Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Charity Moving Forward

Over the weekend several members of the Future of Charity group joined about 50 other Sisters from the SC Federation to participate in the 2017 Charity Moving Forward gathering.  Taking place every two to three years, Charity Moving Forward (formerly known as 1970s and Beyond) is for Sisters in the SC Federation who entered between 1970 and present day as well as for those women who are currently in initial formation or serious discernment.  Gatherings offer the opportunity to meet each other, to network and build relationships, to reflect upon and discuss important themes, and to dream about the future of religious life together.

This year the gathering was hosted by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill on their motherhouse grounds in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.  The theme was "Our Charity Charism within a Living Cosmology;" and guiding the group in prayer, reflection, and conversation was Maureen Wild, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, Canada.

Future of Charity members and wisdom figures who attended
the 2017 Charity Moving Forward gathering.

We thank the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill for their wonderful hospitality, the members of the planning committee for their work in preparing the gathering, our presenter for sharing her knowledge and passion with us, and all the Sisters who participated for helping to make a fun, engaging, and memorable weekend!

Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Vocation of Location and the Presents of Presence

By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Andrea

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

I grew up with several family members who were Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.  The one that was a regular part of my life as long as I can remember was my dad’s sister, my Aunt Jane. We became very close as I grew up, and I visited her in person whenever I came home from South Carolina. She was bedridden the last several years of her life and I phoned her every Sunday I could while I was away. Known in community as Sr. Mary Joseph, she was a brilliant woman who wanted to be a medical missionary. She was told by the superior at the time of her entrance (around 1940) that as soon as the Vatican granted permission she would be allowed to study medicine and pursue her call. That never happened for her and she spent her life teaching high school science instead. That was a great disappointment to her, and it took her whole life to come to peace with it, and to recognize the grace it provided. I was the lucky recipient of the wisdom her life had taught her. As I entered into discernment about religious life, she shared a nugget with me that I find guiding my life especially now.

Aunt Jane, or Sr. Mary Joseph
She had had a bad spell and thought that she surely was going home to God, but she rebounded and was rather disappointed to find herself back among the living. She said to me, “I wonder why God doesn’t want me yet. He has taken so many others, but not me.” The she told me that she spent a great deal of her life thinking that God had a big job for her to do, and anxious that she couldn’t figure out what it was. She finally came to understand that she would probably never know what that purpose was, but that it wasn’t a big thing like she had thought. It could have been something very small, something so small that she wouldn’t even think it was important. It could have been something as simple as a smile or a kind word to someone who desperately needed to be acknowledged and treated with kindness. That little gesture might have changed the course of their day, or maybe even their life. It could have rippled out beyond that person and affected untold others. She came to peace that whatever it was was not hers to know, and to trust that by putting herself at God’s service, God had used her for good.

As Sr. Tracy and I discerned the elements of religious life we wanted to incorporate into community living in Visitation House (the local house we started after first profession of vows), this wisdom of Aunt Jane’s translated into a sort of “vocation of location.” We wanted to live in a neighborhood in need where we know we won’t likely be able to make dramatic changes, but hope that our loving presence might make a difference. As sisters Annie Klapheke and Louise Lears joined us, we were provided with an opportunity to do just that. Two other sisters in the community had made it their special project to find us a suitable home and successfully persuaded a local developer to purchase a large old Victorian that he would rent to us.

Visitation House community (from left to right):
Annie, Louise, Tracy, and Andrea
We had no idea just how needy our new home in East Price Hill really would be. We have seen children waging rock-throwing campaigns at passing motorists and pedestrians, alcoholics passed out on the sidewalk and addicts barely able to stay on their feet. We often hear violent domestic disputes and street gangs fighting, and frequent gunshots against the backdrop of sirens. Though the description sounds pretty awful, there are some wonderful things as well and we are happy to be here. We may not be able to fix all the problems at this urban margin, but we are beginning to see ways to honor this vocation of location.

If you read Annie’s last blog, you already know about the woman she called “Sharon.” As I started to hand her a few dollars for food, I knew it was one of the opportunities that we were hoping for, and sat down next to her. As I listened to the horrible story of her life, I ached with her need and my helplessness. All I could do was just be there. At one point she turned her head away from me and said, “You make me cry.” I had heard a lot to cry about and wondered what I could be doing to compare and asked her why. She said, “’Cause you look at me like you care.” I told her I did care and how hard it was to see her in such pain. I told her that I believe that we are all sisters and brothers so when one of us is hurting, we all hurt. She asked for a hug and then headed down the street to get her “stuff” with a promise that she would return to the rehab center the next day.

I hope Sharon felt God’s embrace when I hugged her. I know I did, and though I was worried for her I marveled at the deep-down joy I felt at being granted the supreme privilege of seeing Sharon through God’s eyes and being God’s arms to hold her at a moment when that meant more to her than the money she got from me. What a gift!

As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that the “presents of presence” are just as generously showered on the giver as they are on the receiver, and many memories of those graced occasions came to me.

Sr. Kateri (on the left)
One of the most vivid memories was of a day not too long ago that I would describe as a pretty bad day for me. I had been with my cousin, Sr. Kateri as she received the news that she had terminal cancer. After staying with her a few hours, she was ready for a rest and I went downtown to work. I stopped to get something to eat and was met at the front door by a guy selling the publication produced by the Homeless Coalition to help people try to earn a little income. My heart was already broken wide open and I think I was still a little dazed at what was happening, so when he said, “Hey, little sister, will you help me out and buy a paper?” I didn’t think I had the energy to stop and talk with him. But I did, and am now convinced that God put him there just for me. His name is Andre; he only has a few teeth left, and obviously suffers from very poor health. But that man knows his Bible, and he was soon preaching about God’s love and saying things I really needed to hear. He likes to ask theological questions, and we had a great conversation sharing our favorite passages affirming the breadth and depth of God’s unfathomable, ever faithful, ever present love. Then Andre asked my sign, but before I could answer, he said, “Don’t tell me! I know! You’re an Aries!” I smiled in acknowledgement as he proceeded to tell me all about myself with pretty amazing accuracy. “You’ve got a tongue of fire hovering your head and your spirit is a fiery one! That passion gets you into trouble sometimes but you’re learning how to tame it without putting it out. Yah, you get it little sister! Amen!”

receiving the presents of being present
When I told him I didn’t have any cash for a paper, he said he’d take a sandwich from the shop instead. I took his order (three bean and cheese burritos and a quart of 2% milk). He had found someone else to preach to when I came out with his lunch, so I set it down next to him and gave him a quick hug. As I walked away towards my car, he hollered out in his big booming voice, “You sure are sweet, child of God!” I was grinning from ear to ear, knowing I had just a chat with God. In being intentional about being present to this homeless man, reduced to begging people for help, I had received the present of knowing God was right there with me and was strengthened for what lie ahead.

Receiving the presents of being present is as easy as practicing the vocation of location. Do it wherever you are in whatever way you can. It may not seem like anything earthshaking or significant, but it can mean the world to someone in need. And you will receive the greatest gifts of all!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mininka Mininka Waye So Dawaw

By S. Romina Sapinoso, SC Federation Canonical Novice

      Click HERE to learn more about Romina

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Intisan and her sister enjoy the view of the Ohio River.
Intisan finally stood up from her chair and walked over in the direction of the area where her younger sister, Fatuma and I were waiting. We were at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Sharonville, Ohio and Intisan just finished her third attempt at the knowledge test to obtain a driving permit. She has always been an achiever having received numerous awards and praises year after year from the school she and her siblings attended for six years in the refugee camp in Ethiopia. It was no different during their last four years before coming to the United States. They lived in Adis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, where Intisan excelled in her work as a computer teacher. As a model student and a high achiever, it was a huge disappointment and a cloud over her head to experience failure on her first two tries at this test. I tried to console her by telling her how many native English speakers fail several times before finally obtaining their permit. She is still learning English and has only been in the States for over a month. Intisan welcomed my attempts at trying to cheer her up but knowing how much her family depended on her to succeed at this next step weighed her spirits down. It was difficult to tell if she was successful this time. As she walked towards the officer at the counter, her eyes met ours and a smile slowly formed across her lips. She nodded to let us know that she did it. She passed.

Intisan is the oldest daughter of Osman and Nima. She and her family are Somali refugees who recently arrived in the US this year. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio in Cincinnati had a difficult time finding a house large enough to accommodate the 11 members of their family on short notice. The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati had several houses on the mother house grounds and one of them was empty at the time of the family’s arrival. After some back and forth to make arrangements, the leadership of our congregation was able to offer as temporary living space the house next to the novitiate house where I live until more permanent housing could be found. And just like that, Intisan’s family and the Sisters of Charity became neighbors.

Somali tea and sweets for the afternoon.
Pretty soon, afternoon tea and sampling a variety of “sweets” and delicious Somali food became a regular occurrence between myself and our new neighbors. I readily took to tea with cardamom and Somali sweets such as shushumow, balbalow, dorsho, and kashato. On my birthday, they were my special guests and I cooked them Filipino noodles called pancit with careful efforts to use halal chicken - meat prepared in a manner that adheres to Islamic law as prescribed in the Koran. Sharing food was always a delightful experience. But even more beautiful were the conversations that occurred during these sit-down meals. Breaking bread was the bridge to breaking open the stories and experiences we carried with us. They told me how worried they were about coming to America with very little money and with such a large family. The parents, Osman and Nima, are in their mid-forties and their nine children who were able to come including Intisan, range in age from 24 years old to the youngest who is eight. Two older sons are still in Somalia. Occupied by his worries about how he and his family will manage, Osman was happily surprised by the help and assistance they received shortly after arriving. IOM (International Organization for Migration) was at the Washington D.C. airport to meet them and Catholic Charities was in Cincinnati ready to receive them. Shortly after landing in Cincinnati, they were welcomed into their temporary home and met the Sisters of Charity. Osman’s initial worries and stresses began to fade.

Intisan who acts as the main translator for the family, echoed her father’s sentiments. “I was worried. Our case worker said there wasn’t any house [sic]. What do we do now? Where will we go? Oh my God, we were worried. My father was very worried.” She laughed as she recalled how they all felt a month earlier and how relieved they are now that it has all worked out.

As a birthday gift, Intisan's sister artfully designed
beautiful henna tattoo on my arms and hands.
Nima, Intisan’s mother, has strength and resilience belied by her easy smile. She has borne 11 children and her life has been far from easy. Her lack of English does not keep her from sharing the long, difficult journey her family experienced and the losses she endured. She talks about wanting her children to lead a different life than the one she has lived. Nima witnessed violence and lost loved ones. “It was hard. I experienced difficulties. I only want for my children to be educated and to be hard workers and to have a good life in the future. I am sure they will do more things. My dream became true. I can expect now to have a new life in America.” Despite the many trials, she remains animated and precocious. She is hysterical when she tries her hand at an English word to tell a joke or join in the conversation. One time, one of the sisters took four of the family members to shop for some clothes. Nima went with them and she eagerly showed me her bargains once she got home. There was a beautiful purse, a couple of dresses and finally, a leopard print pair of underwear that was way bigger than her size. The box showed it was an XXXL and there was at least one other box of the same. While not very successfully containing my amusement, I tried to ask her why in the world she would pick such huge underwear. Without waiting for her daughters to translate, she pointed and emphatically said in English, “Picture (of the model on the box)-- small!” We all laughed heartily at her explanation. That is true. Why would they have a picture of a model wearing a small underwear if that’s not what’s inside the box? She continued explaining what she would do with these pairs of underwear that were so huge, they could fit her and at least one of her daughters at the same time. She made the motion of using a sewing machine, “SIN-ger!” This woman definitely knows how to make lemonade out of lemons or better yet, several underwears out of one.

Osman and his children work on the garden they started
next to their temporary house.
Osman, the patriarch, is an excellent gardener, baker, and a man of more skills than I am aware of. His children affectionately call him “abba” and he displays the gentlest, kindest manner towards them. He always greets me with a handshake or a hug whenever I come over. Each time I visit, he tells me that I and the sisters are his family and how grateful he is for us. He taught me how to say “mesenith” (thank you), “ada mudan” (you’re welcome) and other Somali and Arabic words that I still need to memorize. Osman has many stories about his life in Somalia and Ethiopia including knowing Italian and Indian nuns that taught him and gave him candy after school. They wore black and brown habits and the little children called them “Sor.” He says the Sisters of Charity look a little different but their actions of helping are the same.

However, my favorite story that Osman shared was very telling of this gentle man’s character. Back at the Ethiopian refugee camp, a foreigner visited and watched him make bread and cookies in a clay oven. This small business provided a livelihood for Osman and his family in the refugee camp. The foreigner was from the Netherlands but spoke Somali. He took pictures of Osman doing his work and offered to help by giving him money to grow his business. Before agreeing to accept the offer, Osman had a very important question for the man. “You want to help me? Yes? Do you eat what I eat? Yes? That was a test because if he wants to help me, I should be able to help him too and share what I have with him. When he said yes, I prepared a meal and we ate together. (Only) then I could [sic] accept his help.” The dignity and integrity of this family shines through despite the difficult situations they have experienced. He reiterates this same principle of mutuality in talking about being in America, “My biggest dream has come true. So my family and I need to help others too and help the country I live in now. Whatever they need from me, I will (do my best to) help them.”
Sisters of Charity break the fast with Intisan's family on one
of the initial days of Ramadan this year.
While enjoying our conversation and tea on one of our many afternoons shared together, Intisan accidentally tipped over and spilled her drink. I reached out to help her stop the liquid from flowing and in the process might have expressed a little disappointment at her losing most of the drink she was enjoying so much. She responded to me and said, “It’s okay, Romina. It’s ker.” Puzzled, I looked at her waiting for more explanation about ker. She continued, “You cannot be sad about it. Allah gives and Allah can take away. Even when bad things happen, or you lose something, it is blessed, still good. It is ker.” I smiled as I recalled my own understanding of spiritual indifference and letting go. I later used “ker” to help Intisan see that failing the driving test could just be a possible learning experience. She smiled and appreciated the comment. Indeed, there is so much that this family and I share in common. Osman affirmed this, “Muslims and Christians, we are very similar. It is Love. Our religion says love each other.... welcoming [sic]... happiness. (Points) Look, there’s Muslim or there’s Christian... we don’t say that. We don’t discriminate. Peace and love (is what we teach), your (religion does) too. We love each other. Our God didn’t say hate each other but love each other. Many, many things is [sic] similar. I don’t see many differences. We also believe Ysa - Jesus, the prophets.  Jesus says don’t hate each other. Love each other. Also for Catholics, you welcome each other. When someone is sinning, forgive. Love your enemies too.”

Intisan and her family stayed with us for only a little over a month. In early May, Catholic Charities let us know that they finally found permanent housing for the family. I still regularly visit them at least once a week but we mutually miss the accessibility of being right next door to each other especially at four o’clock in the afternoon when it’s time for tea. A relative has recently gifted them with a car to use and Intisan is learning to drive and aiming to take the actual driving test soon. She knows what a help it would be to have at least one member of the family be able to operate a vehicle. Recently, four members of the family have also started working their first US jobs.
Colorful and delicious Somali rice to celebrate Eid al-Fitr
Photo courtesy of S. Tracy Kemme, SC

           On June 26, several of my sisters and I went to the family’s new home to join in their celebration of
Eid al-Fitr - the feast marking the end of Ramadan, the month-long religious practice of fasting and prayer for Muslims. We were greeted with warm hugs, smiles and more food than we can ever eat in a week. “Our family,” as the sisters are now accustomed to calling them, made us the feast of all feasts. On their special religious holiday, they prepared colorful rice, scrumptious chicken, a beautiful salad, and loads of sweets. As always, more stories were shared around the table. Our tummies were filled to the brim but our hearts even more as Osman and Nima both said to us in Somali, “Mininka mininka waye so dawaw.” Intisan translated for her parents, “Our home is your home. You are welcome here anytime.” Indeed, we are no longer strangers, not even just neighbors. Their family and their home have become our home. And we, the sisters, have become theirs.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Tragic Gap

By Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Annie

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

This past weekend, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and their Associates spent four days together in a communal retreat.  This sacred time of reflection was facilitated by Sr. Janet Mock, CSJ, who led us into thinking and praying deeply about our vows of poverty, obedience and chaste celibacy.  During our day of reflection on the vow of obedience, Sr. Janet challenged us to consider our call to stand in the ‘tragic gap’, a phrase coined by Parker Palmer, an author and activist for social change.  Sr. Janet offered us these words of Palmer for reflection:

“I think it’s pretty obvious to a lot of people that we live in very broken times; we live in times with lots and lots of gaps between the difficult realities of life and what we know to be possible humanly.  We know that we live in a world at war.  We also know that it is possible to live in peace…everyone would have their own example of what I’ve come to call these tragic gaps… One of the most important capacities [a person] can have is the capacity to stand in the tragic gap… It is not easy to live in this middle ground, in the space between what is and what could be…Standing in the tragic gap can be a heart-breaking experience.  But instead of breaking into pieces the heart can be broken open into larger capacity, new possibilities and more life-giving responses to the struggles of our times.”  (“Standing in the Tragic Gap, Parker J. Palmer).

In the days following our community retreat, some of my Sisters and I found ourselves standing in the tragic gap. 

Saturday afternoon, Sister Andrea was out watering the flowers in our yard when a disheveled-looking woman, I’ll give her the alias Sharon, approached asking for help.  She had recently come out of drug rehab and was now back on the streets and hungry.  Andrea took the time to sit on the front steps with Sharon and offer a compassionate listening ear.  They ended the conversation with an agreement that Sharon would return on Monday and Andrea would drive her to a rehab center. 

Monday came, and no sight of Sharon.

Tuesday evening there was a knock at the door.  Sharon was back, and lamenting the fact that she had not returned the previous day.  She had now been on the street for 7 days.  Myself and two other sisters from my community made her a sandwich and sat with her on our front porch.  Sharon admitted that she had used drugs earlier that day, but was desperate to get back into rehab.  We spent the next 45-60 minutes calling every homeless shelter and rehab center in city.  We repeatedly received automated recordings or responses of “no room available”.  There we sat in the tragic gap, between a woman reaching out for help, and nowhere to go.

It quickly became clear that Sharon may be in need of medical care as she was coming off her drug use.  We made the decision to take her to the hospital.  After a few hours in the ER, and several conversations with the nurse and social worker, we left Sharon in the capable hands of the ER staff and headed for home.  We called the hospital the next morning and were told that Sharon had been deemed medically stable, had been discharged, and they could offer us no other information.  With each passing day, I half expect to see Sharon reappear on our doorstep, but as of now, nothing.

I wish I had a happy ending to this story.  I wish I could say that standing in the tragic gap resulted in the closing of that tense space and brought Sharon the healing she needed.  But this is the reality of the tragic gap – even when we choose to remain there, most often the gap remains too. 

So what difference does it make?

Perhaps the gap was not changed, but I was.  When I hear news stories of addicts and overdoses, I will hear with compassion rather than judgment, bringing to mind Sharon’s face.  I will more strongly advocate for resources for emergency shelters…or better yet, resources for programs that aim to break the cycle of poverty and addiction. 

And I hope that Sharon was changed.  I hope that, for at least a few hours, she knew and felt that she was worthy of love and care, despite poor decisions and past mistakes. 

What tragic gaps do you see in the world around you?  Where are you standing?

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Shadow of the Kingdom where Dunkin’ Donuts are EVERYWHERE…

By Sr. Laura Coughlin, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Laura

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Next month I will be moving from Boston to Dayton, Ohio, to start a PhD at the University of Dayton.  My last few weeks before leaving have been spent trying to take one last, long, drink of Boston.  I’ve noted before on this blog my gratitude for this time of intellectual and personal enrichment.  In this post, I’d like to share my contemplation of this old American city’s greatness. 

These years were the first time in my adult life I’ve been without a car, not because my congregation isn’t generous about providing for my needs, but because it seemed that public transit here was more than sufficient for a rich and balanced life.  My first ride on the “T” was with my mother who was helping me with the move.  The driver saw that we were new in town, didn’t know quite what we were doing, and that my mom was getting up in years and had trouble with the steps.  He let us ride for free and gave us a big “welcome to Boston” smile.

That was perhaps my first experience of a public service professional building community in this large city that now feels to me like a big neighborhood.  There were other experiences that followed that one.  Once I watched an MBTA driver load an elderly homeless woman’s bags on the train.  Another time I observed a driver respond pleasantly to a lonely, but loquacious, woman who had parked herself in the first seat of the train.  I thought the driver and the woman were friends, but a few stops later the woman got off and told the driver how nice it was to have met her.  Then there was the time a policeman came out of Starbucks and said to the homeless man sitting in the alley, “hey buddy, how many creams and sugars do you want?  It’s not like Dunkin’ Donuts where they put the stuff in for ya.”  I once saw a postal worker cross a busy street to pick up a package from a woman who was waiting to catch a train to the post office.  He anticipated her need and saved her a trip.  She was both surprised and thankful.  I was glad to see his kindness, but I was not surprised because it measured up with my own experience of another postal worker who had carried all of my heavy boxes from his truck into my new residence in Boston.  His job didn’t obligate him to go the extra distance.  I have observed many other kindnesses here between and among people of diverse backgrounds, but the stories above suffice to make the point.

These stories reveal, I hope, the city’s living stones – those people who contribute to the vibrancy of an urban community, and to the attractiveness of people being together simply and in joy.  When I first moved here the bells and whistles of the train made me angry – “be QUIET!” I would think at 5 am when the first train rumbled by.  Now the noises of the city belong to a whole beautiful symphony of human beings who share space with one another in the ordinary traverse of a day.

Well, ok, it’s not always this perfect in Boston.  I guess these other things have also happened to me:

Happened today after they expressed a train. 

It’s true – the line for BC and BU has a gajillion stops.

I have exactly this kind of bad train karma in the way described above.

Yes, this happened in 2015 and the green line wasn’t working for a while.  So much snow.

But in all seriousness, I’ve loved it here – and the time I’ve spent “ridin’ the rails” gave me a perspective I didn’t have from a car.  Some final pictures of life in the city before moving on to my next adventure in Dayton…

Coffee and donuts after Mass?  Dunkin Donuts restaurants are EVERYWHERE here.  In this case, DD is located outside of an unusually placed Catholic chapel in the Prudential Center Mall.  The chapel is a mission of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, and I believe the Redemptorists also say Mass here.  The chapel is a great witness to Christ in a building that is beautifully architected, but mostly devoted to consumer habits. 

The city’s constant renovating stops for no one – not even for these serious fellows parked outside of beautiful Trinity Cathedral in Copley Square.  (I think the background figure is Jesus and the foreground figure is nineteenth century Episcopal preacher, Phillips Brooks).

I don’t really like mirrored buildings, but I like this one.  It’s always reflective of something interesting that God is doing “on high.”

This year is the centennial of JFK’s birth.  One site on my bucket list is the JFK Library.  I WILL GET THERE!

Honk if you love Karl Marx!  Yep, Boston is pretty liberal.

A lucky find on my way home from downtown the other day – Arlington Street Church (Unitarian) has sixteen large Tiffany windows.  This is a small detail from one. 

You can tour the windows for whatever you can afford, although they recommend $10.  Totally worth it.  All were beautiful and I even found the original of a small replica of a stained glass I was given as a gift by my brother, John, on the day I took first vows.  Exciting to see the original of something I’ve hung up as an expression of faith in every convent in which I’ve lived since then. 

The replica actually looks very close to the original (shown here).

Perhaps my favorite place in Boston is the Boston Public Library.  This is a detail from the ceiling in the main reading room.  I’d like to write another whole essay on how libraries bring a very diverse set of people together in a constructive way. 

And the best for last:

Beautiful Gasson Hall on main campus, as well as Simboli Hall, which houses the School of Theology and Ministry.

Thank you Jesuits, teachers, and friends, for everything you did for me at BC.  I have loved my time at the school and in Boston. 

Thank you Sisters of Charity for supporting this time – What a gift!

Thank you Jesus for giving religious men and women, and now many laypeople also, these opportunities to experience the adventure of Catholic Christianity so deeply and wonderfully with others.

And now it’s time for the next adventure!

UDayton, here I come!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Special Father's Day Post: Interview with the Dad of a Daughter-who-is-also-a-Sister

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

A few years ago, when I was keeping a blog as I discerned religious life, I interviewed my mom about her experience of being the mom-of-a-sister-in-training.  Almost five years later, in honor of Father’s Day, I decided to do the same with my dad.  There’s a lot of honesty in here, and yes, there are some #dadjokes.  Read on to get a sneak peek at what Dan Kemme thinks it’s like to be the dad of a daughter who is also a sister!

Tracy: Ok, dad, first questions: What was I like growing up? What did you think I would be when I got older, or what did you think I would do with my life?

Dad and I at the Reds' game
a few years ago.
(June 2014)
Dan:  Well, let’s see…You were a lively, happy, friendly child.  You weren’t shy at all; you always seemed to like people, especially as you got older.  When you were young, we used to joke that you would be a waitress when you grew up, because you were always pretending to take people’s orders at family parties.

As for the career I thought you’d follow, I’m not sure.  You were always smart and bright, so I thought you might pursue a profession like doctor or lawyer, maybe even engineer.  Then in high school you started to really like languages, so I thought you might do something with that. I thought you might be a teacher.  But, career aside, I always thought that you would grow up to get married and have kids.

T: So, since you always expected that, what was it like when you first learned that I might want to be a sister?  What did you think or feel initially?

D: I was a little surprised at the beginning.  I was confused as to why you would consider that life.  Yea…confused was the biggest thing.  And surprised that it was something you were seriously considering.  It seemed to me like it could be a lonely life, an isolated life, because you wouldn’t have that immediate family, you wouldn’t have a husband or kids.

T: What did you know or think about Sisters before I became one?

D: I hadn’t had much contact with sisters over the years; I did have a few in grade school up until 7th grade.  Overall, the sisters I knew in grade school had joined their congregations as teenagers, and some could honestly be mean and nasty, but not all the time.  When you were growing up, you had one sister for a teacher.  I remember that she was a nice lady, and you liked her.  Also, we had a nun at our parish for a while.  But yea, I didn’t know too many sisters.  Once you got out of college and were living in Texas, we got to know those sisters.  They and all the other ones we have met now seem to be friendly, happy, caring people.

T: What was it like watching me go through the process of becoming a sister?  Is there anything that sticks out as surprising, or difficult, or confusing, or good?

D: It wasn’t necessarily surprising. I had to learn about the process itself, because I didn’t know anything about it.  We talked about it with you but weren’t super involved in it.  I liked hearing about your classes and stuff.  And…oh, I guess there was one surprising thing! I was a little surprised when you were a novice and had to be home by a certain hour and were only allowed to have a few days away.  I know that’s a universal church rule for novitiates, but it seems more appropriate for teenagers maybe.  For young adults entering, and especially for adults like Andrea who had previously made a life for themselves and lived on their own, it seemed a little silly.

T: Haha!  I agree, Dad.  Ok, so now that I have been in the congregation for five years, has your perception grown and changed at all? How do you think this life suits me?

D: Hmmm…I don’t think my perception has really changed all that much.  I do have a better feel for what being a sister means and what sisters in your congregation do since I have met more of them.  As I said before, the sisters I meet are uplifting, positive, and seem to be happy people.

I think I will always have some questions or confusion as to why you chose this life, but you seem happy and fulfilled in what you’re doing, so I’m happy for you in that.  It’s very different than anything I ever wanted out of my life or what I expected of your life.  I struggle with some aspects and probably always will.  But like I said, I see that you’re happy.  I know you like living in community and that you find fulfillment with the sisters in your house and the people you serve.  It seems like the life suits you well.  I hope it continues to fulfill you.

T: What it is like being the Dad of a young Sister?  What is hard?  What are the gifts?

D: What do you mean young? (laughs at himself.  Dad joke #1.  I laugh, too, and groan a little.  J)

Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is what happens when I meet people, or when I run into people I don’t see that often, and, you know, you talk about your family.  When I tell people you’re a nun, it usually sparks a conversation. Most people say, “That’s great!” or “That’s wonderful!”  I usually explain that, yes, you felt called to work with the poor, and they think it’s a really good thing.  And then, people remember that, because it’s a somewhat unusual path in life.  Of course, I always tell people that my son is an engineer and is married with a baby.  They think that’s great, too, but more normal.  So when I run into people again, they usually remember, “Oh yea, you have a daughter who is a nun.”  Like the doctor I see, she always remembers that I have a daughter who does “interesting things.”

T: Have people asked you weird questions?  Or have people had anything negative to say?

D: Honestly, no, not that I can think of.

T:  Very cool.  Ok - What new things have you learned or experienced as a result of me taking this path?

Dad and I in Quito, Ecuador, when he came to visit me
during my volunteer years. (February 2010)
D: I’ve experienced the places you’ve been. I’ve learned a lot more about the Hispanic culture…and become practically fluent in Spanish (laughs again.  Dad joke #2.  He did definitely learn some great go-to phrases while visiting me in Ecuador; I’ll give him that).  When you were living in El Paso, we went to the clinic in Mexico to meet the people there.  We got to meet the different people you worked with there and go to different churches.  I’ve also experienced various ceremonies at the Motherhouse that I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

As I said before, I’ve learned about the process of becoming a sister.  But I still think they should just call it 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.  (I giggle) The steps are confusing to keep track of!  When you entered the novitiate, I thought you took vows.

T: (laughing) I know!  Andrea’s brother thought so, too.

D:  Yup!  You stood up there and pledged to do something.  I thought it was vows. (Playfully assertive) And I believe that Annie’s father agreed with me on that, too. 

Seriously, though, I’m proud of you, and Nathan and Jenni, too.

T: What are your hopes for my future?

D:  I sort of already answered this one.  I hope you continue to find your life fulfilling and enjoy living in community.  I hope you always have good friends and relationships.  That’s important.

T: Knowing that it was confusing for you, what words of wisdom do you have for other parents of young women or men discerning the religious life?

D:  It would depend on what they were thinking or feeling.  If someone was distraught or confused, I would probably reassure them.  I’d remind them that it’s not an overnight process: “Your daughter or son will try it, and they’ll have time to see if it’s what they really want.  Your daughter or son may discover that it’s what they’re called to do; they might find it fulfilling.”  And I’d tell them that you went through it and that you really enjoy your life.

T:  You know, I’m thinking about my upbringing, and how you raised me in my faith.  You yourself were always a dedicated Catholic, participating in the church fathers’ group, being a Eucharistic minister, going to Mass every weekend, and praying with us each night before bed.  I remember you always asked us, “What are you thankful for from today?”

D: (I can hear him smiling) Yea…I always wanted to end the day with you like that.  If you were upset, or if you had a tough day, I always wanted you to go to bed thinking about the good things.

T:  I’m so grateful for that. I still need that practice today!  But you know what, it’s interesting – you instilled the Catholic faith in me, and yet, it was still surprising and confusing that I became a Catholic sister.  I think it’s probably that way for a lot of Catholic parents; they don’t want their kids to become sisters, brothers, or priests.  I wonder why that is. 

D:  Yea, that’s true.  Maybe it is just the perception that people have of religious life; people still have old ideas about it.  But I know you are happy.

T:  Knowing that your faith has always been important to you, I wonder what would be more difficult for you as a dad:  if I had gotten married and had a family but totally abandoned the church and had no faith life whatsoever, or the fact that I embraced it so much that I became a Sister.

D: (chuckles) Hmm –  I don’t think that first scenario would be any easier.  Yea, they both have their struggles.  If you abandoned your faith but were still living a good life, I would be okay with that.  I think I would hold out hope that someday you would come back to your faith.

T: What do you think it was that made you hold onto your faith all these years?

D:  I’m not sure.  I’d have to think about that one for a while…Well, part of it was just growing up. My parents were pretty involved in church and made sure we went every week.  My Dad was in the choir, and my mom helped out at school which was also a part of church.

You know, I haven’t always been perfectly steady in my faith.  There were times when I struggled or questioned things.  But I never walked away.   I identify with being a Catholic, practicing the faith, going to Mass every week.  I find meaning and purpose in it.

If I think about it, I know that my Catholic faith helped me in family life.  I always felt a strong obligation to my family.  I always wanted to make sure to provide well; I never wanted to do anything that would hurt or bring shame on the family.  I always wanted to have a happy home with mom and you two.  Faith helped me; it nurtured that feeling of responsibility. 

T: Hopefully faith gave you support and strength when you needed it. 

D:  Yes, definitely.  And also the fact that it was a partnership.  Mom was very committed, too, to living out our faith and family life as a partnership.  Neither one of us was going anywhere; we were going to get through rough times together.  That helped us.

T: So, in honor of Father’s Day, what do you most enjoy about being a Dad?

Dad with granddaughter Lucy.
(January 2017)
D:  I knew I wanted to be a Dad.  I think I most enjoyed watching you two grow up and having fun with you, and helping you learn and grow.  Now, I still enjoy watching you both grow and evolve as you move from being young adults further into adulthood.  Of course, now I also enjoy Lucy, my grandchild.  I love seeing her almost every week and watching how she grows and changes.

T:  And, finally, what would you most like to do on Sunday for Father’s Day?

D:  I’d just like to spend a good part of the day with my family, having a good time with everyone.  For me, I don’t have to go anywhere.  I mean, I guess some years we have gone to the Red’s game, and I like that, too.  But for Father’s Day, mostly I am happy being at home or Nathan’s house or your house just spending day together and having dinner.

T:  (I smile) You don’t need much more than that, huh?

D:  Nope.  I’m a very boring person. 

T: (I laugh) Anything else, Dad?

D: I think that’s it.

T:  Well, thank you.  I hope you know how grateful I am for everything you do…and for playing along for this interview.  I’m glad you’re my dad.

D: And I’m glad you’re my daughter.  I wouldn’t trade ya.

(We both laugh)

Thank you, Dad!  Happy Father’s Day!