On September 14, 1965, I arrived in Rome, Italy to live with our Sisters at Villa Francesca, our house of studies, on the Aventine.  The Congregation sent me there to study theology at Regina Mundi, the international school for Sisters and other lay women.  While it was an honor to be chosen, I was attending an exciting avant garde course for a Masters in Religious Education at the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York.  The professors were from various disciplines including Sacred Scripture, Christ figures in Film, Moral Theology, etc. I would have to leave that Course unfinished to go to Regina Mundi.  I thought Regina Mundi would be little more than the religious education I  had received long ago.
However, something exciting had been happening in Rome from 1962-65.  Pope John XXIII had called for Vatican Council II and pushed open the windows of the Church to new understandings and new visions.   I arrived in Rome in time to attend the closing liturgy of the Council.  The documents of the Council influenced Regina Mundi to update all of its courses!  Some of the periti, experts, of the Council came and spoke to the students.
An American woman with a Villa in Rome invited Religious Superiors to come to her Villa to hear some of the periti.  Sister Maria Teresa Romeo was our local Superior at Villa Francesca.  Because I was studying theology, she invited me to go to these gatherings with her.  I remember especially being thrilled to listen  to the famous Cardinal Suenens from Belgium and Father Bernard Haring, CSSR from Germany who were both periti of the Council. 
The Council documents began to come out on papers to the Religious Superiors and I had a chance to read them.  It was an exciting and hope-filled time.   Back in the United States, the documents of Vatican II were having both positive and negative effects on the Church.  The Council called for changes in the life of the Church.  There were documents on the liturgy, ecumenism, the Bible, religious life and more.  Perfectae Caritatis, The Perfection of Charity, called Religious women and men to return to their sources and renew their lives.  Gaudiem et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, called the Church to be open to the joys and hopes of all people.  Each document called for some type of change.  Those who saw the value of the changes, embraced them and moved ahead.   It was notable, that the religious congregations made the changes called for, while education for change in dioceses and parishes was at best slow to come and in some places,  resisted.
Religious congregations were mandated to have a Renewal Chapter.  We had one in 1968, in Frascati, Rome.  Our Congregation reverently and obediently, but not without some opposition among us, went back to our Sources: the Gospel, St. Francis and Clare, and the Franciscan Movement,  Blessed Frances Schervier and the sources of our Congregation.  We revised our Constitution and taking our direction from the Gospels, where the new Christians were called Followers of the Way, we named it, Our Gospel Way of Life.   Sister Innocenta Donnelly, followed by Sister Rose Margaret Delaney, courageously led the Congregation into the renewal we were called to. 
To recall what was happening in the place that I returned to, i.e., the United States, our elected leadership led us in a renewal process. We collaborated with other Franciscan Congregations seeking renewal of the Franciscan way of life.  We called on outstanding Franciscan scholars and leaders in spirituality to assist us.  There were several.  Two that I remember in particular were Sister Maristell Schanen, a spiritual leader from the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minn., (deceased 7/6/12),   and the historian, Father David Flood, OFM.  Others will be remembered by my contemporaries.  In the Brooklyn Diocese, we collaborated with the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, with whom we have a long history.
Those years of studying our Sources and our steps toward renewal made me grateful to be in a small but forward looking Congregation.  There were difficult days when some of our sisters chose to leave the Congregation.  At least for some, the positive side of this was  that they were able to see the possibility of a different way of life for them.   Getting to know our Franciscan Sources made me grateful to be part of the wider Franciscan Family.
Sister Bernadette Sullivan, SFP

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