What is charism?

By Cathy O’Connell-Cahill

Charism is the inspirational purpose that starts communities and keeps them going. It is community mission and spirit. It gives communities distinctive personalities and imbues their daily practice with meaning.

Sister Therese DelGenio, S.S.N.D. expresses her community’s charism through her work at Cincinnati’s Our Daily Bread.”

Sister Therese DelGenio, S.N.D.deN. expresses her community’s charism through her work at Cincinnati’s Our Daily Bread, an organization that calls itself a “ministry of hospitality.” (Photo: Annie Worobetz. Courtesy of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.)


My friend Sheryl is a Cistercian. She set off with some other nuns from the United States and Europe to refound a monastery on an island in the middle of Norway, where Cistercians had lived for three centuries during the Middle Ages. She speaks Norwegian now.

Sheryl and the other sisters sing the Liturgy of the Hours together in their chapel seven times each day. They work not at outside jobs but inside the monastery, making herbal soaps and skin cream to support themselves. The Cistercian day is a balance of prayer (both private and choral), work, and spiritual reading. The sisters spend much of the day in silence.

Another friend of mine, Thérèse, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, opened a homeless shelter with one of her fellow sisters on the South Side of Chicago, where my family and I have volunteered for many years. We go once a month, but Thérèse would go every day. Thérèse tells me that her community lives to recognize and reflect the goodness of God everywhere.

Today she works at a day shelter for homeless people in Cincinnati. One morning in January, while guests waited for breakfast and Thérèse was in her tiny office with the door closed writing up reports, she heard commotion and then gunshots out in the shelter. She crawled under