Tag Archives: Catholic Sisters

Being the presence of love

This past week at the LCWR was awe and wonder filled as close to 700 elected leaders of women’s congregations explored what it means to be the presence of love in our weary world. I am still processing and finding words for the experience.

We used the practice of contemplative dialogue throughout our days. I was invited into the privilege of being one of the designated listeners who paid attention to the movement of the spirit and the wisdom emerging among us.

On Friday, we began our last day with a converation on the stage amkng four of my age peers in leadership. After their sharing, some of the listeners were invited to reflect. This is what I shared as a reflection on what I was hearing and noticing.
We are called to conspire together to disrupt the narrative of diminishment and witness to the emerging narrative of communion.

We are called to widen and overlap our circles, to be BIG together just as we become smaller diverse parts of the holy whole:

… living God’s dream, singing God’s song of love in our hearts, in OUR heart, for the sake of the world

… to be good news in a world longing to hear even the faintest whisper of inclusive love, extravagant love, fierce and diverse love, transformative love.

We are called to be present and accountable to love and each other.

In Memory: Sister Joan

I have just returned to the States after a visit to our CSJP community in the UK. One of the sisters I was pleased to have the opportunity to spend time with during my visit with was Sister Joan Ward. This morning, I heard that Sister Joan passed away in the early hours today.

IMG_2408I first met Joan when I was a novice spending four months with our community in England. Sister Alexine, who I lived with in London, arranged for the two of us to spend several weekends travelling about with Joan who was an expert in our Congregation’s founding story.  In fact, here is a picture that Alexine took of Joan and myself at the grave side of our founder Margaret Anna Cusack (Mother Francis Clare) in Leamington Spa on one of those weekend pilgrimages. (I wrote about this particular 2007 pilgrimage trip on my old blog –you can still read that post.)

Joan was a dedicated researcher who cherished the story of our founders and early community. I myself will always cherish those special weekends. Joan, Alexine and I went to Grimsby on the east cost of England where our first sisters ministered with the poor. I will never forget going to the Grimsby library with Joan and looking at original census records that listed our early sisters. (In fact, thanks to the way back machine which is my old blog, I have also recorded that experience for posterity!)

In addition to being a community historian, Joan was a dedicated community member. In her younger days she was novice mistress. She was dearly loved across the congregation and so committed to our mission. We had our community assembly in the UK this past Saturday, and Joan was there, attentive and present to our conversations about the vitality of religious life.

I had dinner with Joan this past Sunday. We talked about religious life and our congregation and vocations.  “I don’t worry about vocations,” Joan said. “I never really have. It is all in God’s hands.”  Given that one of my roles these days is as congregation vocation director, and given that my thoughts are often preoccupied with vocations, I took Joan’s hand and said to her:  “Joan, I need you to do something for me. Please pray for me, in my role as vocation director, that I don’t worry about vocations.” She promised me that she would indeed pray for me, and I have absolutely no doubt that she will.

Rest in peace Joan. I am so grateful that I had the chance to get to know you. You have been such a tremendous gift to our congregation! Please pray for us and for those who God will send our way as future Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Sister Anastasia’s advice to the “younger sisters”

We have a tradition in our congregation known as “Lest We Forget” … A book with the obituaries of all the Sisters who have gone before us since our founding, organized by their day of death. Reading about different women each day who lived as Sisters of St Joseph of Peace is a marvelous way of soaking in our history and charism as witnessed by their lives.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Sister Anastasia Daigle, a Sister I never knew but certainly have heard a lot about. She entered in 1925 and went home to God in 2002 at he age of 99 years. As an older retired Sister, she started a ministry to people who were homeless on First Avenue in downtown Seattle. “I’m a beggar and I don’t mind begging for the poor.”

Reading about her this morning, I was really touched by this advice she gave to the “younger sisters” on the occasion of her 60th Jubilee:

“Give your whole self to God … Don’t hold back. Take each day at a time and trust. Let God do in you what needs to be done. If you love enough you can put up with a whole lot.”

Wise words to pray about and live into.

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.

Securing Peace: Global Sisters Report

My latest Global Sisters Report column has been posted, in which I try to weave together my Congregation’s founding story, the violence and suffering of today, with some inspiration I received from Pope Francis and our Sisters in the UK, not to mention Gandhi’s 82 year old grandson.

In the 131 years since my congregation was founded, the human family has faced two world wars and the onset of the global war on terror. We have developed the capacity to destroy all of God’s creation countless times over with nuclear weapons. Human communities have suffered through more than250 armed conflicts across the globe since 1945, and civilians now make up the majority of the causalities of war, with some estimates as high as 90 percent. Then, of course, there is the ugly reality of gun violence in our own nation, a reality which only seems to seep into our collective consciousness briefly in the face of tragedies such as the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

Last week I found myself holding all of this in prayer as I sat in St. Barnabas Cathedral in Nottingham, England, where our first sisters professed their vows in 1884. I could not help but reflect anew on Bishop Bagshawe’s words then to our first sisters (“To secure this divine peace for ourselves and procure its blessings for others in the midst of the sin, turmoil and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.”) . I wondered: What would he make of the sin, turmoil and restless anxiety of our contemporary world which gives rise to such violence? One thing is certain — there continues to be an urgent need for faithful witnesses to peace, compassion and nonviolence today.

Visit Global Sisters Report to read the whole thing.

Peace vigil at the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland with my CSJP Sisters, some new Catholic worker friends, and Arun Gandhi
Peace vigil at the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland with my CSJP Sisters, some new Catholic worker friends, and Arun Gandhi

Giving Voice to the Present

11879284_661461130208_6962448000023459600_oI am fresh off four days of laughter, prayer, and meaningful conversations with 70 other younger Catholic Sisters at the national Giving Voice gathering.  Giving Voice is a grassroots peer-led network of younger women religious.  The mission of Giving Voice is to “create spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.”

We gathered in Kansas around the theme “Crossing Boundaries in Religious Life.”  We heard challenging words from our conference speakers, Sisters Sophia Park, SNJM and Teresa Maya, CCVI. Our peer GV leaders created a space where we could be present in the moment, an emerging theme of the days.  We are living religious life with our elders as we let go of what was, and we are often looked upon as the future of religious life.  These days together helped us to remember that we are also the present of religious life.  We have touched the religious life that was, and we are building the bridge to the future.  Yet we cannot forget that we are also the present.  We are here now, called by the love of God to join in prayer, ministry, and service to the Gospel and God’s people in need.

CSJPs at GV!
CSJPs at GV! (with St. Joseph of course)

It was a joy to reconnect with old friends and to make new ones.  It was also wonderful to be there with two other CSJP Sisters to share the experience. This was also the first Giving Voice conference in many years that I did not help plan. I had no jobs and was able just to come and be present and enjoy the light, laughter, and love of my peers.  There were also five of us at the gathering who have stepped into the ministry of leadership for our Congregation. This was yet another gift of Giving Voice in my life, to have time to process and connect with peers in the midst of a similar life changing experience.

We were a beautiful embodiment of God’s diversity, coming from different congregations and parts of the country/world.  While more than 90% of US Catholic Sisters are white, we are representative of the diversity of the US church. At one point of the speakers asked how many present were born in another country to raise their hand … almost half of the room raised their hands!  What was perhaps most beautiful to me was how comfortable we are with each other. We laughed and shared, and laughed some more.  We had fun and we had poignant moments and we were present to each other.  And that, my friends, is pure gift and food for the journey.

A Rose by any name

srrosefrancoisI was thinking this morning of Sister Rose Francois, FSPA, my great-great aunt. My friend Julia is making final profession today as an FSPA Sister.  But I’ve also just found myself thinking more and more of Sister Rose of late, even though of course she’s not a person I ever knew.

Sister Rose was born Elizabeth Francois in Weiskirchen, Germany (then Prussia) in 1842. She emigrated to the United States as a toddler with her father, my great-grandfather Peter Francois and his new wife.  The family settled in Wisconsin where they continued the family tradition of farming and the family grew. Their youngest child, my grandfather Joseph Francois, was born in 1852.

Five years later, at the ripe old age of 15, Elizabeth joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin.  Thanks to the efforts of my father and brother to gather our family history, I have a copy of her file from the community archivist.  Sister Rose was really one of their pioneer Sisters, joining the community a mere eight years after the first Sisters arrived in Wisconsin from Bavaria.

According to her obituary, she held many positions of responsibility in the new Congregation. Shortly after professing first vows she was named superior of St. Ameliana’s Orphanage. She was Novice Mistress, and in 1865 (at the age of 23 and after just eight years after entering the community), she was elected Assistant to the Mother General, a position she held for a total of 32 and 1/2 years!

So perhaps by now it is obvious why I feel a growing connection with Sister Rose, especially given that I was recently elected to the leadership team of my religious congregation about eight years after I entered.  There’s also another twist … family lore has always held that my middle name (Rose) is after my mother’s Aunt Rose and my Dad’s great-aunt Sister Rose, so she’s always been on my radar.  In any case, I’ve found myself thinking of her from time to time, as a spiritual companion of sorts on my own journey and adventures in leadership.  According to her obituary:

“Everyone felt at home and secure with her, for she was sincerely humble and approachable.  She always regarded failures that occurred from the best side and was indulgent in reprimanding.  It is evident that the good Lord directed her on the thorny path of life, but who ever saw her discouraged or dejected? It was just such equanimity in the most difficult situations that made Archbishop [Michael] Heiss of blessed memory, founder of our community, say: ‘One never knew when anything went crosswise with Sister Rose, she looked always the same. That was the characteristic trend of her life.”

Sister Rose was also administrator of St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse for 20 years.  Her obituary in the local newspaper had this to say:

“The predominant unity and progress in this institution is due to a great extent to her indefatigable activity. She worked faithfully and zealously in the service of the sick, was outstanding for her peaceful disposition and her vivacious congeniality.With exceptional skill she directed the administration of the hospital, and it won’t be easy to replace her.”

St Francis Hospital was also the setting for perhaps the most touching episode I read in her file, when her father (my great-grandfather) died in her arms:

“Mr. Francois  who was suffering for several days happily expired at 4:30 PM. About three o’clock he began to fail rapidly. Father Rheinhardt was sent for, he said the prayers for the dying. Mr. Francois answered the prayers with great fervor, then sat up to recover breath, in a few minutes he was supported by Sister Assistant (Sister Rose) and died in her arms. Rev. Mother and several sisters were present. Funeral will be Saturday.”

I must make the trip to La Crosse some day, both to visit some younger Sister friends I have there and to visit the cemetary.  Apparently both Sister Rose and my great-grandfather are buried there, my great-grandfather in an unmarked grave and Sister Rose beneath a tall monument to her memory.

As for today, I send my prayers and support to my friend Julia, and I ask Sister Rose to pray for her and to pray for me on our journeys as women religious.

Sister Marie Paula – In Memory

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Sister Marie Paula listening

Sister Marie Paula went home to her loving God yesterday, just a little more than a month shy of reaching 98 years of age. She was one of the first CSJP Sisters I met in the east on a visit I made to check out the lay of the land before I entered the novitiate.

I will never forget her delight at meeting one of the “postulants from the west.” I can still picture that first encounter in my mind’s eye. It was in the chapel of Villa Marie Claire, where she was living and which is now used as a hospice. She told me that she had been praying for me. This is not an unusual statement, given the context, but then she pulled a picture out of her pocket. It was a picture of me with the other candidates who were set to enter the novitiate. She was carrying us in her pocket as she prayed for us, literally holding us in prayer.

A few weeks ago I had a good visit with her in her room in the infirmary. She was now on hospice herself  at the end of a life of prayer and loving service. I told her this story, and that I felt like she had literally prayed me into the congregation. I then told her that when she got to the other side, she had a lot of work to do praying for the new sisters who have not yet come. They needed her prayers too. She got very animated and talked about the joy of a life lived in community serving the Lord. She was alive right up until the end with the love of God and love for our CSJP community.

I love this picture of Sister Marie Paula. It was taken in March at our community assembly which was focused on future oriented conversations about mission.  There she is, leaning in, actively listening. For me it is a perfect portrait of an amazing, authentic, and animated woman of peace.

We will say goodbye to Sister Marie Paula this week. We will celebrate her life and remember the gift she was to our community, church, and world.  I have no doubt that she will be leaning in from her new home, listening to all that is going on, and praying fervently for our community, our  mission of peace, and the sisters yet to to come.

Margaret Anna Fridays – Founder’s Day Edition

Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)
Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)

Today is one of our CSJP Community Feast Days – Founders Day. On this day in 1899 our founder, Margaret Anna Cuasck (known in religion as Mother Francis Clare) went home to God.  Periodically on Fridays I share some words of wisdom from her here on the blog.  She was a prolific writer in her day, writing lives of the saints, spiritual works, histories, and social reform.  Under the inspiration of the Spirit, she also founded our Congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, to promote peace in family life, in the church, and in society.

On this Founders Day, I share an excerpt from The Nun of Kenmare, her autobiography, in which she recounts her audience with Pope Leo XIII on the founding of the new order, St. Joseph’s Sisters of Peace:

My audience [with Pope Leo XIII] was entirely private, as I did not require an interpreter. Mgr. Macchi brought in the whole set of my books to his holiness, who looked at them, I think somewhat surprised at the number. Some of them were duplicated, having been translated into German, French, and Italian. …

His holiness specially commended the plan of my new order, and encouraged me in every way to continue writing. He gave his blessing to all the sisters present and to come, and to all those who would contribute to my work. I cannot forget his paternal and affectionate kindness, and the sympathy he expressed for the troubles I had gone through. My last audience was a public one, and at this the Holy Father noticed me specially, and spoke to those who were standing around, explaining to them in a few words that we were Sisters of Peace, and the object of our work.
~M. F. Cusack, The Nun of Kenmare, 1889

If you’d like to learn more about Mother Fracnis Clare, here are a few places to start:

Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones

GlobalSistersReportMy latest contribution to the larger conversation has been posted on Global Sisters Report: Nuns and Nones.  It’s a snapshot of my musings on some of the recent reports and happenings in the world of religion, namely the Pew Report documenting the rise of the “nones” – the 56 million americans who claim no religious affiliation – and the interest in the future of nuns.

In a society where the numbers of nones are on the rise, the number of nuns is declining. I believe it is possible to view the dynamic forces behind both trends as part of the same rapidly changing landscape of religious life and shared socio-political context of increasing inequality, poverty, violence and environmental destruction. This trend and shifting landscape also apply to the wider church, especially given that the numer of U.S. Catholics is also declining according to the Pew research.

This raises a number of questions for me. First of all, the attention paid to Catholic Sisters, combined with the not insignificant efforts to help ensure our future, make me think that somehow it matters that we are present in the church and society. But are we merely symbolic figures, or is the way we engage the signs of the times and live the Gospel of some relevance and importance beyond ourselves? If so, how can we remain relevant and engaged in the larger questions of meaning and justice in the context of a society which increasingly eschews religion? If I do not want to be limited or defined by popular culture images or stereotypes of nuns, how does my life of ministry and prayer lived in community witness to the Gospel in a sea of growing inequality and indifference?

Read the whole column over at Global Sisters Report