Monday, June 29, 2015

Where's your cloister?

By Kara Davis

St. Vincent de Paul told the first Sisters, "Your convent will be the house of 
the sick; your cell, a hired room; your chapel, the parish church; your cloister, the streets of the city or the wards of the hospital."
Stained glass window at St. Stephen's Church in New Orleans, LA.

In August 2014, I began my Clinical Fellowship Year as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) with Jefferson Parish Public Schools, and was assigned to work full-time at Estelle Elementary School in Marrero, Louisiana.  This Pre-K through seventh grade school included approximately 1,000 students and served the highest special education population in the Parish.  It was located within a low-income neighborhood and served a predominantly African-American population, with some Latino, Vietnamese, and Caucasian students mixed in.

Quiet, early morning breezeway at Estelle 
Elementary School.
Occasionally there were days I would arrive to school early, before any teachers or students even grazed the parking lot.  Before entering, I would walk past one of the locked gates separating the school from the parking lot, and stare at the peaceful campus, silent breezeways, and thin layer of fog blanketing the field.  Yes, behind these bars existed a piece of heaven. 

I was reminded of my visits to the Carmelite monastery, where the serene mystery of what existed behind the grill captivated my imagination.  When visiting the Carmelites in Avila, Spain, the prioress, Madre Carmen, told a story about her nephew’s visit to the monastery.  She shared that this young boy looked at her from the other side of the grill and asked, “Auntie, why are you in prison?” and Madre Carmen answered, “I am not the one in prison, for on this side of the bars is heaven.”  The boy responded, “I want to be in heaven.  I want to be on the side with you.” I remember sitting in my chair in the monastery echoing this little boy’s words.  I too wanted to experience that piece of heaven on earth.  I too longed to escape behind those bars.

I felt that same intriguing curiosity when I approached the school early in the morning, but in this case, I held the keys to enter the cloister at Estelle.  As I walked through the gates, I entered my cloister.  I entered my little piece of heaven.  It was so easy to stand in the stillness of this peaceful heaven and say a prayer.  However, the hard part started when my cloister started to fill with other people, and I was called to live that prayer within the messiness.  

The most difficult part of my year at Estelle was not fulfilling my duties as a new SLP fresh out of graduate school.  The greatest challenge was living in the messiness of my cloister, witnessing the culture of violence demonstrated by the administration, and not being able to change it.  Day after day, I found myself at the foot of the cross with Mary.  Together, our hearts broke for the children who were so hungry for love, but fed with threats and constant yelling from administration and teachers.  Instead of being disciplined, children were bullied into either fearful submission, or violent defiance warranting expulsion.  Within this environment, all I could do was stand there gazing up at my suffering Christ, and after a lot of prayer, I think that’s exactly where He wanted me to be.  I experienced a new kind of poverty at Estelle Elementary and my love was stretched further because of it.  I experienced the heavy burden of feeling powerless.

My experience at Estelle Elementary brought St. Vincent's words to life in a real, concrete way.  I found my cloister at my ministry, and I encountered Christ everyday behind the grill in the children so hungry for my love.  So, where's your cloister?  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

First Vows Today!

Sisters Andrea Koverman and Tracy Kemme of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati will be professing first vows today during a 4:00pm EDTMass!  You can tune in wherever you are to the live-stream of the ceremony.  Just go to, and you'll see a blue banner to click on.  The live-stream won't activate until 2:00pm EDT, so don't worry if you get an error message before that.

Thanks for celebrating and praying with Sisters Tracy and Andrea!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reflections from the Vow Institute

By Sr. Roberta Treppa

This week, the Daughters of Charity who are under 10 years’ vocation are gathered in Los Altos Hills, CA for the Vow Institute.  This is a special formation experience where a facilitator leads us in reflections about the vows.  Fr. Pat Griffin, past Director General for the Daughters of Charity, has prepared a week of talks entitled, “Follow Me: The Vows as Response to a Call.”

The vow formula for the Daughters of Charity reminds us that our vows are a response to the call of Christ who invites each of us to follow Him…  And our motto, “The Love of Christ Crucified Urges Us” points out the motivating factor behind all that we do.

SERVICE TO THOSE WHO ARE POOR is a vow specific to the Daughters of Charity.  (We also vow Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience).  This week, we are looking at several scripture passages and Vincentian writings that allow us to go deeper into understanding this call and our response.  Here is a real quick tiny peek at just one of our conferences.

The vow of Service to those who are Poor calls Daughters to give of ourselves TOTALLY, give ourselves in COMMUNITY, and give ourselves TO CHRIST.

What does it mean to give of myself totally?  For starters, it means to love unconditionally…offer my time, resources, attention, etc.   I am called to love God with all my being (heart, soul, mind, and strength).  This may leave me frustrated or exhausted and spent at the end of the day, but love and service are renewable resources. St. Vincent DePaul writes, “If our perfection lies in charity, as is certain, there is none greater than to give oneself to save souls and to sacrifice ourself for them as Jesus Christ did.”

When I give myself in Community, I appreciate that I have other Sisters there to help me to become my best self, and to “re-fuel” when ministry drains me.  Apostolic Reflection is a spiritual exercise in which we “unpack” an experience (maybe that tough situation in ministry) and find where God is found or how it is calling us to change/grow closer to God.  Even in our daily Community life, we give ourselves totally in our sharing, support, encouragement, challenges, corrections, and forgiveness. As St. Paul writes,  “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.  Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others.  Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:1-4)

Giving myself to Christ is how I take up my cross and follow Him.  It challenges me to consider Christ alone as my motive-not MY wants, desires, or interests.  Daughters of Charity see Christ in the person of the poor, and one way I give myself to Christ is when I serve those who are poor.  “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40)

I am grateful for the gift of my call to the Daughters of Charity, and for the many God-experiences in ministry and in Community.  All have deepened my relationship with God. 

What/who motivates you to do what you do?

What is it that you have a hard time letting go of?

What obstacles challenge you in responding to a counter-cultural call of consecrated life?

Monday, June 22, 2015

St. Vincent de Paul: An imperfect Saint

By Sr. Whitney Kimmet

A few nights ago, I was sitting in the Community Room with two of the Sisters in our house, and we started talking. We got to a lull in the conversation and I asked if they knew the two events, important in community history, which happened on June 16th. They both laughed thinking that I was trying to get them to admit that Sr. Joan and I being born on June 16 counted as important community history. I will admit to playing with them a little bit to get them to that answer, but there really were two important events in the history of the Charity charism that happened on June 16th. Any ideas?

One was that Mother Seton arrived in Baltimore. It kind of gets overshadowed by the fact that she didn't get off the boat until the next morning, so history books go back and forth between June 16 and June 17 as her arrival date. What is important is that it put her into the cradle of Catholicism in the United States and gave her the support and connections to start her community.

The second was that Vincent de Paul was canonized on that date in 1737. Eventually, both of the Sisters playing our little trivia game got the answers, but the conversation got me to thinking about why a canonization date would be important. I personally find meaning in the connection that my birthday falls on the anniversary of St. Vincent's canonization, but to most people, the date isn't as important as what the canonization itself and what that has to say today. 

St. Vincent de Paul died in 1660 and was canonized in 1737. The fact that St. Vincent was declared a saint a mere 77 years after his death, which was a relatively short amount of time, has meaning. He is known as "charity's saint" and he and his work were known and were important to a great deal of people. People in power, people following his example of service, and people who very rarely were allowed to have dignity. The Church recognized this and very quickly gave him as a model for the faithful. What I find fascinating is that his impact and the impact of those who have followed in his footsteps was so lasting that he is still held up as model in 2015. 

Knowing how thoughts turn into other thoughts, I started thinking about how a man's life in the 18th Century is still speaking to us today and what it has to say. There are the obvious answers of faith and charity. St. Vincent went around France and sent followers abroad to catechize priests and lay people alike. He created networks of care for those who otherwise fell through the cracks of society, networks which are just as relevant today as they were in his time. He seemed to have a pious childhood out in the fields during his time as a shepherd which can speak to us about the everyday presence of God in our lives. But there is more. Vincent de Paul, the man, was a normal human being. Sometimes he got it right and sometimes he fell short. He didn't start out with the greatest motives for becoming a priest; he wanted to get rich so he could live comfortably and send some money back to his family. A significant amount of his early life as a priest was spent running around Europe trying to track down some money he was owed as an inheritance. He put around a story in a letter that he was captured by pirates as a possible explanation for why he was gone so long, and later wouldn't speak of it. The letter disappeared and we really don't know if he was ever actually captured by pirates. 

God took this imperfect man and put him in the right places and the right situations to change his motives and Vincent allowed himself to be changed. He began to find a heart for the poor (or perhaps it was already there and just needed to be dusted off a little). He found very deep roots in God and in the Church and he helped others to develop these roots. He taught people how to take God's love and wrap the world in it in such a way that we are still feeling it and still wrapping it more than 350 years later. What does this have to say to us as followers of St. Vincent or as those discerning a vocation? God is willing to use whatever you bring to the table if you are willing to let Him change you.

Dear Lord, take us with all of our imperfections and help us want to be changed, just as you did with St. Vincent, into people who can share your light and warmth with the world. Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

For Father’s Day, a word about kindness…

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

In the last few days I’ve been completing final assessments for my summer coursework here at BC.  To stay disciplined, I’ve avoided the news. Thus it is only today that I read of the nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston who were gunned down by a White young adult with a grudge against Black people. 

In what follows I do not intend more hand-wringing about the back-and-forth of violence in the U.S. – racial or otherwise.  The news outlets have already begun the usual banal round of provocations.  These offer about the same level of insight into things we didn’t already know as weather forecasts do in Phoenix.  But one news piece captured my attention: 

“Suspected South Carolina shooter 'almost didn't go through with it because everyone was so nice to him'.”  (NBC)

Having just finished a logic class with Tolkien scholar, Peter Kreeft, I am more acutely aware of the danger of ambiguous terms.  In light of that learning, I have to wonder, “what did the shooter mean by nice?”  Did he mean, more precisely, that they were kind to him?  Is it possible that what he really meant to say was that the virtue of those he gunned down was demonstrated in the simplicity of their welcoming him – a stranger? 

To be kind in general is to be friendly, generous, considerate.  But the origin of true kindness is the Holy Spirit.  In Saint Paul’s elaboration of the Spirit’s fruits, kindness follows patience and precedes goodness.  It is further equated with gentleness, and demonstrates the Spirit’s action in bringing a person to Christian maturity.  Did the shooter perceive these qualities in those he described as nice?

There are further questions.  Why, when the police interrogated him, did Roof lack the more precise word for what he experienced in the presence of those assembled to worship God?  Would the outcome have been different if he had grasped the true meaning and source of the more precise word?  Would greater accuracy in language have helped him to recognize the invisible hand of God in the comportment of those he killed? 

The news manufacturers will not ask these kinds of questions.  Instead they will shift from shock to anger-laden provocations related to state-sponsored executions and gun rights.  And in this shift we are about to miss the point of this particular story – that imprecise knowledge, exemplified in the word nice,  led the killer to note the ambience of Christian unity, but failed to provide the content necessary for the recognition of kindness and its resultant openness to conversion. 

In fact, the nine victims delayed for an hour, and nearly prevented, their own deaths through their kindness to the gunman.  A cynical reader will look at those emphasized words and respond that kindness is an ineffective and unreliable deterrent to crime, and such a person will prove his point in the phrase nearly prevented.  In fact, one NRA board member has nearly expressed this opinion in his criticism of the church’s pastor, Clementa Pinckney, who opposed a conceal-carry law.  The kindness of Jesus Christ, it would seem in this view, requires a contingency plan.

But the idea that such a thing exists is the great lie of modern culture as it turns more vigorously away from God and into the false ideal of human control.  Dylann Roof had a conscience and possessed agency.  If this were not true, he would not have procrastinated in making a decision.  Dylann Roof is not a monster, but a human being who acted sinfully against people living in the love of Christ.  His victims could not have known when they welcomed him how directly their lives would reveal Jesus in the figure of the innocent lamb. 

What a great temptation it is to hedge our bets against the “lamb who was slain”.  The lamb, after all, is consumed in both Old and New Testaments by those who are unworthy.  Who would want to be in such a position?  But Jesus, through his own vulnerable humanity, invites all of humankind to the love of the Father.  When Christ was crucified, the Apostles did not cry, “vengeance!”  Rather, they sought to spread the word that we are brothers and sisters in Christ; that we must seek no alternatives to the kindness of the Word that penetrates hearts, converts sinners, and reveals the love of the Father for all His children.  This is the lasting witness of the faithful gathered to study the Lord’s word that night in Charleston.  Can we be challenged by their kindness to the stranger, and interpret its seeming ineffectiveness in the light of Christ’s victory over death through, and not apart from, the cross? 

These men and women, varied in age and background, but unified in faith, could not have known how much they were risking in their simple act of kindness – that reality, and the purity of their welcome to one who would betray them, was held in the secret of the Father’s heart, and is rewarded there as well. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"El Paso"

by Denise Morris

Several months ago while meeting with my spiritual director, I was in deep discernment about whether to enter religious life or dismiss the nudging idea of community that had been bubbling on the back burner for several years. Being a practical person who unfortunately spends more time in my head than my heart, I was exhausted trying to reason everything out. (As if you can reason with God…) During our discussion, my director posed a question that still resonates: “What will move you forward?”

No sooner had he asked the question, my heart quickened. I immediately knew what I needed and wanted to do. I had oscillated long enough at the proverbial fork in the road, hesitating while the proverbial grass grew under my feet. It was time to take a step forward and enter religious life.
Over the last several weeks, the theme of ‘steps’ continues to emerge in my prayer and daily life. And I am extremely grateful, because I believe “steps” to be a very healthy metaphor for discernment. I have no doubt that God is very close.

As much as I try (and believe me, I do try) to control an outcome or determine the end result of any endeavor, I know that I am powerless to do so. I’ve also discovered (okay, maybe finally admitted to myself) that my decisions (and indecision)  sometimes are overshadowed by a fear of failure. St. Peter and I have a lot in common. For both of us, attempts that might result in anything resembling failure feel threatening to our sense of security.

To walk on the water, Peter had to take that first step… then another… and another… not knowing whether he would sink or swim, literally. When he stepped with faith, he was fine. It was when he stepped with fear that he faltered.

My ego enjoys pelting me with the same discrediting doubt that Peter probably experienced: What if things don’t work out? What will people say and think? What if religious life isn’t a good fit? What if you’re not happy? But my God desires to comfort me with gentle, encouraging invitations that prompt me out of the boat: Let go. Keep your eyes on me. Take a step. I’ve got you.

As unnerving as it can be at times, I am taking a step forward in faith. And it’s liberating! Just like Peter, I don’t know where this journey will lead (or end!?), but I’m learning to trust the process. I’m learning to enjoy the journey and not the destination, as the popular saying goes. There’s no exhilaration at the end of a roller coaster ride, right? The excitement and elation occur throughout: anticipation as you ascend the summit, fear and adventure as you plummet into freefall, thrilling trepidation as your ride turns topsy-turvy at times…  Any great ride or journey is accompanied by all of these feelings and more. But if we’re honest, it’s these emotions and experiences that cause us to feel the most ALIVE!

I’m moving forward—not because I’m absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt, 100% sure that this is exactly where God is calling for the rest of my life—but because that small nudging voice keeps beckoning and inviting … Come! ... and because standing still in the same spot any longer is paralyzing and prohibits me from acquiring new information. Taking a step forward broadens my perspective and provides helpful and needed information to further discern my call and deepen my commitment. And as a good friend likes to remind me, “If you sit on the fence too long, you start to get splinters in your backside!” Touché.

God continues to confirm for me in strikingly obvious (and quite humorous) ways that I’m moving forward in the right direction. The latest confirmation occurred a few weeks ago as I was reflecting on my move in August to El Paso, where I am planning to begin formation with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. As I was considering the move, the timeline, things to take and things to leave behind, I suddenly remembered from language classes several years ago that the Spanish word “El Paso” means “step.”

God winked…  and I smiled back.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My Push/Pull Vocation Story

by Judy Donohue

I was called by God, I was gently drawn by God and urged by the Holy Spirit into my vocation.

In 2001, I interviewed and was offered a Chaplain job at St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, KY and began working on June 11, 2001. Later in 2003, Sr. Angela Wethington, SCN was in the hospital for shoulder surgery, and I visited her each day with Holy Communion. Two months after her discharge, I received a letter inviting me to be an Associate with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. I had some reservations, but decided to check out one weekend and see what they were about. 

I went to my first weekend in February 2004 and loved it! The Sisters and Associates were educated, progressive, open, and fun. Occasionally I wondered if God was calling me to be a sister. I went on a discernment weekend in 2006 to further explore that question. At this time, I wasn’t moved to enter, and was satisfied with my nice ministry job, my house, two cats, and family close by. Why change? My life was going well and I did not feel any great desire to change or call from God.

With time, my mother needed to go to a nursing home, both cats died, and my job grew increasingly stressful. I was miserable. On January 12, 2013, I attended Sr. Lucille Massey’s funeral at the Nazareth Motherhouse. Before she moved to the Motherhouse, she was a volunteer in the Pastoral Care Department at St. Joe’s. She would have been 101, if she had lived another week. 

Later, I ate lunch with Sr. Teresa Kotturan and Sr. Susann Gobber. Sr. Teresa mentioned to Sr. Susann that she thought I had a vocation. The next day when Sr. Susann and I went walking, she told me. It was like sunshine coming into my darkened soul. God did have a plan for my life and wanted me happy and joyful. Could I join this late in life? I called the Vocation Director, Sr. Nancy Gerth, and shared the conversation. I asked to enter discernment, and it was granted. The next step was to apply to enter the community. I filled out all the paper work.

The Western Province Board met on May 10, 2014, and I was accepted for entrance, but there were still many things to accomplish. Since I was to live in Louisville, KY, I had to quit my job, find a job there, clean out my house, and find a renter and find a place for my 2 new cats.

I sent my resume out to many places: Fr. Bryan Lambert knew Jerry Hegel who was the Human Resource person at Sodexo, the food service department of Jewish Hospital. I was offered a part time job, and later he made it full time with health insurance benefits. God was working. I put in my two weeks notice and began cleaning out my house. Two of my brothers and one sister helped take furniture, books, and clothes to Goodwill, the Catholic Action Center, and for storage in my brother Jerry’s garage. I asked Jerry if he would be interested in taking the cats. He said yes. Then a work friend, who had a property manager stopped by to visit. I asked his name and used him to find a renter for my house. Five days after everything was moved out, the house was rented. Two miracles!!

So many doors opened as God was gracing me to move forward. God gave me the push and courage to enter, because I did not have it before the lunch with Sr. Teresa. God pulled me and kept me in my community by my belief in the mission and by my general comfort with the community members I knew. God gives the graces when they are needed!!

“The Charity (Love) of Christ impels us.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 

Praise the Lord!