Sisters Symposium set at UIW

   The University of the Incarnate Word will be the launching pad for a special forum Sept. 12 on Catholic Sisters that will go from here to three other states through January.

   In celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life, UIW’s Office of Mission & Ministry is presenting “Catholic Sisters: Who They Are and Why the World Needs Them,” said Sister Walter Maher, the ministry’s vice president.

   UIW is partnering with the National Religious Vocation Conference for the local event scheduled 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, Sept. 12, in the Fine Arts Auditorium.

The symposium, which will be presented later in Illinois, Pennsylvania and California, will feature two Catholic sisters who hold doctorates – Sister Mary Johnson and Sister Patricia Wittberg – and Dr. Mary Gautier, authors of the book, “New Generations of Catholic Sisters: The Challenge of Diversity.”

The book is “highly acclaimed,” Maher said, adding the co-authors will lead discussion on such topics as the changing demographics of Catholicism in the United States and the direction of Catholic orders in the future.

“Although the face of Catholic sisterhood has changed over generations, sisters maintain a significant role in the Church and society,” according to a news release about the symposium. “Their lives of service dedicated to the Church are needed more than ever in today’s world. Come meet a new generation of young women and learn why they have said yes to being called ‘Sister.’ ”

Gautier is a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Gautier, who holds a doctorate in sociology from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, taught sociology at LSU and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, as well as serving as a lay pastoral associate at St. George Parish in Baton Rouge, before joining the Georgetown center.

At CARA, Gautier specializes in Catholic demographic trends in the United States, manages CARA databases on Church information, and conducts demographic projects and computer-aided mapping. She also edits The CARA Report, a quarterly research publication, and other CARA publications. She is co-author of eight books on Catholics in the United States.

Johnson is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, an order which founded Emmanuel College in Boston and Trinity Washington University in D.C. She serves as a professor of sociology and religious studies and co-director of the Billiart Center for Social Justice at Trinity Washington and previously was on Emmanuel’s faculty.

Johnson is currently conducting — with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown — a national study of international sisters — sisters who work or study in the United States but who were born outside the United States. The GHR Foundation has funded this study.

Johnson’s research areas include religious life, generational analysis in the Church, and Catholic Social Teaching. She is a member of many organizations, among them the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.

Wittberg, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, holds a doctorate in sociology. An extensive writer on Catholic parishes and religious life, she has taught sociology at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis for 25 years. She recently moved to become a research associate for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown.

Her books include (with Gautier and Johnson) “New Generations of Catholic Sisters,” ; “Building Strong Church Communities: A Sociological Overview,” and “From Piety to Professionalism – And Back? Transformations in Organized Religious Virtuosity.”

Besides the opportunity to interact with the special guest speakers, Maher said, the symposium “is a wonderful opportunity to come meet Sisters, not only (members of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word) but also members of other communities, learn about their work, and how they have served the larger community.”