“The most interesting thing is that when we started, I was looking for more peer connections. It just is amazing to me what it’s become, and what it means to folks. It blows me away. For me, it means that inter-congregational connecting is so important today for religious life in the US, and it’s going to be even more important in the future.” - Kristin Matthes SDN, founding Core Team member
Twenty years ago this spring, Giving Voice produced our first newsletter. Beginning as a 3-times per year printed publication, the Giving Voice editorial team was comprised of Judy Eby, RSM, Jan Hayes, RSM, Kristin Matthes, SND, and Toni Temporiti, CPPS. To memorialize these 20 years, we reached out to Kristin Matthes to learn more about the founding of our beloved organization.
The Spring 1999 edition of the Giving Voice newsletter followed the 1997 Fertile Fields Conference, during which 130 sisters from 25 different congregations came together to celebrate religious life as it is experienced by women religious under 50.
“The historic dimension of that gathering was not only that the participants were all under 50, but also that Fertile Fields was a grassroots, intercongregational gathering,” Matthes said.
Born out of the need to create a place for sisters across congregations to continue connecting after the Fertile Fields gathering, the first Giving Voice newsletter gave birth to the non-profit organization we know today as Giving Voice.
The opening article titled “Giving Voice! A New Publication for a New Generation” by Jan Hayes, RSM, invites sisters to connect in new, meaningful ways.
“Because the numbers of women religious who are under 50 are dwarfed by those who came before us, there is a need to assemble a “critical mass” of younger sisters who can give voice to the unique challenges that are facing our generation. It is our hope that this publication will help us do so.”
Another article in the first newsletter, by Judy Eby, RSM, notes the urgency of facing the reality of changes in religious life. Her piece was reprinted from the Opening Address at the Fertile Fields Conference:
“How will we sustain ourselves as we bury friends, mentors, and community companions (not to mention our parents) and, at the same time, carry religious life into the next century with creativity? Will we turn to one another for consolation and support, regardless of distance or diversity, in an effort to strengthen the relational boundaries of religious life? Simply put, we won’t unless we begin now to build strong networks of connection among us, face the demons that afflict our age group, and embrace each other as sisters across congregational boundaries. If faith is the basis of our lives and our commitment, then we must believe that ‘We are made for this time. This is our moment and the time for which we are responsible.’”
Matthes, who was a founding editorial team member and founding core team member of Giving Voice, remembers her surprise, when Giving Voice really took off.
“We hit a nerve that we didn’t know was there. So we kept doing the newsletters, and the goal was to do 3 a year. Sometimes we did that, sometimes we didn’t. But it sort of worked!” Matthes said.
After a successful funding drive, the editors of Giving Voice planned another, major gathering at Loyola University Chicago in 2002. Over 500 women religious were in attendance, and over 400 were under age 50. This gathering marks the first of the National Gatherings that Giving Voice organizes every other year.
Out of the gathering, came the annual 20s & 30s retreat and the 40s retreat, which is every other year. According to Matthes, the retreats were created to ensure that all ages of sisters were given the space and time to find their own peers, and their own voices in their unique life stages.
“I feel as if I belong to two communities. I belong to my community and that of the younger women religious I have met through Giving Voice. And it’s given me my best friends in religious life. So many women today have found a second community in Giving Voice. And so many people today who are my best friends are in different communities and it’s been amazing to see that gift, that I have experienced myself, repeated in so many people. The younger member in my congregation, I see how much it means to her. She doesn’t have a peer group in my community, but she has a very strong peer group because she goes to the 20s and 30s retreat every year. And It’s been great to see it provide that space. I think as more and more people come into their roles, it’s going to help keep that passion alive,” Matthes said.
Matthes said that she is thrilled that she and the other founding members were able to vocalize the spirit’s desire to draw sisters from different communities together, and believes these connections will be even more important in the future as communities evolve and diminish. One idea, she believes, is that in the future there will be more inter-congregational living.
“I feel really strongly about this really. I think a lot about how what systems of support will be there in 20 years for the the women we are welcoming into our communities now. Likely, the whole inter-congregational thing is going to become more and more central. I think it is going to be a wonderful experience as different charisms living together. I don’t know what it is going to look like but I hope we will keep looking at that idea more intentionally.”
Whatever the future brings, the necessity to face reality, focus on abundance, and maintain strong connections is felt throughout the Giving Voice community.
“So often in our own communities we can be overwhelmed by the narrative of scarcity. Giving Voice allows for the narrative of abundance to happen. And being in that space with peers really helps make abundance possible,” Matthes said.
Interested in learning more? Check out Giving Voice’s Newsletter Archives here!