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Religious Sisters Called to Intimate Prayer, Selfless Giving

Sisters from more than 20 different orders attended the conference

Posted: Thursday, July 23, 2009

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STEUBENVILLE, OHIO— Many people think that for religious sisters, prayer is easy. Effortless. But distractions, temptations, dryness, anxiety, and other difficulties can plague even those who have dedicated their lives to prayer. That's why sisters from over 20 different religious orders gathered to hear about overcoming obstacles and coming closer to God in prayer July 14-16 at Franciscan University’s Religious Sisters Conference.

Basing his talks on his recent book, The Fulfillment of All Desire (Emmaus Road, 2006), which compiles wisdom from the doctors of the Church, renowned Catholic speaker and author Ralph Martin offered the sisters practical advice for deepening their relationship with God.

Martin encouraged the audience not to let worries about sickness cloud their prayers, quoting St. Teresa of Avila, who said, "If the devil begins to frighten us about losing our health, we'll never do anything."

Martin also told the sisters that their call to holiness is meant as a gift for others. "[When] people come and visit [you], rather than just letting them ask about you and your life, ask about them and their lives, with an eye for: What's the Holy Spirit doing? How can I help them come closer [to God]? How can I help them fall in love with Jesus?" Martin said. "You're not just full-time religious for yourself; you're full-time religious to equip the saints for the work of ministry."

Sister Virginia Maria Klonowski, CSSF, a Felician sister from Coraopolis, PA, found Martin's talk particularly timely for use in her own ministry.

"I'm scheduled to do sessions with our novices this October, and the topic is the spiritual masters," she said.

In a talk titled "Intimacy in Prayer," Sister Therese Marie Iglesias, TOR, shared personal anecdotes to explain the lessons God has taught her about persevering in prayer.

One time when she was sick and awake in the middle of the night, Sister Therese Marie said she looked out the convent window and saw a solitary deer in the winter snow. If she been asleep she would have missed this exquisite scene, she said, pointing out the marvels that await those who don't "sleep" through their prayer lives.

Like Martin, Sister Therese Marie also emphasized the importance of living for others.

"I didn't become a sister to proclaim to the world that I'm special," she said. "I became a sister to announce to the world that God is in love with you. And when the world sees me, I want them to say, 'I have a God who is head over heels in love with me.'"

Father Michael Higgins, TOR, minister general of the worldwide Third Order Regular Franciscans, celebrated Mass for the sisters on the second day of the conference. In his homily, Father Higgins told the sisters that after serving in Vietnam in the 1970s, he lost faith in God, until a life-changing moment when he received an answer to a desperate prayer.

"From that moment on, I understood very deeply that the only sure thing in life, the only sure thing that is part and parcel of who we are in our very essence, the only sure thing that will last for all eternity, is our relationship with God."

On the final day of the conference, Steubenville Bishop R. Daniel Conlon celebrated Mass for the sisters, reinforcing in his homily the importance of bringing others to Christ.

"To be able to help others, that is our task; to help others to understand what it means to love Christ," he said.

This year, for the first time, the Franciscan Sisters, TOR, of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother, from Toronto, Ohio, planned and hosted the conference.

"My hope is that the conference will give the sisters participating an opportunity to be nourished by the Word of God, by the wisdom of the Doctors of the Church, and by encouragement and fellowship with one another," said Reverend Mother Katherine Caldwell, TOR. "The conference has a nice blend of content, practical application, and opportunities to experience deeper prayer with the Lord."

Sister Caldwell said many of the sisters maintain friendships with other participants by returning to the conference year after year.

This was a highlight for Sister Virginia Maria Klonowski.

"I enjoy being with the sisters of the different communities," she said. "It's not only a social experience, but it's a very spiritual experience, to be with them and see the commonality of our desire to come here."

Sister Mary Helen Forney of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Erie, PA, has been coming to workshops and conferences at Franciscan University for over three decades.

"I've gone every chance I could," she said. "The desire to become a true religious, the desire to know what God is asking, brought me here."

For returnees and first-time participants alike, this year's conference offered new and unique experiences.

"The Religious Sisters Conference usually gets me fired up and ready to go out until 365 days later when I come on back," said Sister Mary Michael Mackey of the Doors of St. Dominic in Steubenville.

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