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 | By Theresa Stratford

South Carolina Women Religious Supported Through Annual Collaboration Initiative

In the early 2000s, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina (SCFSC) conducted a research study of women religious. Part of the study asked what the sisters needed and how their needs could be met. What they discovered is that, while other states and dioceses provided conferences for sisters to meet, network and support each other, there was nothing similar in the Diocese of Charleston.

In 2001, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio, began a program called the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative (CMI). It was created specifically to build partnerships among ministries by providing grants, training, technical assistance and opportunities for networking among religious.

The results of the survey and the success from the Cleveland initiative prompted the SCFSC to start the annual CMI conferences in 2006.

CMI comprises parallel initiatives undertaken by the two foundations (Cleveland and South Carolina). Both were founded by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, under the Sisters of Charity Health System, with a specific mission to address and alleviate poverty. The cultural and demographic differences between these locations meant tailoring strategies and outcomes to best match regional realities.

Donna Waites, president of the S.C. branch, said they know the immeasurable value of the dedication of women religious.

“For nearly two decades, our foundation has taken on the responsibility of planning this conference for them, in many ways, as a thank you for their service to South Carolina,” she said, adding that “… it has been our great blessing to be able to provide this conference to them for all of these years.”

Waites said a major reason why they host CMI is to connect women religious with each other for support, because often in this state, “women religious are living and working with only a couple of other sisters and are very often hundreds of miles, if not more, from the headquarters of their communities.” 

She said that because there are so few women religious in South Carolina, compared to more populated states or major metropolitan areas, they share something in common that lay leaders don’t. According to the foundation website, CMI specifically supports congregations of women religious in their efforts with the poor and underserved, and works to strengthen and sustain sister-led ministries in South Carolina.

SCFSC works to help sisters discover ways to collaborate and share the programs they have developed. Its goal remains to assist communities with their work and the challenges they face, including declining numbers and resources.

Decades of change

A lot has shifted since the first CMI in the Palmetto State. Sts. Cyril and Methodius Sister Pamela Smith, director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the diocese, noted that while more international women are now attending, the overall numbers of sisters is down from 90 to about 70 in recent years. 

St. Mary of Namur Sister Sandra Makowski, diocesan chancellor and liaison for religious, concurred.

“It certainly is no secret that religious life is at a crossroads. We can see very clearly that the number of men and women entering religious life has experienced a steady decline,” she said.

Currently, the diocese has 91 religious sisters from 23 different orders. Sister Sandra said that most of the communities originate from India, the Philippines and Mexico, and the bishop assigns sisters to parishes or areas where there are needs to be met.

Women supporting women

The 2023 CMI Conference will be held in November. The theme will be social justice and the title is Just Us: Learning, Praying and Loving. The conference will offer sessions on spiritual enrichment, care of the Earth, ministry and spiritual writing. 

Sister Pam said that there is a session each year where sisters share good news from their parishes and programs, and it’s something to which they look forward.

Waites added that the energy these women bring when they are all in one space together is inspiring. 

“Our state is blessed to have women religious living and working among us for so many reasons,” she said, with “their spiritual gifts, their fervent prayers, their loving friendships and their commitment to serving our state’s most vulnerable.”

Sister Pam has been to every CMI since its inception in South Carolina.

“So much good comes out of it. We share resources and we network. It’s something I really look forward to every year,” she added.

CMI 2023 will be held at the Marriott Myrtle Beach Resort & Spa at Grand Dunes from Nov. 3-5. Women religious are invited to contact Hiller Davenport at or 803-254-0230 x11.