What Comes to Mind When You Hear the Word, “Chapter”?

By Sister Marcella Clancy

The best part of your favorite book? Your membership in a special local group? The most significant phase in your life? All are included in the definition of Chapter, and there is a fourth definition: the governing body of a religious community. Yet I must confess none of these definitions begin to describe the experience of the recent “Chapter” we held as the Congregation of St. Joseph.


It is true when the Chapter is in session it is the highest governing body in the Congregation, but the experience of “Chapter” is so much more than that. I am sure that everyone who participated in Chapter would have her or his own description of that experience. Here is mine!


  1. Beginnings: Chapter officially opened the morning of April 2, 2018, but it really began two years earlier. Reading meaningful articles expanded our thinking and our vision. Reflecting on our lives, ministries, and future challenged our hearts. Holy conversations in varied and diverse groups brought new awareness. Prayer and discernment, personally and together, brought us to deeper levels. These activities marinated each of us in the Spirit’s movement within ourselves and each other. The unspoken questions we pondered were: For the next five years, from 2018 to 2023 —- Where was the Spirit leading us? What would be our thrust? Where would we focus Congregational energy? What were the demanding needs of our time? Who would be our future leaders?

    DSC_1398 cropped

    We opened Chapter with love and joy!

  2. Anticipation: We came to Chapter excited and cautious, expectant and apprehensive, as prepared as we could be yet realizing we were like empty vessels waiting to be filled with divine exuberance. Sisters, associates, staff, and other partners in mission gathered around tables, not to persuade others to our perspective, but to share the movement of the Spirit in our hearts and to listen attentively and intently to others. Reflecting back on the experience, there was a palpable presence and a force in the room much larger than our collective selves.


    You could feel the energy in the room!

  3. Movement: In some sense we were dancing among ourselves and with God, leaving open spaces for the Spirit to move between us and within us while we chatted happily, ate plentifully, laughed freely, exercised when we could, celebrated often, prayed deeply and tended carefully to the business of the Chapter. The pace was slow and deliberate, being careful not to walk ahead of grace. There was a pervading sense of gentle joy.
    joy cropped
  4. Work: So, what was this work that we accomplished? We affirmed the Evolving Design, which outlines how we commit ourselves to live our mission in this time and in this place. We further advanced the Generous Promises we committed ourselves to in 2007 by articulating Our Sacred Work, in which we pledged ourselves:
    • to deepen our practice of shared leadership
    • to strengthen and expand our collaboration…with a diversity of persons and groups to bring about life-giving change
    • to respectfully engage people who may hold different values or world views to bring about cultural transformation
    • to exercise our moral authority… standing in solidarity with Earth and all who are oppressed… giving public voice when addressing systemic injustice.(Note: we tend to be exceptionally, some would say foolishly, bold and broad in our commitments.)

      Me at my table, doing the work!

      Finally we deeply discerned and elected five wonderful women to guide us in keeping us faithful to these commitments. We ended our time together, as Jesus so often did with his friends, around a festive meal, full of thanksgiving and stirred to begin anew witnessing to God’s love transforming ourselves and our world.


      Festivities and thanksgiving closed out our time together!

  5. After Glow: We arrived home exhausted, spent by days of attentive listening, overwhelmed by the utter goodness of those present and hollowed out by God’s consuming energy yet utterly hopeful that God would complete the good work God had begun in us. Chapters are held only every five years. They are concentrated and intensive experiences of community, mission and vision, and God’s abiding grace. Chapters really do not end. Rather they impel us forward for five years until we meet again.

    As we move forward from chapter, we all carry with us the glow of energy!

    About the Author

    marcella Sister Marcella Clancy currently lives in the Detroit area. She offers spiritual direction, serves on Congregational committees, and companions one of our newer members. She loves long walks, good movies, and leisurely lunches with friends.

24 thoughts on “What Comes to Mind When You Hear the Word, “Chapter”?

  1. Phyllis DiFuccia says:

    Thanks, Marcella, for this delightful way of inviting us into your Congregation’s experience of Chapter.


  2. Kathy Jeffers says:

    The Spirit moved among us with such tenderness. It was palpable as we named and embraced our Sacred Work. The creativity of the writers who took 40 tables of collective leanings and meshed them so beautifully is just one holy moment that I experienced. Thank you, Marcella, for bringing this all back in your writing.


  3. Joellen Sbrissa, CSJ says:

    Marcella, You said it perfectly. It was a wonderful, intense, reflective experience and I know the Holy Spirit was present all the time. Thank you


  4. Sallie Latkovich says:

    Oh, Dear Marcella! Your blog brought all of the feelings of our Chapter back to me; and I appreciate the JOY of it all. Thanks so much, Sallie (I am writing from the Old City of Jerusalem, at our hotel just inside the Jaffa Gate.)


  5. Maria Hill says:

    Thank you, Marcella, for recapturing our Chapter in words that conjure up the thoughts and feelings from that significant moment in the life of our Congregation. Your retelling of the story fanned the flame once again!


  6. Bernadine Gazda says:

    Dear Marcella, I say “ditto” to all of the above…..and “thank you” for capturing our experience so eloquently….Bernie


  7. Angele Marino says:

    As a former member of the New Orleans Province, I rejoice with you and the direction you have taken and are going. It is so what I hoped for and more. My heart and prayer are always with you.
    Angele Marino


  8. Margaret (Peg) Trainor Burton says:

    I remember “back in the day “ when we almost feared the changes that Chapter would bring to our lives. It seemed back then that there was always strife between the old and the new.
    You description of this chapter makes me sad that I missed it.
    You describe a time of joy and spiritual growth.
    Thank you so much


  9. Patricia Stanley says:

    This is the first chapter I have missed. Kidney Failure and dialysis kept me away and has rearranged my life. So, I go where the cross leads me. Thank you for your remembrance.


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