…a landowner went out early in the morning
to hire labourers for his vineyard. (Mt. 20: 1)
The decree on religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, recommended taking into account the characteristics of the world of that time (1965). And what, in Quebec, came to be called the Quiet Revolution, a time of turmoil and of social, ecclesiastical and religious unrest, provided us with more than we needed as background.
The Quiet Revolution with its slogan "Things have to change!” affected the world of education as never before. With little or no regard for the religious communities who had, until then, played a surrogate role, the government decided to assume its responsibilities. In 1964, it created the Ministry of Education and established greater cohesion in its public education network. From then on, it would be the State that would control the programs, the choice of textbooks, the way to validate diplomas, etc.
As a result, classical colleges would disappear to make way for Comprehensive High Schools and CEGEPs. The public network would extend to outlying regions. Teachers’ training would take place at the university level, marking the end of Teachers' Colleges and classical courses. The secularization of education was in process, with the confessional status no longer reflecting a multiethnic society.
A lengthy ordeal to overcome! Discontent among teachers and challenges for religious authorities! "The time of great uniformity and control is past" (Dominique Laperle). Beyond emotions, frustrations and uncertainties, we needed to bounce back, consider the future, negotiate, be creative, and practice detachment. The Sisters committed themselves to shaping a new institutional structure, something that did not happen without clashes, trial and error, resistance or the departure of sisters who deplored the slowness of the process.
In his book Entre concile et révolution tranquille (Between Council and Quiet Revolution). Médiaspaul 2015, Dominique Laperle made the following comment:
The Sisters, who were now a minority in the school system and called by Vatican II to intervene differently, taking into account the signs of the times, cautiously undertook a process of redefining the apostolate. . . Many members of the congregation saw this trial as a way to reread the work of the foundress and to revive it from a new perspective.
The 1967-1968 Chapter sessions gave rise to serious reflections. There were discussions around transformation of religious life; new ways of living for and with the people of that time; the need for a unifying and dynamic spirituality to better understand the meaning of one’s vocation as a woman educator, committed to the work of the Church in the midst of the People of God.
Thus, the concept of charism would be broadened so that education would encompass liberating action, the development of the whole person, and an insertion into the life and pastoral mission of the Church. The school setting would no longer be the main area of mission. Fields of action became diversified in order to respond to a variety of calls from places where faith and justice merged. New life was breathed into mission.
And since then, the Acts of our General Chapters have tried to set a direction with renewed calls to openness and commitment. Among the values promoted, we note: contemplation in action; solidarity with women, migrants, and refugees; justice and systemic change. We also observe socially responsible investments; interdependence for mission and a more just world; new forms of SNJM association; integral ecology; and the use of modern technologies as a means of communication and of looking at our world.
We can even dare to say that our poverty in human resources has become a richness since our mission today is shared with laypeople - associates, volunteers, consecrated laypersons and partners, whether administrators of private schools, professionals working in our infirmaries, our various other employees, etc. Collaborative relationships have been created with organizations, NGOs, other religious congregations, and networks, such as Justice and Peace. After consensus, corporate stands have been publicly affirmed: for access to water, against human trafficking, for migrants and refugees. These stands have become, for us, a common ministry.
With my current outlook, I ask myself:
How have desert times opened us up to the paths to life?
How have our “community living” and our mission been enriched?
We thank you, God,
for calling us to deepen our understanding of mission
and to work at building a better world.
Help us, in our everyday actions, to become
channels of life, of peace, and of love.
Simone Perras, s.n.j.m., in collaboration with the PLT
OPEN TO TRANSFORMATION
Transformations at the Heart of Church Events
Let God transform you
by the renewing of your minds.
You can then discern the will of God:
what is good and acceptable and perfect. Rm. 12, 2
As we continue revisiting the 175 years of our SNJM Congregation’s existence, we cannot but be riveted by two major events that have forever marked our community’s destiny. These are, of course, the Second Vatican Council and the Quiet Revolution experienced in Quebec during the 1960’s. Let us spend some time today looking at the first event.
From the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope John XXIII wanted to breathe new life into the Church. And so he convoked the Second Vatican Council. It was a work of faith and courage that would be continued by his successor, Paul VI. One of the decrees, Perfectae Caritatis (Perfect Charity), was addressed to religious congregations and urged them to undertake an aggiornamento, a spiritual renewal of religious life. A major challenge!
Our community set about listening to the Spirit speaking to us in this document, calling us:
Concretely, this decree asked us to revise our constitutions, customs, prayer books, common practices, etc., in order to be disciples for our time. Our Congregation responded to this call with seriousness, conviction and enthusiasm. Several Sisters made outstanding contributions by means of their research, their writings, and their work of revising and rewriting the Constitutions. Sisters also contributed by taking part in community discussions, General Chapters, and various other sessions.
The summary of the 24th General Chapter (1967) presented the approved guidelines and changes which invited us, among other things, to be more flexible regarding our spiritual and community life (a variety of prayer forms, small group living, etc.), and to better adapt to real life (civil name, dress, family visits, personal budget, etc.) The document was also an invitation to promote greater participation and personal responsibility. In short, it invited us to take into greater account the demands of the apostolic life.
It was hoped that the document Response to the Spirit, published in 1968, would give meaning to these changes. Here is a significant excerpt:
The spirit of our foundress urges us to advance . . . in the path of spiritual renewal and adaptation to the needs of the time. . . . In order that we may respond fully to the urgencies of our time, our Institute is reconsidering the formation of its members and rejuvenating its structures; in a spirit of service to the Church it is enlarging the scope of its apostolic activities; and in the light of new theological concepts it is deepening its understanding of the consecrated life. (page 2)
The Acts of the 26th General Chapter (1976) presented our charism statement which was later formulated in our Constitutions and Rules (1985):
In fidelity to the spirit of our foundress, we are a community of women religious consecrated to God in the names of Jesus and Mary, who desire to proclaim by our lives the primacy of the love of God. Moved by an active love, we collaborate in the Church’s mission of education, with emphasis on education in the faith, and with a special concern for the poor and the disadvantaged.
These same Constitutions commit us, as we follow in the footsteps of Marie-Rose Durocher, to live our religious consecration as a call from and a response to God. They encourage us, in the name of Jesus, to serve together through chastity which is the broadening of our capacity to love; through poverty which implies sharing, solidarity, simplicity of life and the promotion of justice; through obedience which is our shared search for the will of God; and through the living of our charism which focuses on the full development of the human person.
More recently, the Acts of the 34th General Chapter (2016) invite us to a renewed vision:
In a spirit of contemplation, we root ourselves in the Gospel and the vision of Blessed Marie-Rose to go forth boldly with a renewed vision. The Spirit prompts us to be in dialogue with the emerging questions; to act with audacity and freedom; to widen our circles of collaboration; and to imagine the SNJM mission in new ways – open to all for the sake of the world, the Church, and the whole Earth community. (page 5)
How did Vatican II encourage openness and transformation in our prayer life, our community life, and our apostolic commitments?
What paths have we travelled together during the past 60 years?
Praise be to you, Lord,
for your Holy Spirit who inspired us
to transform our lives.
Praise be to you for opening our minds and hearts
to new horizons and new initiatives.
Keep us always attentive
to the calls of today and tomorrow.