation and a PhD in Management of Computer Resources (both from New York University). 

Plenary Sessions (2)

Plenary Session I | Keynote Address 

Synodality and Religious Life: The Call to Renewal and Witness

During the plenary session on Friday, November 10th Cardinal McElroy will give a keynote address followed by a question-and-answer period and small group dialogue. 

Two major missionary imperatives have emerged from the synodal process for religious women and men and their communities. The first is to renew religious communities to more fully incorporate synodality into their identity, culture and mission. The second is to draw from the renewal that religious life has already undertaken since the Second Vatican Council, and use that experience to witness to the realities of communion, participation and outreach in the larger Church. The meetings in Rome will help crystalize this two-fold dynamic which provides such a hope-filled and spiritually rich new chapter in the history of religious life in our  time.

Rev. Cardinal Robert W. McElroy was born in San Francisco on February 5, 1954. He received his undergraduate education at Harvard, and received a master’s degree in American history from Stanford in 1976. Entering the seminary for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, he was ordained a priest in l980 and was assigned to the parish where both his parents had been raised. Bishop McElroy served has pastor at St. Gregory Parish, San Francisco for 15 years.

In l985 Archbishop Quinn asked him to pursue studies in the field of Catholic social teaching. He received a doctorate in moral theology from the Gregorian University in Rome and a doctorate in political science from Stanford in l989. In the following years he served the Archdiocese of San Francisco as vicar general and as a pastor, and in 2010 Pope Benedict appointed him auxiliary bishop of San Francisco. In 2015 Pope Francis appointed him bishop of San Diego.

Bishop McElroy has written two books: The Search for an American Public Theology and Morality and American Foreign Policy. In addition, he has written a series of articles on theology and public policy for a variety of journals.

Plenary Session II: Panel Conversation and Participant Recommendations

Synodality Stretching Beyond Generations: Navigating Intergenerational Challenges and Opportunities in Religious Life

During the plenary session on Saturday, November 11th a panel will explore religious life and intergenerationality. Panelists will take turns responding to and discussing the following components: 

  • Intergenerationally and religious life: where are we today? What is the state of younger and older members co-creating the emerging realities of religious life? 
  • Naming the challenges: what dangers and difficulties have we encountered? What growing edges and opportunities for growth can inform paths forward?
  • Surfacing the opportunities: what gifts and grace are we being invited to uncover? What approaches have worked well in cultivating intergenerational connection, collaboration, and community?
  • Pathways forward: how can intergenerational work inform next steps? Why does this matter and what does it mean for those who work in formation ministry?

The session will involve input from and dialogue amongst panelists, a large group question-and- answer period, small group processing, and the sharing of recommendations and best practices. 

Panelists include:

  • Sr. Chioma Ahanihu, SLW
  • Fr. Ray Flores, OSA
  • Sr. Ann Letourneau, CSJ (moderator)
  • Bro. Loughlan Sofield, ST

Seminar Sessions (5)

Thriving in Mystery: The Future of Religious Life 

This session will explore the beauty of the call we have received as consecrated religious and examine the role religious life plays in this time of significant change. We will reflect together on where the future is leading us and consider the identity and interior spiritual shape of religious life and its implications for our church and world.   

Sr. Rosalia Meza, VDMF is the Director of the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a member of the Verbum Dei Community. She has served in formation ministry in the United States for many years. She is a consultant in her native Mexico as well as in Brazil and Columbia. She received her Doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California where she also received her Master of Divinity and Licentiate in Sacred Theology. She is currently the Provincial Superior of the Verbum Dei USA. 

Walking Together with Open Hearts: Prayer as Formative and Transformative 

We formators minister to a diversity of persons who come to us with their learned and preferred ways of prayer. While honoring their unique spiritual journeys, we also invite them to envision prayer more broadly and holistically, as an essential part of religious formation, through which a loving God transforms individuals and the community. We will discuss some practical ways of prayer and ‘contemplative attention’ to the concrete aspects of our lives, and how such prayer and contemplation might best facilitate a deepening of self-knowledge, an opening to the love of the One who continually calls us, and growth in the fruits of God’s Spirit in ourselves, in community, in other relationships, and in the service of others…that all may thrive!    

John FontanaFr. John Fontana, OSM is a Servite (Friar Servants of Mary) from Chicago. He has served in formation ministry with pre-novices, and presently with temporary professed friars. Since receiving a Masters’ Degree in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University, he has accompanied persons as a spiritual director for over 30 years, including on staff at the St Louis Consultation Center (treatment for religious and priests), and has led retreats, and parish missions and days of prayer. John served in his community’s leadership for eleven years as Prior Provincial. His ministries now include formation, spiritual direction, parish, and a healing ministry, related to the Servite St Peregrine, patron of persons with cancer. 

Rearticulating the Nonnegotiables of Religious Life for Our Times: Wisdom for Formators from Newer Members 

For initial and ongoing formation to be effective, it must be rooted in and flow from the non-negotiables of religious life. These non-negotiables must be articulated anew constantly and consciously by all our members. Everything about how we will be in the future depends on how well we understand who, what, how, and why we are called to be now in all our present realities. The more dynamic and engaged we are, the better equipped we will be to become ever more authentically who we say we are. This seminar consciously centers the voices of newer members in this re-articulation process while focusing intentionally on insights for doing formation ministry now.

Michelle LesherSr. Michelle Lesher, SSJ is a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia currently serving as a Novice Director for the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Formation Director for her Congregation. Michelle has a master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a D.Min. from Fordham University. Her concentration was Spirituality and her dissertation focused on canonical novitiate formation for the 21st Century. Michelle is passionate about accompanying persons on their faith and vocation journey. 

From Welcome to Inclusion

Inculturation continues to be a pertinent issue amongst many religious congregations due to the changing demographics of church and society and thus also our own communities. Many traditionally white American congregations have embraced this shift and WELCOMED women and men of color into their congregations in recent years. However, as often happens, the practicalities of everyday living prove challenging. Sometimes, this can lead to a subtle push for assimilation, communities characterized by tolerance but not acceptance, and at times even a desire to renege on the decision to welcome those who are different. This presentation will explore ways to foster true inclusion.   

MumbiSr. Mūmbi Kīgūtha, CPPS a member of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, was born and raised in Kenya. She has worked with diverse vulnerable populations in various parts of the world, including assignments with various U.N. agencies and JRS. Currently, she ministers in Silver Spring, MD as the President of Friends in Solidarity supporting the development work of Solidarity with South Sudan. 

In addition to earning a Master of Business Administration in marketing and a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing focus) degree from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Sister Mumbi has a graduate theological degree in Justice Ministry and a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry both from the Catholic Theological Union. She has a Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching and is also trained in the circle process.

A prolific writer, she is a regular contributor to the Horizons column of the Global Sisters Report amongst other publications and is also a sought-after speaker on various topics.

Leaders and Formators: Finding the Right Balance 

Congregational leadership needs to be supportive of formation ministry. Finding the time or means with other obligations is a challenge. Formators want to be supported and trusted but not micro-managed. The hope is to find the right balance. This workshop will look at your experience and explore four areas where a balance can be forged: 

  • Passing on the charism/heritage/mission 
  • Communication 
  • Training and support 
  • Evaluation 

John and Paul have both been in leadership positions and formator roles in their congregation. They bring the experience of coordinating an international formation program and the balance needed between leadership oversight and local formation programs for an intercultural formation program. 

Bro. Paul Michalenko, ST, PhD is a religious Brother with the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity. The Missionary Servants are an American founded congregation of priests and Brothers that are part of a larger “Missionary Cenacle Family” ministering in the church. This family includes women religious and laity. 

He has served as Novice director and coordinator of his congregation’s international vocation and formation programs while serving on the general council. He has taught at the Institute of Religious Formation for 20 years and was director of that program for six years. He co-teaches “Orientation to Formation” for the RFC as well as serves on the coordinating team of “ForMission."

John SkrodinskBro. John Skrodinsky, ST was born in Lancaster, PA and is the only child of his parents, John and Shirley. He attended the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown and studied Elementary Education. It was there that he involved himself in campus ministry which contributed very much to his discernment of a religious vocation. After some work in youth ministry in his home parish, John entered the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity.   

After studies at Washington Theological Union (Master in Pastoral Studies) and a mission year in Puerto Rico, John professed final vows in 2000. His first assignment was in case management and drug and alcohol counseling at a halfway house in Philadelphia. There he also studied law at Temple University, earning a JD in 2007. His next assignment in Paterson, NJ was as the director of migrant ministry for Catholic Charities. John has served two terms on his congregation’s Council and has been the director of the Pre-Novitiate formation house since 2019. 

Congress Conversation (1)

Thriving in the NEW of Religious Life

Transformation of religious life is a reality – and it has been for centuries!  

However, we are experiencing this more acutely in our current time. Through experimentation, changing structures, and diving into what is essential for living this vocation, we find the need to dialogue about and discern the Spirit’s invitation at this moment. New ways of relating and thinking about religious life are emerging. A focus on intercongregational, intercultural, and intergenerational aspects of our shared life continue to be fostered by a commitment to gospel values and Christ’s good news of justice, love, and peace.   

As we explore the ways in which current practices and mindsets need to shift for new ways to take root, a question arises: what is essential and what needs transformation? 

This session will attend to these shifts and changes, as well as the hope-filled curiosities and creativities. Board Co-Chairs, Nancy Gerth, SCN and Wayne Fitzpatrick, MM will welcome participants and provide an overview of our conversation. Executive Co-Director, Linda Buck, CSJ will situate the discussion with a reflection on where religious life finds itself today. Ryan Hoffmann, Executive Co-Director, will provide an exploration of the Leadership Collaborative-Religious Formation Conference pilot initiative as one way the Spirit continues to invite us to imagining new movements in our church and world.  

After this brief input, participants will be invited to enter small group conversations on the new they’re seeing in religious life today and what it means for the larger system of consecrated life going forward. Insights and ideas will be harvested in the large group, giving participants the opportunity to identify and capture emerging wisdom as it shapes formation ministry and religious life.     

Post-Congress Workshop (1)

Rooted in Community, Thriving for Mission

This interactive day-long workshop will focus on what is necessary to create community in our contemporary, intercultural, intergenerational context. The afternoon will address living the vows in the context of Catholic Social Teaching with a special emphasis on Pope Francis’ writings. Sister Simone says, "Come prepared to stretch together with the goal of creating a vibrant religious life for the twenty-first century."

Simone Campbell

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS is a religious leader, attorney, author, and recipient of a 2022 Presidential Medal of Freedom (the United States’ highest civilian honor). She has extensive experience in public policy rooted in the lived experiences of people at the economic margins of society. She is now an Emerson Elder with the Emerson Collective and co-leads “Understanding US” focused on political healing. 

For 17 years she was executive director of NETWORK, Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and leader of Nuns on the Bus. Her healthcare policy work was seminal in passage of the Affordable Care Act. She has received numerous awards including the “Defender of Democracy Award” from the Parliamentarians for Global Action. Prior to Washington, this native Californian did state advocacy and for 18 years was the founder of the Oakland Community Law Center. In 1995 she also was elected the leader of her community the Sisters of Social Service and served in that capacity until 2000. Her two award winning books are A Nun on the Bus (2014) and Hunger for Hope (2020).

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