Religious Formation Conference

The Religious Formation Conference (RFC) is a national Roman Catholic organization serving religious institutes of women and men with programs and services for those in the ministry of initial and lifelong formation, and general congregational membership.

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If your congregation is a member of RFC, please use the RFC congregational login to access the archived webinars free of charge and to secure the member rate for the video presentations.

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Mary Pat Garvin, RSM, PhD Presenter: Mary Pat Garvin, RSM, PhD

Mary Pat Garvin, RSM, PhD is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. She holds a doctorate in psychology from the Gregorian University where she was on the faculty from 1994-2001. Since 2001, Mary Pat has taught for Seton Hall University and worked with national and international conferences of Religious, as well as Religious congregations throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. In 2017 she received the Mary Emil Penet, IHM Award from the RFC in recognition of her contribution to the ministry of initial and ongoing formation for women and men Religious in North American and internationally. Mary Pat is a Fellow in Human Formation with Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her research interest is the interplay of spirituality and psychology in the promotion of a healthy and holy living of Religious Life.

Presentation: 02/26/2022

Requesting an autobiography from those making formal application to a religious congregation has been a common practice for years. What if the autobiography became a tool for discernment, rather than simply a document submitted, read, and then filed away never to be referred to again? The Autobiography: Revived, Refreshed, and Renewed will explore how vocation and formation ministers can re-imagine the autobiography, designing it as a valuable tool that can be used throughout the entire formative journey.

Presenter: Sr. Mary Pellegrino, CSJ

From 2008-2018 Sister Mary Pellegrino served as Congregational Moderator of her community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pa. From 2015-2018 Mary also served in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States. In both of those roles Mary worked to support, encourage and promote the ongoing renewal of religious life in the face of unprecedented challenges and changes in the church, American society and the global community. Prior to serving in congregational leadership, Mary served in vocation/ formation ministries for her congregation as well as parish and campus ministries. Over the years she has written and presented extensively on topics related to various aspects of religious life. Mary holds a Master’s degree in Christian Spirituality and a certificate in Spiritual and Retreat Direction from Creighton University, along with a Master’s degree in Religious Education from Fordham University. Currently, Mary, assists religious communities in planning for the future through the lens of mission and charism in her role with the Religious Institutes Service Group of Plante Moran, PLLC.

Presentation: 11/06/2021

While a religious vocation is deeply and profoundly personal it is essentially a vocation to a public, communal life of prophetic witness – both in the Church and in society. In her address, Sr. Mary will explore the prophetic dimension of our lives as public theology and reflect on its need and meaning in a deeply divided Church and society. She will suggest implications for both individual and communal formation and transformation.

Presenter: Fr. Peter Phan, PhD

Father Peter Phan brings the U.S. church into dialogue with global perspectives and contextual theologies. A former president of The Catholic Theological Society of America and The American Theological Society, Phan knows what is happening in a variety of other Christian denominations and nonChristian religions and has served on global commissions and projects. The Vietnam native is the Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J. Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has earned three doctorates. Phan taught philosophy at age 18 at Don Bosco College in Hong Kong. He has taught at The University of Dallas, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Union Theological Seminary in New York, Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., and St. Norbert’s College in De Pere, WI. In 2001, Phan became the first non-Anglo elected president of The Catholic Theological Society of America. In 2010, he received the John Courtney Murray Award, the society’s highest honor for outstanding and distinguished achievement in theology. Phan’s writings deal with the theology of icons in the Orthodox Church, patristic theology, eschatology, and the history of Christian missions in Asia. His books include Christianity with an Asian Face; In Our Own Tongues; Being Religious Interreligiously; and The Joy of Religious Pluralism. His writings have been translated into Arabic, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Serbian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Vietnamese.

Presentation: 11/05/2021

Our time has been called “The Age of Migration.” This presentation begins with a brief survey of migration as a global challenge to our society and the church, with reference to Pope Francis’s teaching and example. Next, explores the image of Jesus as the Primordial Migrant who shares the fate of all migrants. The last part offers suggestions on how religious formation can prepare people for ministry to migrants.

Mary Pat Garvin Presenter: Mary Pat Garvin, RSM, PhD

Sister Mary Pat Garvin is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. She holds a doctorate in psychology from the Gregorian University where she was on the faculty from 1994-2001. Since 2001, Mary Pat has taught for Seton Hall University and worked with national and international conferences of Religious, as well as Religious congregations throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. In 2017 she received the Mary Emil Penet, IHM Award from the RFC in recognition of her contribution to the ministry of initial and ongoing formation for women and men Religious in North American and internationally. Mary Pat is a Fellow in Human Formation with Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her research interest is the interplay of spirituality and psychology in the promotion of a healthy and holy living of Religious Life.

Presentation: 11/04/2021

It surprises many that North America is experiencing a rapid and significant increase in intergenerational living arrangements. Some are choosing to live intergenerationally out of need. Others are embracing what is termed “cross-generational communities” that welcome toddlers to seniors, promising each age cohort the support and resources needed to thrive.

What of Religious Life today? Religious Life has always been intergenerational, yet the generations were more equally distributed across membership. In 2020 CARA reported that 87% of perpetually professed members are 60, while almost half of those in initial formation are under age 30. CARA also reports that new members strongly cite charism and community life as the factors that influenced them “very much” in entering Religious Life.

Religious Life is uniquely poised to intentionally embrace intergenerational living, making it a defining characteristic of its way of being in the world; choosing to make intergenerational relationships integral to its mission from “generation to generation.” This Pre-Congress workshop is designed for leadership, vocation and formation ministers, as well as those engaged in ongoing, life-long formation programs. The workshop we will explore some of the current research into the value and challenges of intergenerational living. Using a theological lens, we will examine this topic through the writings of Pope Francis, as well as the reflections of new members who have published their experiences of intergenerational living.

Topics will include:
• intergenerational community: “boomers” to “zoomers”
• fostering a culture of intergenerational living
• intergenerational living as “relational learning”
• intergenerational solidarity and the grace of resilience
• intergenerational dialogue: blessings and challenges
• and, best practices for healthy and holy communities.


Shannen Dee Williams, PhD Presenter: Shannen Dee Williams, PhD

Doctor Shannen Dee Williams is the Albert Lepage Assistant Professor of History at Villanova University. A historian of the African American experience with research and teaching specializations in women’s, religious, and black freedom movement history, Williams is completing her first book, Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle, with Duke University Press. Dr. Williams’s research has been supported by a host of fellowships, grants, and awards, including a Scholar-in-Residence Fellowship at the Schomburg Center for Research 4 in Black Culture in New York City, a Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Fellowship in Religion and Ethics from the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, a Albert J. Beveridge Grant from the American Historical Association, the Huggins-Quarles Award from the Organization of America Historians, and the John Tracy Ellis Dissertation Award from the American Catholic Historical Association. Her work has been published in the Journal of African American History, American Catholic Studies, America Magazine, the National Catholic Reporter, the Catholic News Service, and Religion Dispatches.

Presentation: 11/03/2021

This presentation will (1) identify four core myths about the U.S. Catholic Church and its foundational relationship to the African American community as it relates to the transatlantic slave trade, slavery, segregation, and the long African American freedom struggle and (2) demonstrate why historical truth telling about the Black Catholic experience must inform and guide any Catholic interrogation of white supremacy and reparation project. This presentation will also focus on the moral necessity of Black Catholic historical truth telling in religious formation programs, paying particular attention to the history of slaveholding among religious orders of men and women and the largely unreconciled history of anti-Black exclusion and segregation within religious life

Edward Foley, OFM Cap Presenter: Edward Foley, OFM Cap

Father Ed Foley is a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order. The Duns Scotus Professor Emeritus of Spirituality and Retired Professor of Liturgy and Music at Catholic Theological Union, he was the founding director of the Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry degree jointly offered by Catholic Theological Union, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and McCormick Theological Seminary. An award winning author and celebrated preacher, he has been honored with lifetime achievement awards from national and international organizations and is a recent recipient of a major grant for preaching from the John Templeton Foundation. He also serves his Capuchin community as the Vice-Postulator for the Canonization process for Blessed Solanus Casey.

Presentation: 11/03/2021

The process of forming initiates into religious life can be understood and approached in various valid and useful ways. Some imagine the process as spiritual companioning, others liken it to an apprenticeship, while still others take a more instructional approach. Without critiquing any of those, this presentation will consider the process of religious formation – initial and ongoing – through the frame of ritualization.

Religious life is not only filled with rituals – from those that occur in chapel to those enacted in the dining room or recreational spaces – but itself can be considered a process of ritualization. Contemporary theories recognize ritual as a powerful way of acting that shapes folk through structured embodiment, whether or not folk are self-reflective about such practices. Formators not only configure ritualized practices for initiates but also the ritual spaces that impact embodiment. Embedded in such practices and their environments are enduring messages, e.g., about spirituality, fraternity/sorority and the use of power and authority. This workshop will serve as a guided theological reflection on such ritualization. Special attention will be given to men’s communities, particularly those with clerics, and the unique power issues in their ritualization.

Mary Johnson, SNDdeN, PhD Presenter: Mary Johnson, SNDdeN, PhD

Sister Mary Johnson is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C. At Trinity, she is also co-director of the Billiart Center for Social Justice. Previously she was on the faculty of Emmanuel College in Boston.

She speaks nationally and internationally on religious life, Catholicism and Catholic Social Teaching. Currently she is working with a team of scholars on a metaanalysis of vocation data from five nations. Along with numerous articles and book chapters, she has co-authored three books: Young Adult Catholics: Religion in a Culture of Choice (University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), New Generations of Catholic Sisters: The Challenge of Diversity (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Migration for Mission: International Catholic Sisters in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2019). She is co-editor of Solidarity Toward the Common Good: Women Engaging the Catholic Social Tradition, forthcoming in March, 2022 from Paulist Press. Sister Mary is a member of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.

Presentation: 11/03/2021

The groundbreaking book, Migration for Mission: International Catholic Sisters in the United States (Oxford University Press 2019) by Mary Johnson SNDdeN, Mary L. Gautier, Patricia Wittberg SC and Thu T. Do LHC, illuminates several aspects of the lives of over 4,000 sisters from six continents (83 countries) who currently minister or study in the United States. The study, upon which the book is based, involved surveys and interviews. This session will focus on the pathways these sisters took to the United States, the challenges they confronted and often still confront, and the gifts they bring to religious life, the Church and society. Implications for formation ministry will be discussed.

Frank Santucci, OMI Presenter: Frank Santucci, OMI, PhD

Father Frank Santucci is a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate since 1970 and a priest since 1976. Born in South Africa, he has spent the past 28 years in ministry in Rome, at the OMI foundation and animation house in Aix en Provence and, now, at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio where he is the holder of the Chair of Oblate Studies. He has been involved in formation at novitiate and postnovitiate level and congregational animation around the world. His doctorate is in the theology of consecrated life and focused on the charism of his congregation.

Presentation: 11/02/2021

Part of the formative journey involves gaining a deepening understanding of a congregation’s charism and its implications for living in community, one’s prayer life, and apostolic service. In this seminar Fr. Frank Santucci, OMI will provide best practices, tips and tools for those with the responsibility to teach founders, charisms, and Rules. In what ways can formators and new members journey together in unpacking and deepening the charismatic gifts and graces of their community? This session will explore that question and offer practical insight and resources.

Michelle Lesher Presenter: Michelle Lesher, SSJ

Sister Michelle Lesher is a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia currently serving as the Novice Director for the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Michelle has a Masters degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Having attained her Master of Divinity equivalency, she is currently in the process of finishing the Doctor of Ministry program at Fordham University. Her concentration is Spirituality and Spiritual Direction.

Presentation: 11/02/2021

Women and men entering religious life today come from rich and various backgrounds, cultures, ages, and life experience. What truly transpires for them when they enter into formation with our Congregations? During this session we will have the graced opportunity to explore the world of formation through the lens of some of our newer members. What has the journey been like for them? What have they learned? What are their hopes and desires for this very significant life experience? What do they need from us? What do they want us to hear and to know? Through input, reflective sharing, dialogue, and the opportunity for candid questions, we will have the chance to explore how the actual lived formation experience and insight of newer members have the potential to strengthen both our presence as directors and our formation process.


Kathy Galleher, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist Presenter: Kathy Galleher, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist

Kathy Galleher, Ph.D is a licensed psychologist with over 25 years of experience who specializes in working with those in ministry and religious life. She received a doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology from Colorado State University in 1993 and has been a therapist, university professor, consultant, and workshop presenter. In 2006 she started “KMG Consultation," which specializes in supporting healthy ministry and community life. Dr. Galleher presents workshops on topics including healthy community, conflict management, healthy sexual integration, healthy boundaries, self -care, and ministry from abundance, and mindfulness in daily life. She is director of the Washington Area Formation Network program for Healthy Sexual Integration in religious life.

Presentation: 10/27/2018

In this workshop Dr. Galleher focuses on ways to develop deeper intimacy and connection in community life. She presents practical approaches to deepening our understanding of one another within community and across generational and cultural differences and ways to resolve conflict that cultivate compassion. Video topics include: (1) rich community life and how to cultivate it, (2) group development, (3) going deeper, vulnerability and compassion, (4) healthy confrontation and conflict, (5) reflection and sharing on day. 

Presenter: Donald Bisson, FMS

Donald Bisson, FMS, is first and foremost a spiritual director.  A Marist Brother based in New York, Don is engaged in the training, formation, and supervision of spiritual directors.  In addition to his doctoral work in spiritual direction and Jungian psychology, he holds graduate degrees in spirituality and liturgy.

Presentation: 11/18/2016

Conversations at the Well: Crossing-over to Meet the Other and Oneself

Acting on the Journey of Transformation

The call to transformation and to “reading the signs of the times” can simultaneously elicit deep attraction and provoke corresponding resistance.

In this workshop, beginning Friday evening, participants and the presenter will explore the shadow and the journey of consciousness; crossing over from repression and fear to humility and integration.  Praying dangerously, acting radically, living the gospel will fuel the crossing to personal and communal transformation.

The workshop included input, personal journaling, table and large group conversation. (November 18-19, 2016; Rancho Palos Verdes, CA)

Presenter: Helen Marie Burns, RSM

Helen Marie Burns, RSM, has served her religious community, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in elected leadership both on the congregational and provincial levels. In 1988, she was elected to the presidency of LCWR for a three year term.  Helen Marie’s doctorate is in the History of Religion and Religious Thought; her dissertation studied Active Women Religious in the Iowa Frontier: A Study in Continuity and Disontinuity.

Presentation: 09/23/2016

Conversations at the Well: Crossing-over to Meet the Other and Oneself

Preserving Patrimony on the Journey

(What do we take? What do we leave behind? What if we haven’t time/opportunity to choose?)

This day will consist of prayer, input, reflection time, and sharing … all in the context of an assumption that those who have gathered are on a communal journey in which many borders have been and will be crossed. Who/what constitutes these borders, with what intent, and from what experience is critical to decisions to move forward or to stay back. Input sessions will explore crossing over in congregational life by engaging current realities through the lens of

Definitional borders: how we might understand ourselves as members of a particular religious congregation; Structural/Cultural Borders: how we organize our understanding of ourselves and how we create formal and informal norms for our common life; Theological Borders: the foundations of meaning which support our religious understanding, the religious meaning supporting structures/cultures, the religious grounding for our choices.

September 23-24, 2016;  Renton (Seattle), WA.

Presenter: Mary Schneiders, OP, PhD

Mary Schneiders, OP, PhD is a Dominican Sister of Hope (Ossining, NY.) For the past 21 years, she has been a fulltime staff member of Berakah Spirituality and Retreat Center in Pittsfield, NH (formerly Berakah Renewal Center) where she teaches courses in Scripture, Theology and Spirituality, and journeys with people in spiritual direction. Prior to that Sr. Mary taught theology and Scripture at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY for 11 years. She offers retreats and workshops at many retreat centers, parishes, and women’s groups throughout the US. Sr. Mary has an MA in Religious Studies from Providence College in Providence, RI, and a PhD in Theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

Presentation: 05/16/2015

As Christians, we believe the Scriptures are God's living word given to us to sustain our faith in every age of our human history. So once again, in this 21st century, we turn to the Scriptures to find the inspiration, strength and especially the HOPE we need to sustain us in our daily lives, particularly in times of doubt, struggle, and suffering. And in this year dedicated to consecrated life, we look to the scriptures for the hope we need to face the challenges and questions that confront religious life today. Let us together open our minds and hearts to God's voice and presence speaking to us through the lives of the women and men we encounter in the scriptures in order to re- vitalize, nurture and strengthen our hope.

Eduardo Fernández, SJ, PhD Presenter: Eduardo Fernández, SJ, PhD

Eduardo Fernández, SJ, PhD: Other than teaching classes in missiology and Latino theology and ministry at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University at Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union, Professor Fernández publishes, gives workshops and retreats, and assists at local parishes.  He has also worked in university campus ministry.  A native of El Paso, Texas, he earned a Masters in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. His two latest books are Mexican American Catholics (Paulist Press, 2007), awarded a 2008 Catholic Press Association Book Award in the category of pastoral ministry, and Culture- Sensitive Ministry: Helpful Strategies for Pastoral Ministers (Paulist Press, 2010) with Kenneth McGuire, CSP and Anne Hansen.

Presentation: 05/02/2015

Fifty years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, its key concepts, most notably, aggiornamento, the Italian term for “bringing up to date”, as well as ressourcement, a critical engagement with the current situation in light of the lessons of the past, continue to capture the imagination of the contemporary disciple in Christ's mission.  Our day will be spent in prayerfully exploring Christian world mission in light of the current signs of the times, in an attempt to discern where the Spirit is leading our religious communities.  Particular attention will be paid to the gift of the arts as manifested in the diversity of cultures.  Activities include some presentations, quiet prayer time, and small group discussions (which may take place in various languages).  Each participant is invited to bring a symbol of her or his religious community's charism.

Presenter: Michael Downey, PhD

With a Master of Arts in special education as well as in theology, Dr. Michael Downey is the first layperson to receive the Ph.D. in theology from The Catholic University of America. His abiding theological concern for those who are wounded and marginalized has brought him to serve the church most in need through lectures, conferences and retreats in different parts of the world. Editor of the award-winning New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, he is founding North American editor of Spirituality, an international journal of the Christian spiritual life.  Author or editor of more than twenty books, as well as journal articles, essays, and book chapters numbering in the dozens, he is the recipient of three honorary doctorates. Two of his better known books are Altogether Gift:  A Trinitarian Spirituality (2000) and The Heart of Hope (2009). A member of the editorial board of Cistercian Studies Quarterly, he works extensively with enclosed contemplative communities, and is active in retreat work. Dr. Downey has a particular interest in Trinitarian theology and a theology of hope, both of which are expressed in his Living the Justice of the Triune God [with the late David N. Power] (2012). On March 31, 2005 Pope John Paul II awarded him the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.

Presentation: 04/18/2015

Even though hope is essential to human and Christian life, very little has been written about it in comparison to faith and love. Faith sees what already is, while hope sees what is yet to come. Charity loves what already is, but hope puts its trust in what is not yet here.

Living in very dark times, hope is a most 
                                                                     important, necessary and rare virtue.

For Christians, for vowed Religious, “hope” is linked to the person of Jesus Christ. Consequently we would do well to give greater attention to the precise nature of Christian hope. What exactly is it? This day will offer a clear understanding of the nature of hope to deepen our capacity to give an account of the hope that is within us (1Peter 3: 15), especially in the face of resistance and indifference.

Rooted in an understanding of the kenosis of God in Christ as the reason for our hope, the presentation will be interspersed with poetic reflections that help express the nature of hope.

Presenter: Lynn M. Levo, CSJ, Ph.D.

is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and a licensed psychologist, lecturer and consultant. She received her Ph.D. from the University of New York at Albany, completing her clinical training at The University of Kansas School of Medicine. Lynn consults with religious congregations of women and men, dioceses and health systems on mutuality, transitions and stress, anger, managing conflict, aging and healthy personal, sexual and spiritual development across the life span. Lynn has presented nationally and internationally to women and men religious, intercommunity novitiates and seminaries, on fostering healthy integrated sexuality, celibacy, relationships, intimacy, mutuality in community, emotional intelligence, collaborative leadership, hope, living at the edge of chaos and the call to be evolutionaries. In addition, Lynn also facilitates team development for several leadership teams of women religious, utilizing her experience as a former congregational leader and consultant.

After completing 12 years of ministering as Director of Education at Saint Luke Institute, a residential treatment facility for women and men religious, Lynn currently is a Consulting Psychologist in private practice, offering consultations and presentations/workshops both in the U.S. and abroad.

Presentation: 03/31/2015

Hope is a powerful emotion that arises from the most basic human longings – it is a life- sustaining force, rooted in relationship and our relationship with the future. In our challenging and chaotic present time, hope is more essential than ever.

In our time together, we will explore the connection between reality, grief and hope, how our thoughts and feelings create the unique energy of hope, some core competencies to help us move beyond our personal and present limits to create a better tomorrow, understanding hopelessness and how hope can be learned and is a ministry shared with others.

In this Year for Consecrated Life we have been urged by Pope Francis to make a grateful remembrance of the recent past and to embrace the future with hope. If not now, when? If not us, then who?

Artwork credit: “Journey of the Soul” © Doris Klein, CSA. Used with permission. See additional work by Doris Klein, CSA at

Richard Gaillardetz, PhD, Joseph Professor of Theology at Boston College;
Presentation title: From Center to Periphery: Relocating the Prophetic Witness of Religious Life

Caroljean Willie, SC, PhD, NGO representative at the United Nations for the Sisters of Charity Federation;
Presentation title: Called to Live on the Margins of Possibility

Presentation: 10/18/2014

Join the Religious Formation Conference for its 60th Anniversary Celebration: From Center to Periphery: Relocating the Prophetic Witness of Religious Life at one of the locations throughout the United States listed below. In these gatherings, we will celebrate our heritage, reflect with expert and engaging presenters and with each other on the implications of our call to mission in the 21st century, and continue our lifelong formation as women and men challenged, in Pope Francis’ words, to fly from the nest to the frontiers, to wake the world.


1525 E. 53rd St. | Suite 716
Chicago, IL 60615
Phone: 773.675.8362
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