When we envision Call To Action’s future as one including a vibrant community of engaged young people, we can do so only because of the generosity of Shirley Adler. By establishing a scholarship fund to make it possible for young people to come to conference, she has made a lasting impact on our community. “Shirley Adler’s vision of including young adults in Call To Action and having their experience influence our work has forever changed Call To Action for the better. When Shirley established the Adler conference scholarships to give young adults access to our national conference, she envisioned CTA as an intergenerational organization. Today, young adults play an influential role in almost every aspect of Call To Action and that influence continues to grow,” says Executive Director Jim FitzGerald.
Growing up in South Dakota, she felt called to religious life early on and entered the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is telling that she entered an order that was founded underground; an order of nuns never meant to wear a habit. When she left religious life she continued her work in ministry and serve to the Church.
Upon walking into conference 20 years ago and seeing all the white hair, it inspired her to start the scholarship fund. The need for young people to be more engaged in our movement is pressing. Shirley says, “I understand that young people are just starting out or in school, but they need a voice in the movement, so I felt a sense of urgency to act quickly.” Cultivating the future of our church, continuing the legacy of Vatican II, is crucial to Call To Action’s mission.
Looking back, Shirley recalls the exodus of many in the church because of abuses in authority, policies forbidding married and women priests, and other mandates that have caused harm. That’s why she connects with many of the values our organization stands for – LGBT justice women’s equality, racial justice, church worker issues, and lay engagement.
Bonnie Johnson, Director of Development, had the opportunity to sit down with Shirley and get to know her better.
Bonnie: What issues are you passionate about?
Shirley: Getting people involved in the church who are serious about forming their conscience. Let’s remember catholic means universal – all of us are called to faithful prayer and action. How do we live this out? Hopefully, young people can bring their children up in the church with the values we all share, giving new life and energy to our communities.
Bonnie: What sort of work in ministry have you done?
Shirley: Retreat work with young adults – I always appreciated the vision of younger people. Before attending the CTA conference, I was working in adult education around the Second Vatican Council. I taught in Catholic schools for 10 years and then worked in pastoral ministry and got to preach every 3rd Sunday.
Bonnie: Why did you establish the scholarship fund?
Shirley: Years ago, I had no money and needed assistance to attend the 1995 conference. Two years later, I was so situated that I could pay it forward and establish this fund to help others like me.
Bonnie: What is your hope for the Church?
Shirley: Greater openness to all: empathy to those who need it, celebrating God’s diversity, meaningful worship, and practical applications of the Gospel. I want the church to have its arms around all people, in love, rather than its laws. I want to breathe Eucharist beyond the immediate community. I want a church where older people are open to the newness of young people and young people are open to the wisdom of older people, especially those interested in carrying on the Spirit of Vatican II.
Bonnie: What inspires you to work for transformation?
Shirley: The Holy Spirit! It goes back to my parents. We were deeply rooted in our faith early on. To see so much goodness happen by inspired people inspires me, too!