Wednesday, December 13, 2017


By Sr. Romina Sapinoso, SC Federation Apostolic Novice

Tuesday breakfast with Sister Flo
Every Tuesday morning during my novitiate, I meet Sister Flo for breakfast at the Mother House dining room at 7ish before we both head upstairs for morning mass. We didn’t really plan it this way but somehow, after we had our first Tuesday breakfast during my earliest months in Cincinnati, the idea of meeting again the following Tuesday came up and we’ve done it regularly ever since. Thus I started telling people that “On Tuesdays, I go with the Flo!”

Sister Flo turned 94 early this month. Her gentleness of spirit and calm demeanor disguise the religious life adventures she has lived. She was a school teacher, like many other sisters, during her earlier years of mission. Several weekends ago, I invited her to come to a dinner at Holy Family Church to welcome members of their sister parish, Good Shepherd. While helping bridge the gap between the Spanish and non-Spanish speakers at the table, she very humbly told them that 70 years ago, she was a young, 2nd grade teacher at this same parish school, her first ever mission as a Sister of Charity. In addition, Flo has also been a parish worker in Savannah, Georgia, a missionary out in the mountains of Peru, and lived in community with sisters ministering on the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. Whenever I am with Flo, a sense of gratitude is always present. She was and continues to be very grateful for the ministries she was a part of. Flo has a firm sense of the goodness of God in blessing her with a life far beyond what she could have imagined or planned for herself.

Almost a year and a half into my novitiate, I look back at what my breakfasts with Flo have brought me. There were challenging times in novitiate when I know I walked into that dining room to meet her and appeared more like a dark cloud than a ray of sunshine. Flo was always there to share those Tuesday mornings even when my outlook in life was as bleak as the dreary winter weather outside. Thankfully, I wasn’t always like that (I hope!). I look back with gratitude and blessing at her faithful presence and her continued ministry to me personally, even as she embraces her own slowing down and not being able to “do much.” Her willingness to be an instrument of God in every age and stage of her life is an important lesson in my own formation.

Celebrating Sister Flo's 94th birthday
During one of our usual Tuesday breakfasts, I recounted to Flo a weekend I participated in at Villa Maria in Pennsylvania for a formation workshop. She fondly recalled a couple of pictures she used to have of the sunflower fields at Villa where she herself did a couple of retreats. “I treasured those pictures,” she said. An image of this gentle woman looking fondly at a picture of a sunflower field gave me a sense of longing for what she has-- a deep connectedness with God and contentment for a life well-lived. Hearing Flo’s simple appreciation, a treasuring of the little and big things in her life, deepened my own appreciation of her and our time together. Treasured. That’s what she is in God’s eyes. That how she has always made me feel even though my attitude on some days could not be farther from what somebody would want to treasure. Treasured is how God sees me and every single one of us. More and more, I come to understand being “treasured” as not just a knowledge or a feeling. It is the wisdom that is gained over years of trust and openness in the embrace of a God who will always love us through the ups and downs of our lives, just like Flo has done for me in novitiate. Flo may never know the true extent of her contribution to my formation but my Tuesdays with her have strengthened my faith in a God that holds us so preciously and loves us deeply through all our continued growing and discovering of our gifts and challenges. Her ministry continues in her example and presence as she shares with me this vital lesson of treasuring and being treasured on the spiritual journey.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving, Part II: Moving from Thanks to Giving

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

On retreat in May, my director invited me to spend some time reflecting on gratitude, but there was a block in me.  Whenever I started to feel inklings of awe, my heart and mind became flooded with the injustice, poverty, and violence of the world.  I saw the faces of marginalized people that I meet through my ministry, and my heart winced.  How could I have the audacity to be grateful in the face of such pain and oppression?

I shared this with my director, and she smiled gently.  “Please, tell me: how is your guilt making life better for those struggling people?”

Now it was my turn to smile.  I looked down and then back up.  “I guess it’s not.”

“Exactly.  You neglecting to give thanks for the goodness in your life isn’t noble, and it doesn’t help anybody,” she continued.  “God rejoices in your gratitude just as God rejoices in your compassion.”

In his book Sacred Fire, Ronald Rohlheiser says that “gratitude is the basis of all holiness.”  Living in deep gratitude to the Creator is, for him, the first sign of a mature spirituality.  “The highest compliment we can give to a gift giver is to enjoy the gift thoroughly,” he says.  “Our level of maturity and generativity is synonymous with our level of gratitude – and mature people enjoy their lives.”

Our level of generativity is synonymous with our level of gratitude.  As I talked with my spiritual director, I realized that authentic gratitude keeps on giving.  When our heart falls to its knees in awe and thanksgiving to our God, we are opened up.  Just as real love is infinite, inherently desiring to widen and expand and encompass everyone, real gratitude compels us to giving.  If we deeply reverence all as gift, given to us by a God of love to no merit of our own, we want all to share in the gift.  And the relationship shifts from gifts as objects to love for subjects – an awareness of our oneness.

On Christmas Eve during my first year in Ecuador, the Uguña family invited me to their family celebration.  After late Mass in the simple chapel across the street, we shuffled into their cement block home.  A lovely folding table was set with plastic ware, and Christmas music wafted through the air.  The three boys taught me dance moves while chicken and rice emerged from the kitchen in Mamá Jenny’s loving hands.  At midnight, we ate, and we sat around the table for a long time.  Then, almost as an afterthought, Oscar, the father of the family, arose and said, “Los regalos!”

Jenny and her three boys, a few years after
that first memorable Christmas Eve. 
Each child opened one small gift, and they were exuberant.  Jenny and Oscar beamed to watch the delight of their children.  My heart burst as I took in the scene; I know how even three gifts were a financial sacrifice for the couple.  Then, Oscar motioned to the boys, and they ran excitedly to the bedroom to retrieve a small box.  The oldest thrust it into Jenny’s hands.

Her eyes met Oscar’s in soft surprise, and he winked.  She smiled deep motherly love at her three boys and opened the gift.  It was a small piece of cardboard pierced by two sets of tiny earrings.  She took them in with sweet gratitude, and then she set them aside, engulfing her children in a warm embrace.

Releasing them from the hug, she removed the earrings from the cardboard.  Then, seamlessly, she turned to me and handed me one of the pairs.  I must have looked perplexed, because she nodded toward her extended palm and said, “Para tí!  Feliz Navidad.”

I had probably thirty pairs of earrings in my bedroom at the house.  Jenny had almost nothing for herself.  I resisted.  But no amount of protesting would keep Jenny from sharing her gift with me.

I walked home that night with a pair of earrings in my pocket and a lesson in my heart.

It was never about the earrings.  It was about being a family and sharing love, a love that says, “All are invited.”  Jenny is deeply grateful and uncomfortably generous.  Jenny is one of the holiest people I know.

Sometimes, after an encounter with people like Jenny and Oscar, “the poor,” people from privileged U.S. classes say things like, “It just reminded me how blessed I am.  I’m going to be so much more grateful.”  And that’s it.  Like somehow God chose to bless me and not the other people, and that’s okay.  Whew, thank God I’m one of the fortunate ones!  That’s not mature, generative gratitude.

True gratitude plunges us into deeper relationship with God and all that God created.  We are free to relish the goodness of our lives, and we are urged to create more goodness in the world around us.  True gratitude compels us to service of the Reign of God.

This Thanksgiving, let us give thanks, deep, rooted, awe-filled thanks to our Creator.  But let’s not stop there, trapped in our personal table of bounty, in our private circle of loved ones.  Let’s open ourselves to the urging of gratitude:  we give thanks, and then we give ourselves fully to striving for justice and peace for all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving, Part I: Getting a Gr-attitude Adjustment

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

“Primero, quiero dar gracias a Dios por otro día más de vida…”

First, I want to thank God for one more day of life.  Working with women’s empowerment groups on the dusty, poor outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador, I heard these words more times than I can count.  Our meetings began with prayer led by one of the participants, and, without fail, their prayers began with praising God.  After thanking God for being alive, the women often continued on to thank God for the sun, the sky, their children, their homes, and for their “daily bread.”  And these were not rote words.  Their eyes were shut lovingly, and their faces were strong with devotion as they prayed them.

Sitting in plastic chairs outside two room houses whose cane walls and dirt floors held heart-wrenching stories of poverty, hunger, alcoholism, and abuse, the words of thanksgiving that opened each prayer were particularly striking.  In the midst of all these women carried, their basic posture to God was fierce, deep gratitude for the gift of life.  Interesting how “the poor,” who at first glance had very little to be grateful for, taught me more about gratitude than anybody else.


Last week, I wasn’t feeling very grateful.  Ministry was draining me.  Along with the usual demands, I was walking with some parishioners in a particularly painful situation that required lots of time and emotion.  Overwhelmed and under-slept, I was cranky as could be.

On one of those cranky mornings, I flipped mindlessly through my Facebook feed.  A friend, Mark, who is a cancer survivor, had posted this, “Overwhelmed today with gratitude. I get to be busy. There was a time when I had to stop. I just keep trying to move forward and upward.”  I get to be busy.  It hit me.  Most mornings, I look over my schedule at all the things I have to do.  How different would it be if I started the day looking ahead at all the things I get to do?  I knew I needed an attitude adjustment, or more accurately, a gr-attitude adjustment.

There are many barriers to gratitude, and some are legitimate.  I don’t want to minimize the reality of life. Last week, I found out that a dear friend is sick, and it is heavy on my heart.  Stress and strained relationships are real.  We’re humans, and some days we’re just cranky.  I’ve been through depression, and I know it’s not something you can just throw off like bedcovers.  It doesn’t help to beat ourselves up when we struggle to be grateful.  And it doesn’t help to walk around in superficial optimism, either.

 Still, sometimes, we can make a shift.  There is a difference between sitting in the muck of life and wallowing in it.  Sitting in it, we are honest: we acknowledge it’s there, but we don’t have to writhe around in it like a dog in a mud puddle.  There’s a difference between a healthy vulnerability that allows us to share our struggles with others and being consumed with complaining.  There is some kind of warped pleasure I can get from clinging to the negative, from replaying scenes in my mind and repeating them to others.  It’s almost addictive.  Mark’s Facebook post reminded me that we have some choice in this cycle.
On the grumpy morning that I read his words, I dropped the phone and went to my journal.  I started writing:  I am alive.  The sun is shining.  I can breathe, and walk, and read, and write…and on and on.  Once I got started, the list took on a life of its own.  I was no longer overwhelmed with surface negativity but with awe.

It’s amazing what happens to us spiritually, psychologically, and physiologically when we begin to name what we’re grateful for.  It forces us to zoom out and view the big picture of our lives.  It doesn’t erase the reality of pain and struggle, but it puts it in perspective.  I should’ve known this; my Ecuadorian friends showed me.  Living authentic gratitude is a both-and.

Thank you, God, for another day of life.

...Go to next blog entry for Thanksgiving Part II!...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sr. Judy Donohue, SCN, Professes First Vows

Congratulations to Sr. Judy Donohue, SCN, who professed her first vows as a Sister of Charity of Nazareth on August 26, 2017.  Sisters, Associates, family and friends joined Judy for the liturgical celebration, which gave witness to God’s infinite love, in and around us.  We are grateful for Judy’s ‘yes’ to the call to religious life.  May she continue to be ‘impelled by the love of Christ’ as she continues her journey as a Sisters of Charity.  Congratulations Sr. Judy, SCN!  

Sr. Judy signs her vows along with SCN President Susan Gatz
and Judy's witness Susann Gobber

Off to celebrate after a beautiful Mass!

Future of Charity members joined Judy for the celebration.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seeds of Hope

By Sr. Paris Slapikas, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Paris

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Working with men and women who have experienced intimate partner violence and sexual assault is never easy.  Day in and day out our staff is entrusted with the responsibility of being present to people at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable, emotionally and physically.  Our responsibility to build trusting relationships, model love, offer support, share information and resources, explore coping strategies and develop safety plans is a great responsibility and it is indeed a great privilege.  But being present to another’s deep suffering comes at a cost.  Engaging authentically with each person and their situation and at the same time realizing that the needs of our community far outweigh our capacity is a burden that is deeply felt.  Our staff routinely fears for the safety of those we serve and have to cope with the unknown of what happened to the person after completing the call or transitioning out of our emergency shelter.  And yet, our staff keep on keeping on because the phones continue to ring and the shelter remains filled to capacity.
On August 4th a woman in our community was killed by her partner and one day later another woman killed her husband in order to survive a violent attack and extensive history of domestic violence.  I won’t disclose whether or not these women were served by our agency.  Either way, they are ours.  Every day we field calls and provide shelter to people just like them; men and women at risk for being killed by their partner, the person who is supposed to love, cherish and care for them.  
It is in these times especially that we must recognize seeds of hope even in the midst of extreme suffering and tragedy.  Perhaps it is simply acknowledging the courage it takes for a person to call and share their story, in the woman who thanks you for believing them, the one who can acknowledge it isn’t her fault, perhaps it is in the person who says they feel stronger and more confident in their plan or the one who feels safe in shelter.
I believe it is no coincidence that a former client chose this week, in the midst of our grieving for those whose lives are lost to intimate partner violence, to stop in and let us know she is doing well.  That she is safe, still working, has an apartment and has regained custody of her children.  In spite of the heartache and tears that sometimes accompany this work, it is the seeds of hope and the knowledge and belief that what we do makes a difference in the lives of so many people.  This hope is what brings our amazing Advocates back day in and day out.

This week marks the one year anniversary that our dear Sr. Paula and her great friend, Sr. Margaret were killed.   Many are devastated and outraged by the atrocity in Charlottesville that cost Heather her life and injured many others.  As we go forward wading through the tragedy and heartache that surround us may we be the seeds of hope for others and always be instruments of love and peace.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

400 years of Charity: Making God's love visible

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Initially Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

At the end of July, I traveled to Pedro Carbo, Ecuador, with the Sisters of Charity Seton Hill interprovincial charism experience.  Each year, Korean and American Sisters visit and volunteer at the Korean sisters’ mission, a clinic and school for kids with special needs.  This summer marked my fifth time accompanying the group as a Spanish interpreter.  At the end of the week, I led a retreat with SC discerner, Marylu, for school staff, clinic staff, and local parishioners.  The Sisters asked us to focus on the 400th anniversary of the charism of Charity.

Preparing the retreat was profoundly enriching for me.  As I delved more deeply into the roots of the charism to which I have vowed my life, my own understanding of my call deepened and expanded.  How did the charism of Charity come about?  And what does that mean today?

Our retreat group, celebrating 400 years of Charity
Four hundred years ago, in January of 1617, St. Vincent de Paul experienced a conversion moment that would drive the course of the rest of his life.  In the northern French town Folleville, he heard a confession at the bedside of a dying peasant who had lived a life of loneliness and pain.  Vincent’s heart moved within him as he received the man’s suffering. He realized that this man never, in his whole life, had experienced God’s powerful love for him through another person.  And he realized that many on the margins were equally spiritually abandoned.

Vincent’s mission materialized: to bring divine love to all.  The mission overcame him with beautiful urgency. He knew he must spend every day of his life trying to make sure that no one would go without the love of God.  He felt especially urged to the margins, to those people who were poor, excluded, and oppressed. He felt called to enter into relationship with them and to align his worldview with theirs.  He felt called to make love visible through service.

Vincent said, “…Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.”  This mission tugs at my heartstrings.  I am called to make God’s love visible, concrete, tangible.  In my encounters, do I embody love?  Do I feel the same urgency that Vincent felt?

August of 1617 brought the second part of Vincent’s conversion.  This month 400 hundred years ago in Chatillon-les-Dombes, France, he became aware of a peasant family who was dying of hunger.  He preached an impassioned sermon begging for action on behalf of the family.  The whole town responded with great generosity, and the family had enough food for a few days.  Vincent was touched by the outpouring, but he was also troubled.  What would happen when the food ran out?

Vincent had an epiphany that became central to the charism.  In order to make a sustaining impact, we must organize.  Over the next years, Vincent recruited other priests, sisters, and laypeople to help in his mission of love.  They tackled the major social injustices of their day, responding to needs for healthcare, education, and more.  Vincent also became an advocate for systemic change.  Throughout his life, he maintained relationships with people of influence, making them aware of important issues and urging their support.  Late in life, he served on an advisory council for the Queen, where he kept the needs of the poor before her and fought for just legislation.

Our charism insists that God’s love must be made manifest through action, and that must happen on an individual as well as a societal level.  For those not familiar with our charism, common definitions of the word “charity” could be problematic.  The thrust of our energy is not one-sided aid, welfare, or relief.  We are urged by the love of Christ to make that love evident through service and seeking justice.

Racial justice activist Dr. Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  In the wake of the horrific display of hate in Charlottesville, that succinct but powerful phrase is a call to those of us who claim to live the charism of Charity – and to all Christians.

Charity may begin at home, but it must not stay there.  We experience the marvelous love of God in our lives, and it compels us to act.  Where there is hatred, we cannot be silent bystanders; we must sow love.  Our lives must make clear the love of Christ.  In our daily encounters and in our social and political engagement, do we make divine love visible?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of another charity tradition, said, “Do small things with great love.”  Yes, AND:  Do big things with great love, too.  These times need the fire of Charity.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Poem Prayer for Moving Forward

By Victoria Hood, SC Federation Candidate

      Click HERE to learn more about Victoria

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Life is a constant, moving forward

And so we thank You, Lord

For every day and every opportunity

To reach out to all our brothers and sisters

In charity, love, joy and prayer

So that all may lead elevated lives.

When reaching out to each other

Presents us with various challenges

I ask that You grant us

Confidence, faith, strength and courage

To meet each one with open minds, hearts and wills

And that You remind us

That we never reach out or meet a challenge alone.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How Free Cell reflects that God is always giving us another chance and another chance!

By Sr. Judy Donohue, SC Federation Apostolic Novice

On July 26, I finished up my vow prep retreat at the Mercy Retreat Center in St. Louis, MO.

artwork at the
Mercy Retreat Center
While there I met several people on retreat, and at mass. I noticed how meeting the two Mercy Sister Canonical novices for lunch, Kelly and Moira boosted my spirit. It was so nice seeing other women in the Novitiate. We shared the joys and challenges of being in formation.

some of my coloring
During my retreat, I met with my spiritual director each day. It was freeing to share everything that was on my heart and to share with her my fears, hopes, dreams and feelings.  She was a comforting listening ear.  I walked the Labyrinth each day reflecting on the changing of directions and my own experience of changing feelings and paths. I did some colored pencil coloring, walking and quiet prayer in the chapel.  In reflecting on God’s goodness to me to have come this far, I looked at what a grace the vows have been.  Obedience reminds me to ask for help when I need it.  I am not in this alone. Poverty reminds me to be a good steward of all I have been given.  Chastity reminds me to treat each person with respect for we are all trying to do our best. I am grateful for my vocation and the time everyone has put into making me the person I am today.

I’ve also noticed at night before I go to bed, when I played free cell on my IPad that I could play again and again and again until I get it right. This helps me understand that God allows us to keep learning lessons until we get it right.  This realization helps me to be patient with myself when I want to know everything now. I have to wait like everyone else.  God’s love is more patient than mine. God is able to take me where God wants me to go. I have enjoyed the ride. Keep me in prayer for I will be making my vows in 24 days on August 26!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Saying Goodbye to the Border

By Whitney Schieltz, SC Federation Affiliate

      Click HERE to learn more about Whitney

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Almost two years ago I moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to El Paso, Texas, to experience life in community and life on the margins as an Affiliate with the Sisters of Charity.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to the move.  I had never imagined myself living in the Southwest, and my complete lack of Spanish made me feel like a fish out of water.  This feeling was amplified when I began joining the Sisters in ministry at the Proyecto Santo Niño clinic, a day program for special needs children and their families in Anapra, Mexico.  I had no idea how I would be able to contribute without the language or any experience with special needs children.

Fast forward to now. 

When we pull up to the clinic in the morning, I am greeted by children running out to the car and calling, “Whitney,” “Winnie,” “Wendy,” or some other variation of my name (which does not translate well in Spanish).  In broken but much improved Spanish, I ask them how they are and what they want to play that day.  Many times I end up being a tiburón or zombi chasing them around the playground.  Other times we color together, or they want me to read them a book (in Spanish of course), which usually requires them helping me pronounce every third word.  And sometimes I’m lucky enough to have some of the girls give me a makeover, complete with a fancy up-do and thick makeup.  To my pleasant surprise, there are a lot of things you can do with children without speaking their language!

Next month I will move back to Cincinnati to become a Novice; and as my time on the border comes to an end, I reflect on my experiences here with awe and gratitude.  I have learned so much about love, about patience, about service, and about myself.  The children have reminded me how to enjoy the little things in life, they’ve shown me how to love indiscriminately, and they’ve taught me that I am capable of more than I often think I am.  There have been many encounters that have contributed to my growth over these past two years, but the children of Proyecto Santo Niño have definitely made one of the deepest imprints on my heart.  Although it will be difficult to say goodbye to the border, I am thankful for the time that I’ve had here, and I look forward to the road ahead.

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.