November 26, 2012

MARKHAM, ONT. – After a four-year process and the amalgamation of four congregations, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada have been created.

"We have shifted in our identity from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton, London, Peterborough and Pembroke and now we are the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada," said Sister Margo Ritchie.

"Together, we feel that we can engage the crucial issues in a way that transforms us and the systems in our world and we could perhaps have a larger voice," Ritchie said in a telephone interview.

The move actually brings the Sisters of St. Joseph closer to their origins, when there was only one congregation.

"So it's a natural impulse for becoming one again. But there was an emerging energy in all of us to do something new and we felt we could be that better together."

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto and of Sault Ste. Marie were also a part of the four-year process but decided not take part in the amalgamation at this time.

That said, "All the congregations will continue to work together," said Ritchie.

With about 300 sisters in the new congregation, 137 sisters were in attendance at the chapter. "People were very eager to be part of this new moment."

At press time, the chapter had only undergone the initial two days of the Nov. 18-24 chapter which explored the direction the sisters will head for the next four years.

The "coalescing of various voices" discussed ecological justice, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, and indigenous rights, said Ritchie.

Sister Sue Wilson said the conversation focused on the interconnected nature of the sisters' lives.

"No matter what issue we try to take hold of – whether it's poverty or environmental damage – you start to see how the issue is connected with our social systems, our economic systems, our political systems and environmental systems," said Wilson.

"So given the interconnected nature, we really see a lot of value in contemplative practice to get at that level of interconnection."

Through this, the sisters will be better able to see root causes of injustice and how to bring about systemic change, she added.

Sister Joyce Murray said the discussion tried to better understand what the needs of today mean for the ministry and mission of the sisters.

"We have always tried to respond to the needs around us at the moment and have always been conscious of currents in our world," said Murray.

One objective of the chapter is to formulate a new direction statement, said Ritchie.

"We're really clear we don't want a nice statement that gets framed and put on a wall," she said. "We want to challenge ourselves."

Ritchie, who held the position of congregational leader for the Sisters of St. Joseph of London as of press time, said the congregational leadership circle of five women was to be elected later in the chapter.