Local women to lead national Congregation of St. Joseph

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, June 7, 2018

Sister of St. Joseph Kathy Brazda, seen in this 2015 file photo, was elected to her congregation’s leadership team. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When the leadership of the Congregation of St. Joseph changes hands this summer, two of the five new leaders will come to their tasks from positions in Chicago. 

Sister of St. Joseph Kathy Brazda, who will officially serve as the congregation’s president, has most recently worked with the Renew My Church initiative as the pastoral accompaniment director. Before that, she founded and was executive director of Taller de José, a ministry that helps connect people to services they need and accompanies them on the journey.

Sister of St. Joseph Sallie Latkovich has been director of the biblical study and travel program and director of the Summer Institute at Catholic Theological Union.

Both emphasized that the five-member leadership team, which will serve for the next five years, functions as a team of equals. The remaining members are Sister Jackie Goodin, Sister Marie Hogan and Sister Pat Warbritton.

They spoke about how the congregation’s experience of coming together from seven separate, diocesan congregations 10 years ago and its commitment to shared decision-making offer an example for parishes that must find ways to collaborate with one another for Renew My Church.
“We had to let go of past structures that didn’t serve us,” Sister Kathy said. “We had to let go of buildings and our ideas of how things were done. Reconfiguring is not always easy, but we had to be faithful to the mission.”

As parishes go through the Renew My Church process, many are coming together to create new parish structures, much as the individual Sisters of St. Joseph congregations did.

“It’s a little painful to let go of what was, but for us it has been very life-giving and energizing to be part of this new congregation,” said Sister Sallie, who originally was part of the Cleveland congregation. “It’s larger, more energized. Instead of seven different administrations, we have one single team. It’s a much better use of our personnel resources because more people are really able to be about the mission and less about the congregation.”

“We all were Sisters of St. Joseph already, so we were all living out the same mission and charism,” Sister Kathy said.

That charism, which calls for loving openness and inclusivity as well as shared leadership and for solidarity with the earth, is lived out in a variety of ways. Sisters can create ministries that fulfill that mission such as Taller de José, or, further back, Nazareth High School in LaGrange Park, and then turn them over to lay leadership. Or they can work with the congregation’s lay associates, men and women who share the mission and the charism but have their own jobs and families.

The role of the leadership team is to create an environment where sisters can find ways to do that, while taking care of the congregation and especially its older sisters. Of the nearly 500 sisters in the congregation, a majority are no longer in full-time ministry. 

“We’re walking with the sisters who gave their lives to our mission,” said Sister Kathy, a member of the congregation for 28 years. “And at the same time we are lifting up our younger sisters so they can fulfill the mission the same way we did.”

Sister Kathy started as a teacher in Chicago, before starting Taller de Jose. The congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of LaGrange started in the archdiocese in 1899. 

Nazareth Academy, perhaps its most visible ministry, has gone through its own changes, she pointed out. It started as a boarding school for girls run by the sisters. It is now a coed high school, led by a lay president and principal, with representation from the sisters on its board.

But, like the congregation’s other two high schools, St. Joseph Academy in Cleveland and St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the school still teaches about the Sisters or St. Joseph and what they stand for.

While Sister Kathy has the title of president because, canonically, there has to be a president, the members of the leadership team are equals, she said.

What’s more, all the members of the congregation take on leadership roles in one way or another, Sister Sallie said, and decisions are made by discussion and consensus.

When she tells people about that, she said they often comment that it must take a long time to decide anything. “It does take time,” she said. “But it’s always a better decision.”

The move to become one congregation has already borne gifts, Sister Sallie said.

“We have wonderfully engaged lay men and women on our core staff,” she said. 

New ministries like Taller de José might not have happened without the reconfiguration, Sister Kathy said, but no one knew at the time what the future would hold.

“We have to remember that we are only called to take the next step,” she said. “God only asks us to take one step at a time.”


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