Tag Archives: csjp history

Travelling Grace

FairhavenFrom our founding years, my religious congregation has been geographically spread across wide distances.  In January 1884 we were founded in the Diocese of Nottingham, England.  By November 1884 our sisters had expanded to serve immigrant Irish women and the visually impaired in the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey across the pond.  And by 1890 our pioneer sisters were invited to the Pacific Northwest to open a hospital which would serve the mining and timber communities in Bellingham, Washington.

 

On one of my last whirlwind trips from New Jersey to Seattle, one of those squeezed between commitments on opposite coasts with barely a moment to breathe, I found myself lamenting the fact that our three centers are 3,000 miles apart from each other.  As an elected leader who wants (and needs) to spend time with our sisters and associates in all three regions of our Congregation, I was tired in that moment.

But as I sat there complaining, I reaching an aha moment of wonder.  I don’t have to take a train or a boat or send telegrams or letters that must also travel by train and boat.  I can make a phone call or send an email or even better meet with one of my UK sisters via video conferencing and take a six or eight hour flight and physically be present with my CSJP sisters and associates.  We are so connected as a CSJP family, even across the miles, … pure grace!

There is of course the physical and mental wear and tear of travel, made more complicated by our security responses to a wounded and weary world. I have become a wee bit obsessed with effective packing and the benefits of quality luggage … packing cubes being my latest discovery!  I’m now trying to be more intentional about bringing what I need, and no more, while still looking presentable.  Then there’s the effort to make sure you have your electronics and the files you need for x and y meeting.  It’s an effort, even with the benefit of modern airline travel.

But it is also sheer grace that, after I head on a plane this evening in the Newark airport, I will wake up tomorrow in Birmingham, England, just a short drive from our sisters in Leicestershire.  I will breathe in the air that our founders breathed.  I will rub shoulders and share tea with our UK sisters and associates.  I will experience their gracious hospitality, enjoy their warmth, and share my own presence.

Travelling grace indeed!

And as I prepare to travel to reconnect with my CSJP family, I think of and pray for families separated by miles. Those who are do not have the proper documentation to visit an ailing family member across the border.  Those forced to flee their homes in the dead of night after a drone attack or bombing.  Those who leave family and seek to find a job in a foreign land to be able to send money home.  So many families, separated by the miles.  So much to be grateful for, so much to pray for, in our human family.

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.

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

Seeking peace in this modern world

Margaret Anna Cusack, known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, founded the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace to promote peace in family life, in the church, and in society.  I often pray with what Bishop Bagshawe, who supported the new community, said at the profession of the first Sisters in 1884:

“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.”

No small task, this mission of peace that Jesus speaks of in the Gospels.

And 131 years later, what would Bagshawe make of the sin, turmoil, and restless anxiety of our early 21st century. In some ways we are more familiar, too familiar with it, brought into our lives as it is each day through television screens and Facebook feeds. We look, we see, we are moved … And then what? To what end?

Fourteen years ago many of us woke up to sheer terror on our television screens, watching planes crash into towers of glass and steel, knowing that human beings were inside them.

Fourteen years ago in response to terror, we launched our wars on terror. Wars beget wars. Suffering builds on suffering. And our sisters and brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan and now Syria are caught in the mess, striving to live lives of laughter and love in peace.

Fourteen years ago today I became a peace activist, reorienting my personal life and mission. It is good to be reminded of that as I go into this day. How can I be a peaceful presence with those I meet today? Where are my opportunities to influence policies and practices that promote peace? How am I called to conversion in my own heart, my own way of being in this world?

In the midst of sin, turmoil and restless anxiety, I am called to hold fast to the vision and mission of peace, in the company of other people of peace. I have to believe that even that makes a difference.

Mother Evangelista – Wisdom and Faithfulness

evangelistaToday 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.

Peace.

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:

Margaret Anna Fridays – Example of Humility

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

Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day.  She wrote lives of the saints, spiritual works, histories, and social reform. I find great inspiration in her life’s word and work. Here’s a little tidbit from her 1876 book, Advice to Irish Girls in America.

The world gives us the example of pride; our dear Saviour Jesus Christ gives us the example of humility.  My children, we must take our choice, we must follow the example which the world gives us of pride, or the example which Jesus gives us of humility.

This day in the history of the US, my family, and me!

meGrandadOn this day 2016 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was born.

On this day, 113 years ago, my grandfather Ludwig Lincoln Schmelzer was born. Yes, his middle name was given to him by his German immigrant parents to honor the illustrious day of his birth in their new country.

On this day 10 years ago, I made the first official step toward becoming a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and became a pre-candidate. From the way back machine that is my old blog:

Long story short, my discernment has reached the point where it’s time to start discerning whether I’m called to religious life in the context of a particular community. And there’s something about this group of fun dedicated women, working for justice and to spread the gospel of peace. Whereas every Star Wars book and movie has the line, “I have a bad feeling about this,” I can honestly say I have a very GOOD feeling about this. There’s just something about the groovy csjp sisters. Helps me make much more sense of what God might be calling me to.

Ten years later, of course the story continues, in new and interesting ways as I embark on month two of my adventure in elected leadership. Every day confirms what I knew then, that there is something about this group of fun dediated women, working for justice and to spread the gospel of peace. I feel privileged to be part of the mix, and indeed the past ten years has shown me that it is as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace that I can become the me God dreams I can be.

The picture is of me with my grandfather on my 4th birthday. My grandparents were a special part of my early years, and lived with us for many years. He had a scratchy beard and a big heart. Happy birthday granddad!

Margaret Anna Fridays – Poverty

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

Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day. Happily, thanks to public domain and the many internet book projects, much of her writing is now available online.  She was a woman of her time and yet, ahead of her time in many ways.

“We are, then, put face to face with the great fact of Poverty, we are put face to face with the certain consequences of the continuance of such a condition of things, and if we have one spark of humanity we are put face to face with the question, What can we do personally and individually to lessen poverty, if we cannot abolish it?”

~The Question of Today: Anti-Poverty & Progress (1887) by M.F. Cusack