Sister Elizabeth Ann Miller, left, and Sister Renée Mirkes have found different ways to live out their religious vocations as Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. COURTESY PHOTO

Witness

Religious sisters teach truth in diverse ways

Truth and love.

Sister Renée Mirkes has dedicated her whole life to those things. And not just as ideals – but as very concrete, personal realities.

“The two things that I do in my religious commitment as ‘sponsa Christi,’ the spouse of Christ,” she said, “is to give myself over to God who is all love and to give myself to the truth, who is a person, Jesus Christ, the incarnate God.”

Sister Renée’s concise explanation of her vocation might apply equally well to the other members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who this year celebrate 150 years of service to God’s people.

The sisters live out their vocations in diverse ways – as teachers, health care workers and administrators, to name a few.

In the Archdiocese of Omaha, for example, Sister Renée has served as director of the Center for NaPro Ethics at the Saint Paul VI Institute in Omaha for the past 23 years, while Sister Elizabeth Ann Miller has spent nine years as a teacher at Guardian Angels Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in West Point. Three more sisters are involved in health care ministries in West Point.

Sister Renée’s vocation has followed a unique path. Originally earning several college degrees in music, she followed the promptings of her order and later earned a doctorate in theological ethics.

As a medical ethicist, she conveys the truth of the church’s teachings on procreation in accordance with St. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”

Sister Renée’s work involves phone consultations for up to five hours a day with people from around the world on procreative and birth ethics, sexuality, marriage, family and family planning issues, illuminated by the Catholic Church’s deep understanding of these matters.

She also provides instruction at the institute’s educational conferences for physicians and people training to be teachers of the institute’s fertility care system, and publishes articles in medical, science, Catholic theology and philosophy journals.

MORAL DISTINCTIONS

The institute, founded in 1985 by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, pioneered a system of natural fertility awareness and regulation through its Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System and NaProTechnology treatment for infertility.

Sister Renée spells out to clients the moral distinction between contraception and natural family planning, as well as acceptable and unacceptable methods of treating infertility.

At the institute’s recent Women’s Healthcare Matters conference in Omaha, Maureen Karpf was moved by Sister Renée’s presentation on divine personhood.

“Her insightful explanation of the freely-willed actions of the inseparable body and soul moving us (either) toward or away from God was truly inspiring,” Karpf said.

“In her lecture on the injustices of in vitro fertilization, I though her description of the baby’s existence as a good, independent from the fulfillment of the parents’ desire, was very thought provoking.”

And for Karpf, development associate for the institute for the past six years, the influence of Sister Renée and the institute has had a profound effect on her life.

“Practicing the Creighton Model has been transformative in my relationship with my husband (Eric) and my family,” she said.

The couple is expecting their fifth child, and Karpf, who was raised Baptist, is considering conversion to Catholicism.

Another couple helped by Sister Renée and the work of the institute is Frank and Akemi Johansen, members of Christ the King Parish in Omaha.

Originally from Mexico, Akemi moved to the U.S. in 2000 and became acquainted with Sister Renée through her mother-in-law, who volunteered at the institute.

After the birth of the couple’s first son, they suffered three miscarriages. Turning to Dr. Hilgers for fertility treatment, Sister Renée also counseled them through their challenges.

Now the parents of five children, ages 9 through 18, the Johansens learned the Creighton Model as a family planning method, avoiding the “pitfalls of contraception,” she said.

A TRADITIONAL ROLE

Sister Elizabeth Ann Miller has spread the truth of the Gospel through a more traditional role – as a teacher for more than 41 years, including nine years at Guardian Angels.

“It has been a wonderful way to help the students and families to know God, active and alive in their lives,” she said.

Claiming to be “no holy roller” as a youth, Sister Elizabeth Ann said she was attracted to a life of service and the “mystery of religious life,” and credits the formation she received through her religious community for deepening her faith.

“Over the years I have seen a transition from a life of service and eagerness for spreading the Gospel to a life of deeper commitment to a love relationship with the Trinity. I have gone from doing to being,” she said.

“Being able to share my faith through my teaching, I hope to inspire and enliven the students’ own love for God and to come to accept God’s abundant and unconditional love for them.”

CELEBRATING THE CALL

The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, founded Nov. 9, 1869, began with a mission to teach and catechize. Over the years, that mission expanded to include health care and care of the vulnerable. Its diverse ministries now include parish administration, spiritual direction, youth ministry, religious education and community outreach, among others.

Anniversary celebrations included a July 4-6 gathering at the order’s motherhouse in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, culminating with a Mass concelebrated by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, followed by a celebratory dinner.

In addition to the Omaha archdiocese, the order’s 220 women also serve in the St. Louis archdiocese, the diocese of Lincoln and seven others in Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Mississippi.

Other sisters serving in the Omaha archdiocese in West Point are Sister Patricia Linssen and Sister Joy Rose at Franciscan Care Services and St. Joseph’s Elder Services, and Sister Katherine Warning at St. Joseph’s Elder Services.