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LCWR honors Franciscan sister for lifelong ministry to the marginalized
Catholic News Service photo
Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious from 2011 to 2012, addresses the conference's assembly in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 16. She received the organization's 2013 Outstanding Leadership Award. 
Catholic News Service photo
Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious from 2011 to 2012, addresses the conference's assembly in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 16. She received the organization's 2013 Outstanding Leadership Award. 
Catholic News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. — The annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious culminated three jam-packed days of contemplation, reflection and planning for the future with a tribute to the lifelong ministry of Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell.

Sister Farrell, president of LCWR from 2011 to 2012, received the organization's 2013 Outstanding Leadership Award.

Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph who took over as LCWR's new president at the Aug. 16 close of the assembly, accompanied the slide presentation on Sister Farrell's life with a verbal commentary of her accomplishments for the 825 women religious leaders gathered at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Convention Center in Orlando.

Born on an Iowa farm, Sister Farrell knew her calling to religious life at age 14. After completing her formation and education, she was sent to minister to the poor of San Antonio and in 1980 was sent to Chile, where she also learned the skills of nonviolent resistance.

In 1986, she answered the call to El Salvador to work with those displaced by the ravages of civil war, led refugees through mine fields and ministered to outcasts -- alcoholics and those with mental illness. She returned to the U.S. in 2005, continued her work in the behavioral health field and was elected to leadership roles for her congregation and chosen LCWR president-elect in 2010.

She became LCWR president at the end of the 2011 assembly, and in that capacity, Sister Farrell led the organization in what members describe as a contemplative dialogue process of deep reflection, integrity and nonviolent resolve.

"It is with tremendous pride, enormous respect and deepest gratitude that I thank you for being the public face and voice you were that challenged each of us to be that public face as well," said Sister Zinn at the assembly's closing banquet. "It is with deep love and gratitude that your LCWR sisters present you with the 2013 Outstanding Leadership Award."

"It's overwhelming to see your life on a screen like that," Sister Farrell said as she accepted the honor. "Each leadership time has had some minefields to maneuver and I ask all former LCWR presidents and leaders to be recognized with me.

"I have found myself thrust into the polarization in our church in our time," she continued. "It is clear that what we are learning is not just for ourselves. The quality of our presence and transparency, our skill, ability, grace, inner spaciousness that comes from God is at work in us. ... The gift we give to the world is trying to articulate what life has allowed us to see."

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Sister Farrell explained the source of the courage she has shown throughout her years of religious life.

She recalled being at a goodbye party for Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford, who was leaving the U.S. to return to El Salvador and "was martyred December 2, 1980," along with three other North American missionaries -- Maryknoll Sister Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan.

"One of her Maryknoll friends prayed that if she was asked, Ita would have the courage to give her life. When I heard of her death, I wasn't fearful or angry," the Franciscan said. "I felt strengthened at a deep place inside myself. If she can be faithful to the end -- maybe I can be, too.

"Whether in the dramatic moments of martyrdom or the moments of our daily lives, it is required of the followers of Jesus to know that we are a mere servant and have done only what was required of us. Maybe the grace will be there for me too to give over my life," Sister Farrell said. "I'm grateful for my life."

LCWR is a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,400 leaders of U.S. women's communities as members, representing about 80 percent of the country's 57,000 women religious. The organization's canonical status is granted by the Vatican.

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