Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the U.S.A. (LCWR)

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History. During the Holy Year 1950, major superiors from the entire world gathered in Rome to participate in the First General Congress of the States of Perfection. For women major superiors of the U.S.A. this meeting began a chain of events leading to the establishment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of the U.S.A., initially known as the Conference of Major Superiors of Women in the U.S.A. (CMSW). In 1952 the Holy See established a commission of General Superiors of Orders of Men and Women. The first committee for women religious in the U.S. planned the National Congress of Religious of the U.S.A., held in South Bend in 1952. That same year participants in the meeting also attended the First World Congress of Mothers General in Rome. All these events furthered the movement toward a national conference. In 1956 the first statutes of CMSW were adopted; the following year the first chairperson of the organization was elected. In 1959 the Holy See gave the Conference formal approbation.

In the late 1960s and the early years of the 1970s the membership of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSW) manifested, in striking contrast, the different viewpoints prevalent in the American Church on what constitutes authentic adaptation and renewal. The resultant tension between religious superiors of different theological orientations was one of the characteristics of the CMSW during these years. So sharp was the contrast that many believed both the role and existence of the Conference were in jeopardy. Movements among the rank and file of American sisters made the point that the formal organization of superiors, the CMSW, could not speak for the generality of the sisters. New organizations arose attempting to speak for sisters of all communities, the "grass roots," on questions of social and religious concern, in particular the National Association of Women Religious (NAWR). Another organization, the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, was begun by superiors who believed that CMSW was promoting a form of renewal of religious life that they judged as dissonant from the directives of the Church.

In an effort to clarify its nature and purpose, the Conference initiated a project known as the Sisters Survey. Through a questionnaire disseminated in 1967, data were collected on: the changing structures of religious orders; preferred apostolic services, life styles and theologies; and participation in adaptation/renewal processes after Vatican II. Participating in the study were 139,000 sisters, from 301 different congregations. In 1969, it commissioned a thorough managerial study of the organization. This study became the occasion of extended dialogue among the membership on the objectives of the Conference as well as on the most effective structures to attain these purposes.

As a result of this study the Conference was reorganized in 1971 and a number of new committees were created. The superiors, expressing a different concept of their role, voted to change their corporate title to Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Associate membership status was granted to representatives of a number of national organizations. The bylaws of LCWR were revised in 1971 to reflect these changes and were approved by the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes in 1972. In 1989 the bylaws were again revised and again approved by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL). Although LCWR worked hard for several years to resolve the internal tensions resultant upon conflicting theologies of religious life represented by the membership, the dissenting superiors formed a separate group. They requested and received recognition in 1992 from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) as the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR).

Structure and Organization. The Conference, as an organization with pontifical status, exercises moral power in relationship to its members. The autonomy of each congregation is preserved. The Conference possesses authority sufficient for its organizational purposes. Membership in the LCWR is open to the chief administrative officers of all institutes, provinces and regions of women religious in the U.S. and territorial possessions. The current membership is drawn from approximately 300 congregations. The primary purpose of the Conference is to "promote a developing understanding and living of religious life" in three areas: (1) assisting members "personally and communally to carry out more collaboratively their service of leadership in their congregations in order to accomplish further the mission of Christ in today's world"; (2) "fostering dialogue and collaboration among religious congregations within the Church and the larger society"; and (3) collaborating with "groups concerned with the needs of society, thereby maximizing the potential of the Conference for effecting change" (Bylaws Art. II, Section 1).

Organizationally the LCWR is divided into 15 geographic regions. The members gather annually in national assembly, which constitutes the legislative body of the Conference. Between assemblies a national board and the executive committee of that board govern the LCWR. The board is composed of five national officers, one representative from each region and the executive director.

The Conference is administered by a national secretariat located in Silver Spring, Maryland. The LCWR works in close collaboration with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM). It maintains liaison relationships with various committees of the NCCB/USCC as well as with a number of other national organizations that share similar values and goals. As a symbol of its concern for the world community and its need to know that community, the LCWR has secured nongovernmental status through the Office of Public Information at the United Nations.

Projects and Activities. From its inception the LCWR has manifested five priorities in its programs and activities: the development of an apostolic spirituality which sees religious as vitally involved in the mission of the Church, action for justice, the fullest participation of women in ecclesial and civic life, the promotion of leadership and collaboration with other groups of similar orientation. LCWR emphasizes three goals as expressions of its enduring priorities: to develop effective religious leadership, to foster a transformed religious life and to articulate our evolutionary understanding of its underlying spirituality, and to collaborate with others in effecting systemic change for justice. In addition to concern for the growth and development of communities of American women religious, the LCWR has devoted much of its energy and resources to promoting service to the needs of the world. Together with a continuing commitment to traditional ministries of education and health care, LCWR has given increased attention to newer ministries for women religious, such as the parish team ministry, better housing conditions, service to the migrant workers or campus ministries. The LCWR also continues its commitment to supporting a fuller role for women and their gifts in service to the Church and to the world, in keeping with calls from the U.S. bishops and from Pope John Paul II.

Over the years the LCWR has maintained relationships with CICLSAL through an annual meeting. They have related as well with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and with the American Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) through a variety of structures. Initially relationships were through liaison committees. In 1988 after two years of planning, a "mixed commission" of bishops, CMSM representatives and LCWR representatives was established as the Tri-Conference Commission. Each organization had five members. The purpose of the Commission was to assist and advise all three conferences by coming together for consultation and collaboration on issues and programs of mutual interest. The group also served as the board for the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO). With the recognition of CMSWR as a canonical body, the LCWR initiated an invitation to them to join the Commission. The newly expanded and renamed commission held its first meeting in November 1994 as the Commission on Religious Life and Ministry.

Bibliography: Bylaws of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of the United States of America (Washington, D.C. 1972). l. a. quinonez, New Visions, New Roles: Women in the Church: Leadership Conference of Women Religious of the United States (Washington, DC 1975). m. m. modde, A Canonical Study of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) of the United States of America (J.C.D. dissertation, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. 1977). f. r. rosenberg, Women and Ministry: A Survey of the Experience of Roman Catholic Women in the United States: A Project Undertaken for the Ecclesial Role of Women Commission of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (Washington, DC 1980). The Role of U.S. Religious in Human Promotion: A Joint Project of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (Washington, DC 1984).

[m. d. turner/

p. m. boyle/

s. delaney]