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2018 Cardinal Bernardin Award

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Award Citation

September 28, 2018

Sr. Doris Gottemoeller, R.S.M.

In 1991, Sister Doris became the first president of the newly formed Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, a deeply humbling experience she said she will never forget. Sr. Doris was well prepared for her new role. By the time of her election as the first President of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy in 1991, Sr. Doris’s superb leadership talents were already well known.  In ten years as director of the process that culminated in the establishment of the Institute, she had demonstrated a natural genius for developing consensus among the Sisters, while respecting even subtle cultural differences in the independent Mercy congregations that would eventually become one. She had guided the seemingly impossible effort from its beginning through the decisions of each sister and each province and independent congregation to join the new Institute.  Also, in this period she made crucial contributions to creating a dialogic relationship with Vatican officials and diocesan bishops as part of the unification process.

Sr. Doris served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in 1994, an organization of the leadership of women’s religious institutes, at a challenging time for women in the Church. As president, Sr. Doris exemplified a model of dialogue in which women religious, while responding to a prophetic call for change, did so in less confrontational terms. In Sr. Doris’s presidential address, she reflected a nuanced conciliatory approach regarding the role of women in the Church urging discouraged sisters to remain in the Church rather than leaving it. In her address, she said, “It is our love for Christ and for the community united in Christ which impels and sustains our commitment to membership. To allow ourselves to be alienated from the church is to surrender our birthright … to be exiled from our true home.” At the same time, she embraced the ongoing grievance indicating that the Church itself “institutionalizes sexism within and fails to denounce it without.”

During her term as President of LCWR, Sr. Doris had the opportunity to serve as an auditor at the synod on Consecrated Life, after which she gave numerous presentations not only on the synod results but also on its implications for the future of religious life.

As a founding member of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, Sr. Doris came to recognize that the painful experiences people endured in the Church were often the result of a polarization among members of the Church, an inability to see another’s viewpoint, a mistrust of others, and a reluctance to engage in dialogue with those with whom we may disagree. Sr. Doris contributed immensely to the efforts of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative to address contentious issues and expand people’s understanding through dialogue and reflection.

While Sr. Doris’s involvement and contributions to Mercy ministries in Catholic health care and education at all levels are immeasurable, it is her gentle, open manner of connecting with people, her care for the dignity of all persons, her gifts of wisdom and understanding, her joy in living the Gospel message that makes her a woman of Mercy, a daughter of the Church, and a most worthy recipient of the Cardinal Bernardin Award for the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.