Go Be Light … Sister Jeanne Keaveny

Jeanne (left) and Dorothy deeply engage at a community meeting in 2008
Jeanne (left) and Dorothy deeply engaged in conversation at a community meeting in 2008

Our CSJP community is saying goodbye to one of our shining lights this week. Jeanne Celeste Keaveny, CSJP passed away last Thursday at the age of 95. She entered the Congregation from Ireland in 1936 and ministered as an educator in New Jersey and California before being asked to step into the ministry of leadership in 1964.  She served as provincial of our eastern province until 1968.

Those were of course tumultuous years, but also years of great hope and energy. When I met Jeanne in 2006 during my novitiate, her eyes still shone brightly when she talked of the hope and promise of the Second Vatican Council, and the work that was still to be done. She was interested and engaged in social justice issues, geo-politics, and the future of religious life.  Her bookshelf always flabbergasted me, filled to the brim a it was with Ilia Delio and Teillhard de Chardin and Diarmud O’Murchu, to name a few.

It is next to impossible to describe Jeanne, let alone what she meant to me personally. She and her dear friend Sister Dorothy Vidulich were a dynamic duo who played an important role during my early years of formation.  When I moved to New Jersey in 2006 to start my novitiate, they had recently moved into the retirement community next door after many years in Washington, D.C. Jeanne’s room was an oasis of lively and engaging conversation on many an occasion. When it was hard to see beyond the little things of the novitiate experience that seemed so big, I knew that I could head next door to visit Jeanne and Dorothy for a dash of perspective and inspiration.  They were always so gracious, not to mention intellectually stimulating. We would talk about the state of the world, the church, the cosmos, the community … you name it!  As I wrote on my old blog after Dorothy’s passing in 2012, they “were incredible mentors to me and my novitiate classmates in our early months of formation, true kindred spirits and role models who journeyed with us through challenges that in retrospect seem small but at the time almost insurmountable.”

Jeanne continued to be a friend and mentor to me. When I was in New Jersey last summer to attend the discernment retreat for sisters invited to leave their name in for leadership, I had some key conversations with her that helped me see that maybe my gifts were needed at this time. In the past ten months since I began to serve in the ministry of leadership, I have had the pleasure of many conversations with Jeanne. She continued to be a shining light for me, helping me to gain some necessary perspective while also holding fast to the vision, promise, and call of our charism of peace.  For example, I found this little exchange documented in my journal from this past March:

Me: I have no idea what I am doing Jeanne.

Jeanne: Good. You never really will. That means you’re where you should be, in the chaos.

On that particular day, that was exactly what I needed to hear!

In the end,  Jeanne was ready to go, and I am so happy for her that she has passed over to the other side, where she is in the company of her loving God, family, community, and friends who have gone before.  She went quickly in the end, but I was lucky enough to spend some good quality time with her during her last days.  In a way, being able to sit with her during her final journey was yet another gift of mentorship that she gave to me, teaching me how to simply be present when that is what the moment calls for.

As I was sitting with her the day she died, I found myself thinking of all the reading she had done and the conversations we’d had about the universe and the cosmos and God.  I found myself thinking, “Don’t be afraid Jeanne … just go be light.”  And so that’s what I told her, and that’s what she is, and that’s what she will always be to me, a shining light in love and memory.

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