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Intergenerational Dialogue in the Church: Theme for the 2011 Murnion Lecture

Murnion Lecture Speaker, Sr. Patricia Wittberg engages particpants
about the various generational cultures


This year’s Murnion Lecture was given by Sister Patricia Wittberg, S.C., noted sociologist and professor at Indiana University.  Her presentation described the “cultures” of the various generations and cohorts in the U.S. Catholic Church. The particular focus was on young people, those characterized as Millennials and Generation X and their characteristics and values.  In her talk, Sr. Patricia described how each generation is its own culture – a specific way of looking at the world, a set of unquestioned assumptions, values, ways of talking, material artifacts such as dress, communication devices etc.  We can think of generational cultures as similar to ethnic cultures such as the cultures of African Americans, Latinos or Appalachian whites.  She argued that just as there are workshops to help Church people become more sensitive to the cultures of various ethnic groups – to learn their language, to appreciate their values, to look at American society through their eyes, so must the Church make similar efforts to learn about generational cultures. 

She also highlighted that if Catholic Millennials and Gen Xers are to lead the Church to new unity and reconciliation that is a source of life for the Church in the future, they need the help of those of us in the Church who are older, who soon will be passing the leadership on to them.  To do this, she suggested that at a minimum parishes and religious communities should arrange regular times/places where the various generations can engage in the kind of story-telling they need in order to understand each other and that  Gen X and Millennial Catholic should be given positions of leadership and responsibility in our parishes and religious institutes.