Today is the 95th anniversary of the death of Mother Evangelista (born Honoria Gaffney), one of the founding Sisters of the Congregation of the Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. Evangelista was one of the first Sisters to take vows in the new congregation on January 7, 1884 – the date we claim as our founding date and celebrate as our Community Day of Thanksgiving.
When her dear friend Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack) was forced to leave the community due to conflicts with the church hierarchy, Evangelista became the first Mother General. Her strong leadership helped the community not only to survive, but to thrive. She ministered in all three present day regions of the Congregation.
Part of her strength, it seems, was her humility and faithfulness. Take for example this excerpt from our Lest We Forget book:
To our Sisters she left a wonderful example of sincere humility, generosity, charity and loyalty–all through her life she was loyal to Mother Clare. On one occasion Mother Evangelista confided to a close friend: ‘of course I know our good Mother’s limitations, but nevertheless she has always been a loving and kind Religious. … Her principal difficulty lies in wanting to make reforms before people are ready to accept them. Of necessity, progress must be slow.
There is deep wisdom there. Unlike Mother Clare, Evangelista was not a prolific writer. But the words that she does leave us are worthy of much reflection. Take, for example, her retreat notes from 1897:
Here then is Jesus’ will–that I be poor in spirit, be meek, that I mourn when God is offended, that I hunger and thirst after justice, that I be merciful, that I be pure of heart, that I be a peace-maker and that I may suffer persecution for justice sake. Take these two beatitudes, two and two, and I have the whole retreat in a nut shell.
Her simple words, written on retreat, are imbued with our community’s charism and the needs of the world and church.
When I was a candidate, I ran across another quote from Evangelista somewhere. I think perhaps it was shared during a community retreat, or I made have read it. In any case, it is something I have carried with me during my time in community and return to again and again. On this anniversary of Mother Evangelista’s passing, I pass these words of wisdom on to you as something to ponder and act upon as you see fit.
What we will do will follow what we are … humility is the truth about ourselves. Empty yourself of yourself and you will find God.