Barbara Gagliardi stands with two of the many young nuns participating in the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, Srs. Jacinta Miryam Hanley and Marietta Therese Hanley, both of the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Submitted photo)

Missionary discipleship was the focus when 3,500 Catholic leaders gathered July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida. The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America was convened by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in response to Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Guadium (The Joy of the Gospel).

Attendants were invited or accompanied by their local bishops, or sent as his delegation. Barbara Gagliardi, president of the Diocese of Superior Council of Catholic Women, attended with her husband, John.

Highlights for the Gagliardis included Bishop Robert Barron’s address, Evangelizing the Nones, on the challenges and opportunities related to the increasing number of people not identifying with any religion, and a publication shared by Curtis Martin, founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

“White Paper: Making Missionary Disciples” presented transforming habits that create a culture of encounter, mapping out an implementation process (

What made the largest impact on the couple was the witness of Bishop John Levoir, bishop of the New Ulm diocese in Minnesota since 2008.

“Levoir is a brilliant man; entirely humble,” Barbara said.

The couple worked with Bishop Levoir when he was pastor at St. Michael’s in Stillwater. She described his method of building a culture of life, “one couple at a time, one family at a time, one student at a time.”

The Gagliardis were impressed with the positive and upbeat delegation he brought to the convocation, and how he engaged with attendees.

“He breathes and lives what Pope Francis says – establishing the culture of life, being with the people, starting from square one and moving forward,” Barbara summarized. “He’s the real thing.”

Of the numerous issues addressed, one most applicable to the reality of the Diocese of Superior was on “Reaching the Margins in Rural America.”

Much of the Church in rural America lives in maintenance mode, rather than in mission mode. While these areas have challenges, they also have positive elements. Family values run deep, community ties are strong, and a sense of dependence on God and the wonder of his creation envelops everyday life.

However, changes suggested by newcomers and a younger generation can be seen as critical of the past. Even with predominantly aging populations, and as parishes are clustered and missionary priests arrive, a balance can be reached between the old and the new.
Having visited various parishes within the Diocese of Superior, Barbara could relate to “the need to regain a sense of the larger, universal Church and remember that we all have things to offer.”

Facing the future with a radical trust in each other, new initiatives and resources can be introduced without losing the local or longstanding identity. With active listening and mutual respect, rural dioceses and their parishes will not only survive, but thrive.