In 1968, a brief article by Karl Rahner, S.J., entitled “The Theology of Risk,” appeared in The Furrow, the Irish theological journal. Reflecting on the rapid societal changes being confronted by the church in the world, Rahner posed the mandate of risk as the more courageous way forward. Risk, he suggested, “means relinquishing old, tried ways and risking untried paths, where the future historical outcome cannot be adequately foreseen…. Security lies today no longer in the past, but in the future.”
Fifty-five years later, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of New York have chosen to embrace that theology of risk. In early April, five sets of double doors to a hotel ballroom were quietly closed. Sisters and Associates made their way to tables, knowing that the issue of vocations was next on the agenda at the congregation’s 2023 General Assembly. They listened to the report of predictable data: fewer members, a rising median age, a long-standing absence of viable inquirers. Then, the recommendation from the Executive Council called the question. The room became a sea of color as 4-by-6-inch pieces of bright green construction paper were lifted high, wobbling in the air as the delegates’ arms trembled. The wait seemed interminable as the eyes of tellers scanned the room. These cards were ballots, Green signaling affirmation. The final tally? Unanimous! The delegates had just voted to stop accepting new members to the Sisters of Charity of New York in the United States. The air was still. The silence felt like a cloak enfolding the room. There was more to come.
The president, Sister Donna Dodge, took the podium again and with loving resolve proclaimed the second recommendation of the Executive Council. It would require another vote. “The council recommends and asks the Assembly to affirm that we, Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of New York, will continue to live our mission to the fullest, while acknowledging that we are on a path to completion.” The silence deepened. As their facilitator, I called for the slide that appeared on huge screens bookending the stage. The text of the resolution appeared on the screens, along with the congregation’s logo. The last word hung in the room: completion.