Opening Address by Sr Claire, General Superior, to the General Chapter

What follows is the text of the opening address of Sr Claire Sykes, fcJ, General Superior, declaring the 2019 FCJ General Chapter open. 

Good morning and welcome. What a simply beautiful liturgy…thanks to those who prepared this moment for us […]

It is a privilege to welcome Sr Brenda Dolphin RSM. Brenda has walked with us over these days and had worked with us for the last year as we have prepared for the Chapter. Brenda brings a wealth of experience and, as a Religious Sister of Mercy,  a deep love of and commitment to religious life. Brenda will be presented formally later this morning. Brenda you are most welcome.

It is good to extend a particular welcome to those of you coming to General Chapter for the first time. I hope that having walked alongside your sisters over these recent days anxiety’s have begun to dissipate, confidence is growing and you are feeling more at home. […]

This is a sacred moment for us as a Society and we enter into Chapter humbly and trustingly,  with some awe and perhaps a certain trepidation. Chapters are threshold moments as together we seek God’s call to us now and as we choose the women who will have overall responsibility for the Society’s leadership as we make our onward journey.

This is an ecclesial moment as we come together as women of the Church. We know this to be a time of significant challenge in the church and a time when we must claim our place and voice as women of the Church. The yellow and white flag flies outside our venue.

Our Chapter coincides with the special month of mission, and with the pan-Amazonian Synod which opened last Sunday. Just before the opening of the Synod, Cardinal Hummes was delineating the topics for consideration.  His words have a relevance for us. Traditionalism, which remains linked to the past, is one thing, but true tradition, which is the Church’s living history, is something else, he said, arguing that each generation in the Church enriches this tradition in current times with their own experience and understanding of faith in Jesus Christ. God always brings newness, and demands our complete trust, he said, quoting a homily of Francis. These are prophetic words which have a relevance for us.

The FCJ Constitutions remind us that at the time of General Chapter we enter in a special way into the paschal mystery – dying and rising with Christ. A Chapter is a moment of conversion – it is a moment of turning from something towards something.  No doubt in the coming weeks, there will be opportunities for all of us to die a little, to be pruned and to let go so that the new may come. There will be resurrection experiences, as we search out where Christ’s thirst waits for our quenching love and action.

The symbolism in our prayer this morning was powerful.  The thirsts of Christ in today’s world… the pouring of the water… the beautiful jug…. The vessel.

We come together having journeyed through a year of preparation together. There have been different stages in our journey towards the Chapter.  The process was as simple and inclusive as possible. Over these months of preparation we have prayed and reflected together clarifying the matters to be considered by Chapter. And now, over these recent retreat days where we have been together as sisters.

We have touched into our fundamental calling as companions of Jesus. We have listened and prayed; we have shared and petitioned. We have recognised and claimed our desire to be sent. We have reiterated our desire to be on mission, in today’s world, with its messiness and beauty, its challenges and opportunities. This is our world and today is our time (quoting Fr Peter, SJ), we have a launching pad.

We bring our unique experience together with our own personal perspectives. In the days ahead we will continue growing as one discerning Body, widening our personal vision, focusing the vision of the Body and seeking  the “magis” for that Body.

This Chapter will guide us forward into our third century and as we move onwards it has seemed appropriate to give due attention to our French origins. The re-telling of a story heard many times before is not redundant, but crucial for a more effective understanding of its significance. The FCJ seed was planted in the soil of post-Revolution France in 1820: it put down roots and gradually grew from tiny shoot to sapling to slender young tree to mature tree with firm trunk and many branches. Not all the branches have flourished, and pruning has taken place, but all through the years the roots have been tended – it is through them that the ‘body’ of the tree draws nourishment.

In the course of 200 years, the fruits of that tree have been carried from Europe to Canada and the United States, to Australia and Asia and South America. Seeds of the FCJ charism have been scattered and shared with our Companions in Mission and other associates; new growth has taken place.

In her book, The Quest for the Living God, Elizabeth Johnson reminds us that in every age, religious life has been the seed-bed of evangelical innovation, meeting new needs in new ways, while still integrating the tried and true wisdom of past ages.

We can surely claim that in making an Ignatian retreat together, we were tending our roots, and nourishing the body of the tree.  Indeed, the spiritual preparation for the Bicentenary –  for example, giving the opportunity to make a personal pilgrimage in the footsteps of Marie Madeleine, foundation retreats, the re-editing and publication of significant FCJ texts, has, in Elizabeth Johnson’s words, been integrating the tried and true wisdom of our Foundress and the early mothers. In changing, somewhat uncertain times, this tending of roots is an on-going, imperative.

Marie Madeleine’s words, Le bon Dieu a tout conduit lui-même, express her firm conviction that it was God alone who had enabled the Society to begin, to develop and later to expand. Whilst our foundress used the past tense, it seemed appropriate for us to re-write the verb in the present tense as the theme of our General Chapter 2019: Le bon Dieu conduit tout lui-même. God, Beauty, Truth, Goodness, is doing everything.

The chant in our prayer, using these words was glorious.. the reading from the History of the Constitutions reminding us of the width of meaning in the verb conduire

Marie Madeleine faced difficulties, as do we, but they are of a different sort. We have the blessing of having the Ignatian Constitutions, which Marie Madeleine so strongly desired for the Society. Our Church today is in deep disarray – as was the Church of her day, but unlike her, we have few problems with bishops and priests. Our preoccupations are of a different nature: we face a future that is unknown and uncertain in this globalised, polarized, ecologically degraded world of the twenty-first century. But this is our world, our time and our opportunity and we will seize it.

We are companions on the journey, faithful to Jesus and to each other, we stand prepared. We recognise that “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God”, “We see – and  take off our shoes; we will  respond, we are ready to be sent.

Sisters, it is my joy and privilege to declare the 2019 General Chapter formally open.


More on our General Chapter on the Chapter News page and on social media #FCJChapter2019.