Dr. Myriam Wijlens, chair of Canon Law at the University of Erfurt, Germany, spoke on transitioning religious communities March 13 in Milwaukee. (Submitted photo)

Planning for the future of aging religious communities was the topic of a workshop Monday, March 13, in Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin Religious Collaborative Working Group, part of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, sponsored a workshop at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, Milwaukee, on Canonical Considerations for Leadership of Religious Congregations Anticipating Transitions.

Despite a winter storm that delayed arrivals, 47 participants had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Myriam Wijlens, Chair of Canon Law at the University of Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany.

Professor Wijlens specializes in ecumenism and canon law. She has published several books and approximately 90 articles.

In 2016, she spoke at the Canon Law Workshop organized by the International Union of Superiors General in Rome. Together with a former provincial of the Jesuits in Austria, she is setting up a network of people in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland to work together on issues concerning aging religious communities.

The Milwaukee workshop focused on ways religious can take stock of current conditions within each community, questions to ask when responding to challenges about planning for the future, and specific tools available when communities anticipate transitions.

Participants from the Diocese of Superior included Holy Cross Sr. Pat Cormack; Servite Sr. Theresa Sandok; and Phyllis Wilhelm, a Sister of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate who is also the diocesan vicar for women religious.

“Being able to be present for Dr. Wijlen’s presentations was a true gift. She gave understanding of the past and hope to the future,” Sr. Phyllis commented.

Sr. Theresa, President of the Ladysmith Servite Sisters, shared her thoughts:

“Dr. Wijlens focused particularly on religious communities in their end days, those of us planning for the completion of our mission. What do we do when you no longer have sisters to lead the community? Who will look after the needs of the elderly and infirm members when you are all elderly and infirm? What will you do with your archives, your cemetery, and your property? I found the workshop especially helpful in addressing such practical concerns.”

Sr. Pat, Provincial for the Holy Cross Sisters, said, “Dr. Wijlens has a unique way of asking questions and presenting options that challenges one to think outside the box. That stretching has been most helpful in identifying the areas my own community needs to look at as we plan.”

Both the Holy Cross Sisters, Merrill, and the Servite Sisters, Ladysmith, have served the Diocese of Superior for more than 100 years. With no new vocations in decades, the communities are preparing to end their service in the diocese in the coming years.