WASHINGTON — Dominican Sister Marie Bernadette Thompson can’t help but see things through a teacher’s eyes, after spending eight years teaching elementary and high school students and belonging to an order whose charism is education and the faith formation of young people.
But the 42-year-old sister, who has been council coordinator for the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious since 2014, also is not opposed to being a student, particularly when it comes to learning new ways to engage others in the faith and spread the Gospel message.
She hopes to pick up some pointers from other church leaders from around the country this summer at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida.
The convocation, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is an invitation-only event meant to give the 3,000 participants expected to attend a better understanding of what it means to be missionary disciples in today’s world through workshop presentations, keynote addresses and prayer.
Thompson will attend the event as part of a Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious delegation with more than 20 major superiors representing orders, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, School Sisters of Christ the King, Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and Sister Marie Bernadette’s order, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. These women religious cover the spectrum of serving the poor and elderly, working in parish ministry and education or devotion to contemplative prayer and new evangelization.
She believes the council’s delegates have a lot to bring to the table and also will have plenty they can take away from it.
She said the sisters’ presence “will be a powerful expression of our union with the bishops and the daily commitment to the new evangelization,” adding that these women religious are “on the peripheries of the new evangelization every day.”
Personally, she said she’s “delighted to be able to go” to the convocation, describing it as “an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to really bring us all together to share best practices, to share struggles, insights with others that we may not even know and may never have come in contact with.”
She sees it as an important encouragement boost for faith leaders to continue the work they’re already doing but she also views it as a challenge for all participants to take a responsible role leading the global church.
In an interview with Catholic News Service, she said the convocation delegates have a great opportunity with this event, noting that most countries don’t have this chance to bring their Catholic leaders together. “I think we have a responsibility to take it seriously and to listen so we can not only help our own people but help the universal church in this worldwide mission of evangelization,” she said.
Thompson, who grew up in Long Island, New York, views evangelization as a key tool for the church moving forward and says the root of this missionary work needs to be based in prayer and listening and walking with others.
She knows a little bit about evangelization from being on the other side of it when she was just out of college and wasn’t sure of her next step. A newly ordained priest at her home parish was “on fire for the faith” and urged her never to be afraid to show her faith in public.
Thompson certainly shows this faith now, wearing a full-length white habit and living in community with other sisters in Washington where together they begin and end each day with prayers.
She is convinced prayer is behind any success in drawing others to the church. As she put it: “The message we’re bringing gives life to people and to us; we’re best witnesses of that when we are spirit filled.”