Friday, August 28, 2015

Celebrate Life!

By Sr. Sandy Howe

Today, August 28th, is Elizabeth Seton's birthday, and many of us are celebrating her!  As I reflect on and celebrate her, I am reminded of all the many people in our lives who are and who were important to us.  Some are with us today, and many have gone before us.  When I think of celebrating them I think of not only birthdays, but I was reminded of baptisms, weddings, anniversary's, sacraments, deaths, vows, etc.  When we gather to celebrate these things, it is not an isolated event that we celebrate, but rather a life.  

Recently I had the opportunity to celebrate my niece's 16th birthday.  We gathered at a restaurant, and for whatever reason, as more and more gathered many were on their phones, talking or texting.  

I said "Let's put our phones away. We have such limited time that we are together; let's be together."  

I actually surprised myself that I said it.  My nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters looked at me, and I said, "I'm serious. I think we really should do this."

Everyone put them away.  On my way driving home, I thought about how great it was that everyone did (myself included).  We actually talked and listened and were attentive to one another.  I truly
felt the gift of presence and was grateful to have experienced that.  I have been reflecting for days since then on how important the gift of presence and the gift of the moment are.  Our phones, our computers, etc., can be a great gift to us, but they also can be a hindrance to our gift of presence.  

My reflection reminded me how important it is to celebrate life.  Every day should be celebrated! Each day that we wake up and have a new day, one to give thanks and praise to God and be of service to others, is a day to celebrate.  The people in our lives should be celebrated, not only on special occasions.  It truly is a gift from God to have family, friends, community members, and others in our lives.  Elizabeth Seton deeply treasured all of the relationships in her life.

Image result for mother seton and sistersOn this, Elizabeth's birthday, take time to think of who those people are and have been important to you; take time to celebrate them and the life they have given to you and the life you give to them.  Whether they are here with us today or have gone before us, they are a blessing.

Take time to celebrate life and enjoy the memories.  If we all do this, I think Elizabeth will find it to be a most excellent birthday gift!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Dear faithful blog readers,

You may remember that a few months ago, we asked our bloggers to respond to a question, and we posted the answers here for you to read them!  We're doing it again, and this time, since change is in the air with back-to-school all around, the question is about transition.  We asked:

What helps you in times of transition?  What is the best tool you've got in your "transition toolbox"?  

And this is what the Sisters said:

"Gratitude." (Annie Klapheke)

"Discernment about one's own enthusiasm for a 'next step' is crucial to any transition.  Enthusiasm breeds creativity and an attitude that desires to initiate growth."  (Laura Coughlin)

"In times of transition, it's helpful to keep committed to what regulates myself.  Example: prayer, quiet, exercise, reading, artwork, cooking, listening to music, calling one true friend to talk.  Transition can be hard but it's a reality in life, as we are always in and out of transition.  I believe staying faithful to what keeps you, you is vital to surviving times of transition!" (Mallorie Gerwitz)

"Flexibility." (Rejane Cytacki)

"My tool is this quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.:
'Above all, trust in the slow work of God... We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability, and that it may take a very long time. ... Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.'" (Denise Morris)

"One of the best tools I have in my transition tool kit is the saying, 'Go with the flow!' I use this saying so many times as it reminds me that things don't always happen how I want them to happen...but I can be aware of what's going on and go with it."  (Carlette Gentle)

"When transition makes me feel off-center, it's important for me to stay rooted in prayer.  I love to sit with Psalm 64:10, 'Be still and know that I am God'  and often do the 'backward' meditation:  'Be still and know that I am God...Be still and know that I am...Be still and know...Be still...Be.'"  (Tracy Kemme)

And last, a thought from one of our brand new bloggers:
If I had one tool in my transition toolbox, I would choose support. Support to me means that someone cares for me in their actions and desires happiness in my life. Something that sticks in my mind when I think of transition is Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; "There is a time and a season for everything..." Sure enough that is almost the first quote from Joyce Rupp's, OSM book, Praying Our Goodbyes, which I read during my recent move from New Orleans to Kentucky. It was comforting to read Rupp's words: 'Goodbye was a blessing of love...never be alone.' 
And my favorite from Rupp was, "We cannot keep you from this journey." A good example I can share with you is my time at St. Rita in New Orleans, LA. I was the PE teacher and also served on an unofficial administration team of three (principal, coach and myself). We were like the three musketeers! When the time came for me to leave they struggled and tried hard to keep me by giving me raises, places to stay and even providing me a vehicle. I had to sit them down and explain to them that I was in transition and that the one thing I needed most from them was support. I did not need them to find ways to keep me at St. Rita for another year. They too were in transition and I had to be their support system as well. Once we agreed to give support we became stronger in friendship. I am blessed to have had the experiences of transitions throughout my life; while they may be difficult I know that I have support holding me up in faith, love and joy! (Melissa Fisackerly)

We hope this is nourishing for you, whatever moment you may be living right now on your journey.  In the comments, share with us: what is in your transition tool box?  Many blessings, friends!

-The Blog Team 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Judy becomes a novice!

Judy Donohue was received into the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s Novitiate today, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, during the Motherhouse Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nazareth, Kentucky.  Please pray with Judy on her journey!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Becoming a Postulant

By Kara Davis

The Provincial Counselor from St. Louis in 
charge of Postulant Formation led a simple 
evening prayer service in our chapel at 
Claiborne Residence in New Orleans.
After spending about a year as a pre-postulant with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, I requested to continue discerning, and to enter more deeply into formation with the community.  On August 11, 2015, I was formally received as a Postulant and will spend a year continuing to deepen my Spiritual life, Christian identity, and understanding of the Vincentian charism.

"Postulancy is the stage during which the candidate experiences living a spiritual, community, and apostolic life in common.  She continues to discern her vocation and to deepen her human and Christian formation.  In the light of the Gospel, she seeks to discover the Vincentian charism and to learn the requirements of her vocation as expressed in the Constitutions and Statutes."  (Constitution 54)

I am excited and filled with joy as I engage in this new stage of formation with the Sisters, surrendering myself more deeply to Christ, and allowing myself to be formed into the Woman of God He has called me to be.

I received the Miraculous Medal to wear, and 
the Community Constitutions & Statutes to 
review before in-depth study during the 
next stage, Seminary (aka novitiate). 

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.  As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks -we will find our path to authentic service in the world.  True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's great need."  (from Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer)

Please continue to pray for me, and all women who feel called to respond to the world's great need as Sisters.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Elizabeth in Ecuador

By Sr. Tracy Kemme

Sisters of Charity in Ecuador
The echoes of one person’s yes can be astounding.  Elizabeth Seton founded the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in the early 1800’s.  This July, I experienced her spirit alive and flourishing in the little town of Pedro Carbo, Ecuador.
Each summer, the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill hold an integration program for sisters from their United States and Korean provinces.  Part of the program is a week in Ecuador at a mission of the Korean province.  The experience allows for shared prayer, conversation, and ministry to strengthen their common journey.  Much of the week is spent at INESEM, the Sisters’ school for children with special needs.  Since 2011, these Sisters have invited fellow Cincinnati Charity, Sister Janet, and me to come along for Spanish translation and other forms of support.

Although I had come on the Ecuador experience twice before, this time felt different.  No longer a discerner as on previous trips, I am a vowed Sister of Charity!  Although we were a fascinating group of all ages and backgrounds, I knew I was among family.  And the shared charism that is our future was evident.  It was hot, and loud, and dusty.  One of the U.S. sisters is in her eighties! At times, we were translating among four languages – English, Spanish, Korean, and sign language.  And yet, the Sisters dove into each experience, urged by Christ’s love.   

The Sisters in Ecuador asked Janet and me to lead a reflection at the local parish on Thursday evening.  We decided to bring Elizabeth Seton’s spirituality to life for the parishioners, hoping to introduce them more deeply to the motivation of the Korean sisters who serve in their community.  I dressed up in an old habit, assuming the role of dear St. Elizabeth Ann.  Janet interviewed “me” about my story.

Portraying Elizabeth was a profound experience.  As I stepped into her shoes and attempted to communicate her spirit to others, she was so present to me.  I feel like I came to know her heart in a new way.  Taking in the moment through her eyes, I was overwhelmed with awe at God’s providence.  In 1809, Elizabeth, a young widow, mother, and brand new Catholic convert, founded the fledgling Sisters of Charity community in Emmitsburg, Maryland, near Baltimore.  She never would have dreamed that, more than two hundred years later, her story would be told 3,000 miles away in South America!

How did this come to be?  In 1829, Sisters were missioned from Emmitsburg to the “western” town of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati were formally established there in 1852.  Then, in 1870, four sisters and two novices set out from Cincinnati to serve in Pennsylvania.  That community grew as well and was incorporated as the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  Almost a century later, four Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill traveled to South Korea upon the request of a Bishop.  Vocations soon flourished there, and the mission grew to be a province of the Sisters.  In 2008, beckoned by a Korean lay missionary, four brave Sisters from this Korean province traveled across the ocean to Ecuador to found the flourishing mission in Pedro Carbo.  What wonders occur when we risk a faithful response to God’s call!

The 4 Sisters of Charity who currently live in Pedro Carbo
The faces of the Ecuadorians gathered at our parish presentation showed that they identified with Elizabeth’s trust and courage through so many ups and downs.  Some people smiled, and some even had tears in their eyes.   All were nourished.  We invited all to place their lives in God’s hands and to share a moment of Adoration together, since Elizabeth herself found such strength in the Eucharist. 

Adoration with Ecuadorian parishioners
Janet and I knelt to face the Blessed Sacrament with the Sisters and the Ecuadorians.  To our delight, we noticed that the altar was adorned with many white roses, a flower that has come to be a symbol of hope in our congregation.  I felt Elizabeth smile upon us, grateful that her daughters continue to serve today, and especially overjoyed by the ever-increasing collaboration of the Federation.

Elizabeth’s “yes” is still echoing today.  Due to the faith of many women through the years, the charism of Charity is now pulsing in the little town of Pedro Carbo, Ecuador.  Who knows where it might go from there?  Sólo Dios sabe. 

Imagine what your yes could do!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Middle Road

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

I suffer through a paradox here at Boston College, the cause of which is the constant analysis of theological questions at one remove from praxis.

This paradox challenges me to hold fast to clear boundaries set around moral truths, but also demands flexibility in human relationships according to the model of Christ.  It finds expression in an interior protest against what I perceive to be an overemphasis on institutional sin at the expense of a poorly embraced examination of personal fault.  And it warns me of the need for right discernment between the two extremes of superstition and rationalism.

It seems as if I am always looking for a middle road in the midst of this paradox, one on which I will experience a radical journey with Christ that is not of my own making, and is true.  Where can I find such a road?

A good start for unpacking this question is Leo Tolstoy’s wonderful short novel entitled,  Father Sergius.  This story traces the life of a promising young prince driven by a humiliating personal offense into a bold decision that would affect the rest of his life.  

Shortly before his wedding date, Stepan Kasatsky learns that his fiancé has dallied with the Tsar, to whom he had vowed utter loyalty.  In response to his beloved’s offence, Kasatsky abandons his wealth, his girl, and his worldly ambitions to enter a monastery.  His strange objective is to use his vocation as a way of spiritually ascending to a place above those who hold a superior rank in the world.  This motive is accurately identified by his sister who recognizes his values as her own.  In Kasatsky’s bizarre choice, she identifies not an act of virtue but one of contempt.  Tolstoy thus prepares the reader for the monk’s failure through the establishment of an interior flaw.  

Despite improper motives, the man ordained as Father Sergius is sincere in his religious commitment, and his efforts seem rewarded midway through the story when he gains miraculous healing powers.  The devil’s tricks are everywhere, however, and the priest continues to discipline his sinful inclinations severely and immediately, even cutting off his own finger when a temptress presents herself with clear intention.  Although his efforts yield some impressive results (e.g. the aforementioned jezebel reforms and enters the convent), the priest is disappointed when his rigor fails to quell temptation.  Tortured by self-doubt, he wonders why true holiness is so elusive, and toward the end of the story, having fought his inclinations for many years, he yields to his greatest weakness and lies down with a woman.  

What he does next speaks to the point of this essay.  The priest neither accepts himself as “more human” on account of his sin, nor endeavors to further discipline his passions as the sole task of his life.  Rather he again chucks it all and sets out in search of a girl named Pashenka whom he remembers from earlier days as one he’d mocked with other boys of his station.  She is described in her childhood by Tolstoy as a simple person, “a thin little girl with large mild eyes and a timid pathetic face.”  She was easy prey to the mean but refined young men who once made her pretend to swim on the floor.

By now the invisibly formative and genuinely effective elements of a religious vocation are working their magic on Father Sergius.  Pashenka becomes a symbol of the priest’s redemption, and his shame in relation to his earlier treatment of her – a pain sharper than that which is related to his sexual transgression – places him squarely in the throes of a true conversion.  When he finds her, Pashenka’s life is as sad as he expects.  She has lost her fortune.  She is widowed after having lived life with a man who drank too much and beat her.  She continues to labor in order to assist relatives who are sick, and perhaps (but not by her admission) also lazy.

Tolstoy, who was himself an aristocrat in search of a deeper faith (see pictures below), now goes to work painting his ideal of the Christian disciple.  Pashenka is understanding – her husband’s drinking was “a sickness.”  She is generous – her contribution to pilgrims who pass by her door is directly an image of the widow with only two mites.  She is grateful – “How I used to dislike music,” she says, “but how useful it is to me now!'  She is discretely religious – she “keeps the fasts”, but with great humility she tells the priest who once treated her as a fool that she “lack(s) real religious feeling.”

Father Sergius, who now confesses to be no more than “Stepan Kasatsky – a great and lost sinner,” identifies in Pashenka that which human beings most desire in the Kingdom of God.  Pashenka is poor on almost all measures, but in forgiveness she has abundant wealth, and through it she grants her old tormentor access to the middle road on which she has patiently walked with Christ her whole life.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Montana Pilgrimage

By Sr. Rejane Cytacki

​"Come North!," was the call our past Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (SCL) heeded when they set out from Leavenworth for Helena, Montana in 1869.  Traveling north to trace our sisters’ footsteps, four of us set out from Kansas in July for a two week pilgrimage to Montana.

Arriving first on the Cheyenne and Crow Reservations, we spent two days with our sisters who minister in the schools and churches of the native people. The land is arid and beautiful with its big open spaces and large mountains and so too are the people who are part of this land. They have a history that is older than ours and filled with the tragic loss of their lives and lands with the arrival of the white people. That history continues to play itself out on the reservations with drug and alcohol addiction and lack of resources. However, the bright spot is the value of education. 

This is where our Sister of Charity history becomes intertwined with the native peoples. To paraphrase the last Crow chief, Plenty Coups: education is the path to equality with the white people; without it native people are just their victims.

Next we traveled to Billings, Montana.  We learned the largest percent of Billings people who are homeless and struggling withdrug addiction are native people.  At the Society of Vincent de Paul, where two of our sisters work, we learned their mission isto break through the stigma of racism and addiction to help those who are in need. The Vincentian charism was present in the bridging of the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Our Vincentian heritage was also obvious as we spent time learning how integral our sisters were and are in the operation of Saint Vincent Hospital.

Our next stop took us west over the Bozeman pass and down into Butte. What a breathtaking view of the Beartooth Mountains! Seven of our sisters welcomed us with a wonderful meal and prayer.  The next day we headed to Virginia City where three of our sisters opened and ran St. Mary’s hospital from 1876-1879 to minister to the miners. Virginia City was a very lucrative gold mining town and today is preserved as part of Montana’s history. 

All of these different people: native people, miners, SCLs, and Vincentian family, are part of Montana’s history woven together into a tapestry of story. This trip reemphasizes the important role history plays in who we are. From education, healthcare, social services, to pastoral ministry we as sisters today stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, ready to evolve our charism and mission in new ways serving those in need.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Reimagining Prayer

 By Sr. Annie Klapheke

Yesterday was the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits; the religious order of our Holy Father Pope Francis.  Ignatian prayer encourages using the imagination to enter into Scripture passages.  In this method, a person uses all of his or her senses to contemplate a Biblical scene.  What do you see, hear, touch, and smell?  Can you feel yourself rocking on a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee?  Can you smell the barn animals surrounding the manger at Jesus’ birth?  Or taste the choice wine poured out at the wedding in Cana?  This form of imaginative pray has often helped Scripture come alive for me.  But until recently, I had only imagined myself taking on a human role in the stories.  

While on retreat, I was given an article titled The Ecological Examen by Joseph Carver, SJ, which suggests taking on non-human roles in the scene.  Carver states, “By entering into Ignatian contemplations in non-human roles, we not only increase our sensitivity to creation but open our hearts to new depths of insights offered by the Spirit.  Thus we are invited to enter into the scene as if we were part of the natural world – seeds scattered on rocky soil or the oil that anoints Christ’s feet.”  This concept could not align more perfectly with Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si:  On Care for our Common Home.  Throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis repeatedly emphasizes our connectedness to the natural world.  In the second paragraph of the letter he states, “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” 

While on my recent retreat, I decided to give this reimagined prayer a try.  I took a deep breath, cleared my mind, and asked the Spirit to lead the way.  I was surprised that the scene which surfaced in me was Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane.  I found myself entering into the scene as the rock over which Jesus laid his body and prayed.  I thought about the soft skin of Jesus’ arms resting on my cool, rough surface, and his tears bathing me as they fell from his cheeks.  What I was most aware of was that I felt strong, solid and firm as I upheld a spirit which was struggling with doubt and fear. 

What was God trying to say to me in this reflection?

The next day, I thought about my meditation experience and my own discernment journey since entering religious life.  There have been moments when my spirit, too, has struggled with doubt and fear.  Moments when my confidence in my call fades, and I wonder if I really can ‘take this cup’ of poverty, celibacy and obedience.  Moments when I fear that I won’t be happy in my vocation and that I will regret closing the door to other life paths.  But what I felt God say to me in my meditation is that God has placed within me a rock-solid faith that is capable of upholding my struggling spirit, even in the greatest moments of doubt.  I can trust this faith to remain firm because it comes from God.

What message might God have for you in the non-human characters of the Gospel stories?  In celebration of Ignatian tradition, I invite you to enter into the experience of reimagining your prayer. 
Rocky terrain in Denali National Park, Alaska (Annie Klapheke)