Two Sisters of the Presentation who have been bridges of information and understanding between four arch/bishops and dozens of religious orders recently retired from their positions.
Sister Rosina Conrotto was Director of the Office for Consecrated Life for the Archdiocese of San Francisco from 2009-2022, appointed by Archbishop George Niederauer and continuing with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. She retired on June 28.
Sister Gloria Loya was appointed Vicar for Religious in the Diocese of Monterey in 2014 by Bishop Richard Garcia, and continued until 2022 with his successor, Bishop Danny Garcia. Her retirement was at the end of May.
According to the National Conference for Vicars of Religious (NCVR), “The members of NCVR are appointed as Vicars or Delegates by their diocesan bishops first, to be advisory to the bishops on developments in consecrated life on a global scale and within the diocese and secondly, to be a liaison from the bishop to serve the needs of members of consecrated life in each diocese… the members today include mostly women religious and other members of consecrated life.”
The positions were opportunities to share the Presentation charism with not only other religious communities, but also with the broader Catholic audience in these two dioceses as Sisters Rosina and Gloria carried out their responsibilities in the spirit of Nano Nagle, foundress of the Presentation Sisters. As Sister Gloria noted, “God’s grace to guide me and hold me faithful to our charism is where the energy, inspiration and creativity flow out in ministry, even in the smallest act of service.”
There were many parallels in their roles, but their individual stories and experiences vary. As Sister Rosina and Sister Gloria move on to their next areas of ministry – retirement means something different to religious Sisters as compared to those in the secular world! – they reflected on their time in service to bishops and to other religious orders.
Sister Rosina Conrotto recently celebrated her 60th Jubilee as a Presentation Sister. After initially teaching and counseling in Bay Area Catholic schools, she has held positions in administration and leadership since 1976, including eight years at Vallombrosa Retreat Center in Menlo Park and 19 years in Congregational leadership.
She came to the position with the Archdiocese of San Francisco at a time when there had been no Vicar for Religious for several years; Sister Rosina was a member of a group of women religious who requested one be appointed, and she was ultimately the one Archbishop Niederauer invited to the position. In this role she was able to offer pastoral care, resources, speakers and days of reflection to religious orders of men and women in the archdiocese, to enhance their vocation within the Church. She enjoyed being of service: “service to the archbishop when acting as his representative; to members of Consecrated Life in areas essential to their growth and service; and to the archdiocese by supporting the vocation to Consecrated Life.”
As in any ‘job,’ there were highs and lows. Sister Rosina says, “Meeting women and men religious from different congregations and relating to them on a level that would not have been possible if I were not in this position was a sacred trust and special grace.” Being involved in the closing of a monastery of Carmelite Nuns after 45 years and assisting with their relocation was very difficult; mediating conflict was also a challenge. Undoubtedly, her wise counsel and calm presence brought a ‘special grace’ to those with whom she worked through those times.
Support from others was essential. She formed a Council of Religious with representatives of 17 different congregations in the archdiocese, and together they planned and organized events including the annual barbeque for unhoused men and women, and the Celebration of Consecrated Life and Jubilarians with the archbishop. Members of this Council were a sounding board, advisors, helpers, and friends. In addition, she drew on informal support from her longstanding group of former congregational leaders who have met regularly for over 30 years. Sister Rosina also cites the value of the strong working relationships she had with chancery staff.
Activities and services provided by her office were necessarily adapted to the changing needs of religious communities over her time in the position. The average age of religious in the Archdiocese increased by 13 years; the number of women religious declined by 43%. Attendance at events diminished gradually, exacerbated by Covid but also due to the aging and smaller number of those the office served. At the time of her retirement, Sister Rosina’s primary means of outreach was email.
A successor has not yet been named, but when she or he does step into the position, Sister Rosina has a few recommendations:
- “As much as you can, learn to love your job and see it not as duties to be fulfilled but as a ministry of service and availability.
- Spend some time each day that you are in the office walking around and chatting with other employees. It’s important to get to know others and for them to know you, as a one-person department.
- Spend as much time as possible getting to know the religious in the archdiocese. Invite yourself to coffee or a meal. Share your hopes and dreams for Consecrated Life in the archdiocese and ask what they would like from you.”
Sister Rosina resides at the Presentation Motherhouse in San Francisco. She is the newly elected president of the congregation, a position she also held from 1990-1998.
Sister Gloria Loya has long been teased that her appointment as Vicar for Religious in the Diocese of Monterey was due to her relationship to then-Bishop Richard Garcia, her cousin. However, it is difficult to imagine someone more qualified than Sister Gloria. Her teaching career spanned elementary to graduate school, which combined with her advanced degrees led to positions as Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose and Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Theology and Hispanic Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley. Sister Gloria also served on the congregational leadership team from 2004-2010. She says, “I do deeply believe God and my parents blest me, as I suspect they [the diocese] were looking for someone with a theological background and who was bilingual in English/Spanish. I grew up in a bilingual family and thanks to the Sisters, I was able to complete graduate studies in theology.”
The responsibilities of this position included representing the bishop within the 23 religious congregations in the diocese (10 of men, 13 of women). This required much dialogue and trust-building with the bishop and individual religious. With her Council of Religious and the congregations, the office offered Diocesan Jubilee Celebrations, retreats, and days of prayer – even going ‘virtual’ during the pandemic. A significant aspect of this ministry was outreach to the campesino/Latino community, which led to the most important event: bilingual retreats for mothers and daughters, a creative approach to a demonstrated need and a vehicle to build trust and understanding of women religious.
In response to the calls from Pope Francis and Bishop Danny Garcia, Sister Gloria formed a team to lead three Synodal Conferences with the ministerial and monastic religious throughout the diocese. The results are summarized in a Synodal Document that describes the lived experience of these communities within the clerical and lay communities in the diocese. “This document is a vital result and expression of my work and the work of all religious who participated,” according to Sister Gloria.
Of what she enjoyed most in this position, Sister Gloria said: “The challenges and opportunities to open doors and minds and hearts to women, particularly women religious, to express their leadership, creativity and commitment to their charisms, to the Gospel and to the following of Jesus. More than the events and projects, I felt the energy and God’s grace moving in all that we did. We had serious conversations, time for theological reflection, working together with men/women. All so important and a gift for the church.”
Like many others who are grounded in faith, she saw challenges as opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. She described some difficulties: “It is not easy to learn to really listen and encourage others to become leaders. In Latina theology many of us write and describe our “invisible visibility” in the church. I observe this too happens with women religious in the church whose voices and leadership are too often overlooked and ignored.”
Sister Gloria relied on two groups of women as support during her time as Vicar: fellow Presentation Sisters and her Council of Religious. “My Presentation Sisters of Guadalupe Community have over these years been such a support. We share our lives, struggles, prayer, love for Nano. They have been my base. We are also bilingual and are enriched by communicating in Spanish/English and welcoming our Hispanic spirituality and cultures. This gives me strength. And my Council of Religious – we worked very hard, planned, laughed, celebrated, and struggled together…such a gift!” She also expressed that she felt she had the respect and support of the men with whom she worked, including the bishop, and especially the men religious.
Although a new Vicar for Religious has not been named, Sister Gloria has hopes for the future, saying “I pray that we do find a new Sister for this very special ministry, and soon. She must love religious life; have good communication skills; in our diocese it would be a gift if she is bilingual and bicultural – albeit not necessary! Must be able to laugh at herself and enjoy and love the church, even with its problems.”
Sister Gloria plans to continue living in Monterey and ministering in the Mother-Daughter retreats, anti-trafficking work, and other activities of the diocese.
~Jan Potts, July 2022