Sr. Christine Schenk CSJ is the Executive Director of FutureChurch, a national coalition of parish centered Catholics working for full participation of all Catholics in the life of the Church. She has led the organization since 1990 when she worked to transform a diocesan network of 28 parish councils and 100 parish leaders into a national organization reflecting the values of Vatican II.
Schenk created and, with the able assistance of highly competent FutureChurch staffers, administers five national initiatives – including Women in Church Leadership, The Future of Priestly Ministry, Women and the Word, Celebrating Women Witnesses and the Save Our Parish Community project designed to preserve vibrant parishes in a time of fewer priests.
As part of the Women in Church Leadership initiative Sr. Chris created what would become a successful 18 year effort to restore awareness of St. Mary of Magdala as the first witness to the Resurrection and a respected leader of the early Church. In 2012, 397 St. Mary of Magdala celebrations were held including some 40 celebrations in 16 countries outside the United States.
In 2011-2012 she coordinated an effort by over 400 concerned Catholics from an array of U.S. Church renewal organizations to contact bishops and officials in 42 dioceses to discuss the severity of the priest shortage, married priests and women deacons. Six bishops expressed openness to dialogue about optional celibacy. Eleven bishops expressed some level of openness to dialogue about women deacons.
With the help of internationally known canon lawyers, Schenk oversaw the creation of FutureChurch’s Save Our Parish Community [SOPC] initiative that subsequently catalyzed a landmark chaneg in Vatican policy that is dramatically impacting the landscape of church reform. Since February 2011 FutureChurch’s SOPC initiative helped Catholics from 28 U.S. parishes in six dioceses successfully win their appeals. Ever since, new diocesan reconfiguration plans do not automatically include closing and selling off churches. In fact, after studying the March 2012 landmark Cleveland decrees upholding 11 parish appeals, canon lawyer, Sr. Kate Kuenstler showed that the Vatican effectively said a Bishop cannot close a parish simply because of a shortage of priests.
Schenk also created and administered an international effort to “put women back in the biblical picture” at the 2008 Synod on the Word. As a result, the most women ever, attended as experts and auditors. For the first time bishops issued a proposition praising women and the ministry of the Word and discussed the systematic exclusion of women biblical leaders from lectionary texts, pledging to re-examine the lectionary “in light of these historic times.”” America magazine published Schenk’s article about this endeavor entitled It’s Not All About Eve Rediscovering the feminine faces in the Bible in the July 6, 2009 issue:
In 2004-2005 , in preparation for the International Synod on the Eucharist, she spearheaded the Corpus Christi Campaign for Optional Celibacy. The campaign surveyed over 15,000 priests in 58 U.S. dioceses. Sixty-seven percent of respondents believed the church should openly discuss mandatory celibacy. Sr. Chris attended the synod as an independent observer where she became an important media voice for optional celibacy and women’s roles in the Church. She also delivered survey results and 35,000 signatures requesting open discussion of mandatory celibacy and women deacons to selected synod delegates. At the synod the priest shortage was one of several issues that dominated the agenda with four of twelve bishop small groups asked for further study of married priests.
A Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Chris formerly worked as a nurse midwife in Cleveland for 20 years. In 1980 she helped to organize a statewide coalition to expand Medicaid coverage to include pregnant low-income women and their children.
She has a Master’s degree in theology with distinction from St. Mary’s Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Cleveland, a Master’s from Boston College and a B.S.N Magna Cum Laude from Georgetown University.
Sr. Chris has given hundreds of presentations and media interviews about the world wide priest shortage, strategies for preserving vibrant parishes, women in Scripture, Jesus and women, and women officeholders in the early church. She was part of a distinguished panel after the death of John Paul the Second, discussing the next Pope’s agenda on the BBC radio program Analysis. She has been interviewed by major media outlets including the PBS Newshour, World News with Diane Sawyer, CBS Sunday Morning, National Public Radio, CNN, MSNBC and Fox cable channels, and quoted in major feature stories on Mary of Magdala and women in the Bible by both Time and Newsweek. Her opinion and spirituality pieces and have been published by both secular and religious media.
About FutureChurch Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, FutureChurch is a national coalition of 3,500 parish centered Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch makes presentations throughout the country, distributes education, advocacy and prayer resources and encourages Catholics to work for changes that will provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in Church life and leadership.
Its website, www.futurechurch.org, has become a major source of information about the priest shortage and women in the church.