Friday, October 21, 2016

Three Things I Learned In Three Months of Novitiate

By Sr. Romina Sapinoso

It’s been three months since I started novitiate with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. This is HUGE. Novitiate is the stuff many sisters get lots of their stories from. You know, the stories they don’t tire of telling each other and us, younger ones. I personally love listening to sisters in the community share how their novitiates compared to mine, or more precisely, how DIFFERENT their novitiates were compared to mine. I’m pretty sure that all sisters, old and young alike, agree that it’s a good thing the novitiate has evolved. After all, most of our sisters entered in circa 19??. In keeping up with the changing times, it is but natural that we would have a new and updated Novitiate 3.0, 2016 version. The way I see it, the operating systems have been significantly upgraded while striving to keep the essentials of formation in tact. These last three months in the “nunnery” have given me the opportunity to engage in dialogue and learn much valuable information, build many new relationships, be amazed and wowed by the lives of the sisters, and last but definitely not least, share many good laughs with these wonderful women of God. Though my experiences so far probably don’t hold a candle to the stories that were shared with me (and don’t yet elicit as many fond memories and laughter), they definitely have blessed me with a special appreciation for this time. So here are the top three things I have come to embrace in three months of novitiate:

1.   Doubt and questions about what in the heck you are doing here are okay. I love the stories of doubt and later clarity in their own discernment that sisters impart with me. One of my favorites is from Sister Annina, 100-year old wisdom figure to me and to many others in the community. I once asked her during my retreat that she directed if she ever thought about leaving religious life. She said, “Every single night of my novitiate.” She wasn’t kidding. She did pack her trunk every single night, ready to leave the next day. One of the other sisters in her band always asked her to stay “just one more night.” Annina ends the story with a huge bright smile and sparkling eyes as she says the words, “And here I am, 83 years later, still a Sister of Charity!” I would certainly add, “And a most inspiring and delightful one at that!”
With Sister Annina Morgan

2.   Go back to basics. On a particularly discomforting week of discernment, I spewed out my doubts and fears, uncertainties and questions on my discernment journey to my spiritual director. Wise as he is, he told me to picture a kite. Everybody experiences some amount of delight when they see a kite soaring mightily against a clear, blue sky. His point was, we rarely notice that this kite, in order to not be ravaged and blown away by unpredictable winds, is firmly tethered to the ground by an almost invisible string. He asked me, “What is your string? What keeps you afloat yet firmly anchored to solid ground? When you know your foundation, all other questions become secondary.” This suggestion from him moved me to look back at how my journey got me to this present time and place. It made me look carefully at the bigger questions and not be bogged down with the little ones, always trusting and opening to the movement of the Spirit within. I went searching again for reminders of what he referred to as my foundation. And lo and behold, surprise, surprise, it’s God.

3.   You can and should ask the difficult questions about a religious vocation. That’s part of a healthy discernment! Early on, I’ve made a commitment to be genuine and honest in this discernment process, to ask questions and seek out the community’s and my own answers to them, with the guidance of the Spirit.  And you know what? The sisters have too! I am blessed to be journeying with folks who, though not perfect, are real and realistic. Sisters are human and embrace their humanity. This makes them way cooler than I ever expected. Seriously though, I can be confident that they do not give me answers that will sound good but those which they know will help me see the lived reality of religious life to better inform my process. Words cannot say how grateful I am to be on this path with such awesomeness (sisters).

The Bayley House Novitiate Community

I’m ONLY a quarter of the way into my canonical year. Or I can also say, I’m ALREADY a quarter of the way into my canonical year. In any case, it has been just a remarkable pilgrimage so far. I can say with certainty that this time has truly been and continues to be a gift for me. I am assured that God knows the desires of my heart and I myself, am being made aware of them during this period of genuine discernment. Wherever the road leads, it is my sincere hope that I can look back at this year and say, we (myself, the community, and God) held fast to the truth of this journey together.

Friday, October 14, 2016

SOA Watch Border Convergence

Last weekend (Oct. 7-9), three members of the Future of Charity group gathered with hundreds of activists along the U.S./Mexico border wall in Nogales to protest the unjust treatment of immigrants and refuges.  Andrea Koverman, SC; Tracy Kemme, SC; and Whitney Schieltz, an Affiliate with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati living in El Paso, TX; first joined the weekend-long protest for a rally and vigil outside Eloy Detention Center, located about halfway between Tucson and Phoenix.

The families of men and women in detention share their families' stories and
ask the crowd for support in getting their loved ones released.

Sister Andrea holds a candle at the vigil outside Eloy Detention Center.

On Saturday, they crossed the border to spend the day at various events in Mexico.  The day was full of powerful moments as crowds gathered on both sides of the wall for rallies, prayer services, and concerts.

Artwork adds life to the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.

Andrea, Tracy, and Whitney with a group of other women religious next to the border wall.

Whitney (second from right) and Sister Tracy (far right) look through the massive border wall.

Later in the day, the Future of Charity members met with other women religious at a soup kitchen near the border in Mexico for an Encuentro de Hermanas, an event put on by Giving Voice, an organization for women religious under age 50.  This time together allowed the individuals to share why the issue of immigration is close to their heart and to brainstorm ideas for how to respond to the growing need.

The women religious gathered for the Encuentro de Hermanas at the Kino Border Initiative
Soup Kitchen pose for a group photo below a modernized mural of the Last Supper.

Sunday morning, Andrea, Tracy, and Whitney made one last stop at the wall before heading home.  This time, however, they stayed on the U.S. side for one final protest and concert.  Although the weekend went by quickly, it was a clear reminder of the harsh reality that waits for so many seeking a better life.

For more information on the SOA Watch Border Convergence:

For more information about Giving Voice:

For more information on the Encuentro de Hermanas:

For more information on the Kino Border Initiative:

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Future of Religious Life

As our name--Future of Charity--suggests, we spend a lot of time pondering and discussing the future of the Sisters of Charity Federation and religious life in general.  As recently vowed members and women in formation with religious congregations, we know that challenges lie ahead of us; but we also have great hope in what the future holds.  We asked our bloggers: What are you most excited for as you envision the future of religious life?  

Here's what they said...

Creative freedom in ministry, new collaborations and deeper understanding of our interconnectedness; living into new meanings of the vows in the evolving church and world.
- Melissa Camardo

I'm most excited for building relationships with peers of my generation both within the U.S., and across borders.
- Laura Coughlin

The collaboration between communities is exciting to me in religious life and collaboration with laypeople when it comes to living in community.
- Rejane Cytacki

What am I most excited about in the future of religious life is meeting new people and developing relationships as well as deepening my friendships with the ones I already know. I am excited about the personal & spiritual growth I am experiencing.  
- Judy Donohue

I am most excited about the inter-nationality of our future.  The cultural diversity and cross-cultural dimensions of our communities are inviting us to think and act in much broader ways. This richness is exciting to me!
- Marie Flowers

I am excited about the newness and creative ways that religious life can grow and develop as we move with the signs of the time.  
- Carlette Gentle

As I envision the future of religious life, I am most excited about the radical endeavors we may be able to undertake through collaboration!  Some may think that the religious life is dying because numbers are declining, but small can be powerful!
- Tracy Kemme

As I envision the future of religious life, I am excited about collaborating across congregations.  Each community has such richness to offer—what a joy it will be to taste a diversity of charisms.
- Annie Klapheke

I am most excited about the ways I see people waking up to the injustices that have been a part of our culture's collective unchallenged assumptions and the ways that women religious are being called to take a prophetic role in addressing them in response to deep prayerful contemplation. I love the energy, commitment and passion I find among women attracted to and joining contemporary religious life and am so grateful to have been called to this life myself!
- Andrea Koverman

I'm most excited about what the consecrated life will look like in the future.  I believe there will always be people dedicated to serving God in the church, but it may look different than it is today.  If it is God's will I will be there to see it!
- Meg Kymes

What I'm most excited about in the future of religious life is community, connections, and possibilities!
- Romina Sapinoso

I am excited to see how Pope Francis’s leadership is reigniting and refocusing the mission of the Church and inspiring new vocations in religious life and the laity; and I look forward to increased collaboration between these two groups on the forefront of social justice causes around the world.
- Whitney Schieltz

As I consider the future of religious life I am excited about the opportunities we'll have to collaborate in ministry and experience community living together across the Federation.
- Paris Slapikas

Friday, September 30, 2016

Finding Whose You Are

By Sr. Annie Klapheke

“My friend, you belong to God.  Let this reality color your life.”
- St. Vincent de Paul

Who do you belong to?

Most of us would initially balk at this question.  ‘I belong to no one!’ we might exclaim.  Our society places much value on independence and individuality, and the idea of ‘belonging’ to anyone might seem oppressive.  But if we shift our definition of belonging from ‘being possessed by’ to ‘being a part of’, it changes the meaning.  In fact, we have no problem saying we belong to a family, a team, a club, or a parish.  And unfortunately, we even use our sense of belonging to create division among us.  Think of the conflicts that arise between those who belong to different political parties, races, or religions.  The groups or individuals we choose to affiliate with certainly color our lives and our perspectives. 

Artwork: Bro. Mickey McGrath, OSFS
How might our perspectives change if our primary allegiance was our belongingness to God?  And how might our view of others change if we acknowledged their inclusion in this divinely appointed group? 

On September 27th, the Church celebrated the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul.  Together with Louise de Marillac, Vincent and Louise were the founding father and mother of the Charity charism.  Both of these holy people recognized the indwelling presence of God in each and every person.  In other words, they recognized every person’s belongingness to God.  This reality colored the world they saw.  Vincent and Louise dedicated their ministries, and the ministries of their congregations, to the service and evangelization of the poor.  For them, no person was outside the bounds of charity, because all belonged to God.  Similarly, Vincent and Louise found the strength and conviction to do their work because they recognized their own belonging to God.

My own journey in religious life has been a path of discovering not only who I am, but whose I am.  As a second year novice, I have spent the past several months studying the evangelical vows of poverty, obedience and consecrated celibacy.  In my exploration of the deeper meaning of the vows, I found at the core of each vow is relationship.  Each vow provides a framework for how I am to relate to things of the world, to other people, and most importantly, to God.  They define my belongingness to God.  

Just yesterday, I received approval from my congregation’s leadership council to profess my fist vows as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati.  When I stand in front of my Sisters, family and friends and publically vow to God poverty, obedience and celibacy, I will claim my belongingness to God, and will promise to let this reality color every aspect of my life. 

Friday, September 23, 2016


By Sr. Judy Donohue

September 22 was the first day of fall. A change of the season reflects a change in heart.

Sr Helen and I at a Rocking for Residents fundraiser at
Vincentian Home
Fall reflects a change in the seasons, a time of harvest. The leaves begin turning beautiful colors of golds, oranges and reds, as they fall onto the ground at different speeds. The weather becomes a little chilly. Being in formation is a time of changing, a time of developing a deeper spirituality, a time of developing relationship skills in community.  It is a time for reaping from our efforts sown by daily prayer, spiritual reading and openness to learning a new way of life. I am letting go of old ways of being while learning new ways of relating. It is often lonely to be away from home, family and the familiar.  Being a Novice is learning to daily let go of control, routine and having my way.  My new life as an apostolic novice has been another time of adjustment by moving to Pittsburgh, PA.  I am now a Volunteer Chaplain and Activity Aide at Vincentian Nursing Home.  I have thoroughly enjoyed leading the Sing-a-long for the residents as well as helping with the Rocking for Residents, an Ice Cream Social, Bible Trivia and some Arts and Crafts activities. As Louise and Vincent did what was before them, I too look for ways to be helpful to the residents, staff and volunteers. Charity is seeking to build up the love that is in the world. Who doesn’t need a little more love in their life?  I have been given the opportunity to be charity for others.  When a resident needs to go to Mass, I wheel them there.  When they need to talk, I’m a listening ear. God puts you where you can bloom. God puts you where you are needed. Being in Pittsburgh, I have been blessed with many surprises.  The Sisters have a swimming pool and although I am not an avid swimmer, I have enjoyed the pool with the other sisters who go swimming. It has been a time of relaxation and contemplation. I do not have to always be busy. Yes, God wants me to relax. I’m in a new faith group, who shares meals together when they meet. Yum, Yum.  Two Sisters from India from the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul reside at St. Louise Convent.  We have enjoyed the Greek Festival, going swimming and eating together. My developing new friendships have proved fruitful and fulfilling. While I was missing the people back home, some friends from Kentucky sent me a care package to remind me I am loved. What a wonderful surprise.

A great lesson, I continue to learn, is living in the present moment. Being aware of how I can make the most of the now.  I can use this in relationships, time, prayer and affirmation, this has been enlightening. On the wall of where I worked is a poster that states “Be Here Now.” I let God have the past while not trying to control, manipulate or over plan the future.  As I’m more fully present to myself and what’s happening, I’m learning to be more present to those around me.  Why am I in this place and time? Who knows? It may not make sense nor may I understand yet I trust God. Wherever I am at, God uses me.  On September 11, 2016, I made a retreat day at a Pieta shrine and reflected on Mary holding Jesus. She had to have great faith in God to live the life of courage set before her.  I spent some time sweeping out all the dust and spider webs. Lord sweep out what’s dusty in me. Straighten out the webs that tangle me and keep me in bondage robbing me of joy.  I opened the door to let fresh air in to get the must out.  God create in me a new rush of clean freshness. May I breathe the fresh cleansing air of your Holy Spirit.  What joy it is to take time to focus on you, your redeeming love and resurrecting power.  As in childbirth there is no deep joy without pain. Some healing ministries come with a call to redeem our own injustices and the grief in our lives. Hope you gain comfort knowing others are struggling in a variety of ways. You are not alone. The struggles cause me to seek God for relief. Adjusting to all these changes keeps me on my knees, close to God.  In a world of confusion God gives crystal clear direction. In a world of many choices, we have one path to follow. That which is right in front of us. We are examples to the world, that a life trusting God can bring joy amidst sorrow, peace during chaos, hope rather than despair and relaxation when plagued by anxiety. For our God is an awesome God.  God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

With God, I am able to let go of the past memories of judgment, hurt, frustration, failure and regret. We are given each new day to have a clean slate in which to write something new on. God’s mercies are new every morning. As God forms me into the person I am becoming by the events of my life, I participate in this delightful exchange. I can use my experiences to help others. When an opportunity presents itself to help someone having difficulty living in a new environment, I can visit a resident at the home making them feel appreciated. I can bring joy to another person’s world by giving them time and attention. I’ve been through many changes in my life. God knows how to keep me close to God.  These sensitivities developing in me are finely tuning my ability to perceive. I am continually open to the Spirit. A change in season takes adjusting too. When new people come into my life, may I help them feel welcomed and appreciated.

God created me for some purpose that no one else can fulfill. I am unique. God knows what God is doing. Having the courage to pursue and continue discerning a religious vocation is a graced gift from God.  As the fall creeps upon us, be the change you want to see in Religious Life. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Present for Presence

By Sr. Meg Kymes

My current mission is in a small rural town, so everyone knows everyone fairly well.  The Daughters of Charity have been here since the 1800s.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton began my ministry, now known as Mother Seton School, when she came to Emmitsburg.  The Daughters have continued this school ever since because of countless prayers and the generosity of others.  

During the summer, the Development Director visited me in my classroom to tell me one of the lay people who come to the Daughters’ house for daily Mass had given a generous donation in my name.  I was shocked since my only contact with this man was smiling and saying hi to him before or after Mass, so I did not know him well, but I was deeply touched. Many weeks later on I had the chance to thank him in person and tell him how much his gift meant for me and my students.  He had a tearful smile on his face as he explained to me his reasons.  He told me how much the Daughters did for his family when he was raising his children and putting them through school.  He told me he knew how much we do for the children at Mother Seton and how much he appreciates all that we do for others in Emmitsburg.  I realized after I spoke to him that even though I didn’t visit him or have a chance to talk to him for a long period of time, the Daughters simply being present to the people of Emmitsburg meant so much to him that he was willing to give back to help others.

When I was in my first stages of formation, my directress talked about being a ministry of presence.  She taught us it wasn’t about what our ministry was as a Daughter of Charity, but about being a living sign of God’s presence in our all too often suffering world.  A very generous man reminded me about how important this is to so many people.

Friday, September 9, 2016

To See The Face of God

By Sr. Romina Sapinoso

“I really would like to travel the world and see as much of it as I can.” After a long pause, my friend Tere finally mustered the courage to say her thoughts out loud. Walking back to campus where we both worked from a coffee shop in front of the university was always a good time to talk about all sorts of things. We were in our early 20s and the subject of dreams and deepest desires came up. Tere’s hesitation came from her assumption that it seemed very selfish to desire such a thing when we were surrounded with such poverty and strife in the Philippines. At that time, we dreamt of so many things but were definitely influenced by our faith and the idealistic notion of putting our gifts and talents in the service of the suffering world. It seemed like she almost didn’t dare say this for fear of appearing foolishly extravagant and focused on herself. I understood what she meant. Our conversation got deeper into this particular topic as we kept walking on that beautiful early evening so many years ago.

Almost 15 years later, now living in the United States, I had the opportunity to live Tere’s dream by traveling through a few countries myself. Because of the generosity of good Catholic friends, I was able to accompany my affiliate director, Sr. Janet Gildea and our Columban priest friend, Fr. Bill Morton on a three-week “Asian Adventure” as we dubbed it. We headed to several destinations which included Hong Kong, Wuhan and Shanghai in Mainland China, a few cities in South Korea, and the Philippines. In each place, we were witnesses to the beauty and culture of these parts of the world. They were evident not just in the breath-taking natural scenery but more importantly, through the stories and faces of the people we encountered. Here are some of them.

Fr. Chen on his front porch
The image of Father Chen sitting on his front porch next to the church building where he is the pastor is forever etched in my mind. As a young seminarian in Wuhan, China, Chen was forced out of his formation when the seminaries were closed and any form of religion was forbidden by the cultural revolution in 1949. Young Chen was heartbroken to leave the seminary and took on a job as a truck driver but never got married. In the 1980s when the Chinese government finally allowed churches and religion to be restored, the Bishop remembered Chen and approached him with the question about pursuing his vocation. Chen was overwhelmed with joy at the offer and jumped at it. He was ordained at the ripe young age of 64. Now 23 years into the priesthood, Fr. Chen still very humbly acknowledges the wonderful gift of his vocation and does not feel worthy of it. He says he tries to celebrate as many masses as he can, no less than two a day, because he wants to “make up” the years he missed.

Sr. Daisy welcomes Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong

In the midst of downtown Hong Kong, stands a modest looking building called the Catholic Center. Mass is held on the third floor in a very small, cramped chapel which can probably house at most 100-150 people. This place is a sanctuary for many Filipino migrant workers, mostly women, working as domestic helpers in many Hong Kong households. Many of them have had to leave their families behind, including their own children, in pursuit of a decent living wage which was difficult to come by in their home country. On the eighth floor of the same building, Sister Daisy, a Religious of the Good Shepherd, welcomes the many groups of Filipino women who have the day off and would like to spend it in the relaxed company of fellow Filipinos eating, dancing and doing the old favorite past time of karaoke singing. The joviality of the place can almost mask the homesickness and longing that I know these mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers feel for their own families back home. Sr. Daisy who initially appeared business-like and straightforward, was quick to leave us, to attend to any need that the women brought to her attention. She and the migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong added much to our awareness of the plight of many around the globe who are forced to leave their families to work in other countries.

The girls in the PREDA foundation shelter head back
to their living quarters after playing outside
PREDA Foundation (People’s Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance- in Olongapo City, Philippines was born out of the need that Fr. Shay Cullen, another Columban missionary priest, saw as an effect of the United States Subic Naval Base presence in the city. Many high-risk children were being targeted for drugs as well as trafficked in brothels owned mostly by foreigners who set up shop in a country that was not highly capable of protecting its children’s rights. Fr. Shay’s ministry has branched out to many other services such as advocacy, education, fair trade products and jobs. However, PREDA still actively provides direct service through the established shelters that it runs. The organization, with its social workers and counselors, serves boys and girls who have been abandoned by parents, are victims of drug abuse and brothels, or are high-risk out of school youth. Visiting the girls’ home in a small town just outside of Subic brought the reality of these children’s lives very close to home. Each of the girls we talked and visited with had their own story to tell. Some of them were very open about their families’ abuse or abandonment or their experiences with human and drug trafficking. Others were more quiet but still hung around enjoying our company and stories. I couldn’t help but admire the resilience and strength of those young people. They were laughing and playing, just like other children. It was difficult to imagine what terrible experiences they carried beneath their smiles but I was very glad that PREDA is there to help them get another chance at life.
Visiting the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in South Korea

In South Korea, the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill have taken on the task of providing a safe home for international women, as a response to the global problem of human trafficking. These women suffered abuse and domestic violence from their Korean husbands. I remember a bright, 27-year old young woman from the Philippines who came to the shelter almost two years ago after being rescued. With no family, education, or mastery of the language in Korea, I imagined it would have been quite a task for her to navigate the legal, education, and labor system without help. Almost ready to leave the shelter, she now speaks Korean fluently, fulfills employment eligibility requirements, and is ready to stand on her own feet. This is possible because of her persistence as well as the assistance provided her by the sisters. She has in turn helped the newer members of the shelter get acquainted with the systems and language that she has successfully navigated herself.

As Tere and I continued to talk about dreams and deepest desires during that one evening walk, I remember telling her something that I was discovering for myself around that time. I was coming to understand that our deepest desire is really God. Underneath all the superficial things we think we want in life, the desire is really for that which is bigger than our dreams and hearts could imagine. I reasoned with Tere and asked her why she wanted to see the world. Why did this mean so much to her? She initially came up with several surface reasons that as she struggled to articulate, led to the conclusion that being able to see the beauty of the world means having a glimpse of its Creator. Her deepest desire, as all our deepest desires are, was indeed, simply to see God.

My travels this summer have given me just that gift: to see the face of God in Fr. Chen in Wuhan, Sr. Daisy and the migrant workers in Hong Kong, Fr. Shay and the children in the Philippines, and the international women in Korea. Traveling is a privilege not afforded to many and I was very blessed to have had these experiences and to meet God in so many of God’s wonderful creations. As one song that I love to pray with goes:

“To see the face of God
Is my heart’s desire.
To gaze upon the Lord
Is my one desire."