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Meet a Missionary - Sister Sara Butler, M.S.B.T.
I’m Sister Sara. During the week I live at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein.
For over 20 years I’ve been preparing men for the diocesan priesthood, first at Mundelein Seminary (archdiocese of Chicago), then at St. Joseph’s (archdiocese of New York) and currently back at Mundelein. This is not what I expected to be doing when I left Toledo, Ohio to enter our community!
I was attracted by a photo of M.S.B.T.s trudging along a desolate road to visit homes in a poverty-stricken mining community in Western Pennsylvania. I saw myself heading out to what Fr. Judge called the “hard and tangled parts of the vineyard of Christ” to instruct poor children in their faith and reclaim lapsed adults for Christ and his Church. But in my years as a missionary, I’ve had relatively few such experiences! I spent one summer taking religious census for an inner-city parish and while I was missioned in Norfolk, VA, I did some home visiting in outlying country areas and urban housing projects. Mostly, however, I’ve been teaching theology!
I was sent to study and received a Ph.D. in theology in order to serve on the faculty of Blessed Trinity Juniorate; when our junior Sisters were transferred to a nearby Catholic college, I was free for another assignment. I have taught theology in colleges, in parish and diocesan programs, and in summer graduate schools. After two terms (10 years) on our community’s General Council, I was invited to teach theology in a seminary.
A seminary is not the “hard and tangled part” of Christ’s vineyard,” but there is a “missionary” dimension to my ministry. In the past 40 years, because of the significant upheavals in the Church and in our culture, imparting the Catholic theological tradition has itself become a challenge. I believe Fr. Judge would agree that today seminary teaching fulfills the special purpose of our congregation, the “preservation of the Faith.”
My spiritual formation as a Missionary Servant, and my experience of living in community has prepared me to bear confident witness to my faith. We are taught to acquire a “devotional knowledge” of the mysteries of our faith, that is, to have “a deeply personal and interior faith that is restless until it finds expression in good works” (Rule of Life). Whatever course I’m teaching—Christology, Sacramental Theology, Christian Anthropology, Mariology—my goal is to invite my students to this “devotional knowledge” that gives birth to a missionary spirit.
I have served on national and international ecumenical commissions and am presently a consultant to the U.S. Bishops’ Doctrine Committee. In 2004 Pope John Paul II appointed me to the International Theological Commission which meets annually in Rome, and Pope Benedict XVI appointed me as an “expert” for the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October, 2008. I have published many essays in theological journals to contribute to the resolution of questions that trouble the faithful. I recently published a book, The Catholic Priesthood: A Guide to the Church’s Teaching.