Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Tragic Gap

By Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Annie

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

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

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

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

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

Monday came, and no sight of Sharon.

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

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

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

So what difference does it make?

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

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

By Sr. Laura Coughlin, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Laura

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

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

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

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

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

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

Happened today after they expressed a train. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the best for last:

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

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

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

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

And now it’s time for the next adventure!

UDayton, here I come!

Friday, June 16, 2017

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

By Sr. Tracy Kemme, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Tracy

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What are your hopes for my future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D:  Nope.  I’m a very boring person. 

T: (I laugh) Anything else, Dad?

D: I think that’s it.

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

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

(We both laugh)

Thank you, Dad!  Happy Father’s Day!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Bearers of Hope

By Sr. Meg Kymes, SC Federation Under 10 Years Vocation

      Click HERE to learn more about Meg

A few weeks ago, one of my Sisters told this story of a recent experience at her ministry.  While visiting an elderly woman, the woman asked her, “What do you think of me?”  My Sister, taken aback, said to the woman, “I believe you are a generous, kind, loving person, who loves our Blessed Mother.”  The woman replied, “I hoped you’d say that.  I wanted to know if you would do the eulogy for my memorial so people could know I am a good person.”  As I was preparing to write this post, I thought of this story.  I also was reminded of my students who have recently received their First Communion.  In class we have discussed at length how as Christians we are called to bring Christ to others.  One of my students put it this way, “I’m so glad I got to have my First Communion because it keeps me closer to Jesus and makes me a good Christian.”

Just like our Blessed Mother that the elderly woman loved so much, all Christians are called to be bearers of Christ, bearers of hope.  I recall a statue of the Blessed Mother we had in Seminary.  The statue had our Blessed Mother standing holding out the Baby Jesus towards the viewer.  Our Directress taught us in her lessons that we as Daughters of Charity were to be like Mary brining Jesus to those most in need.  Now, as a teacher, I teach my students that they too are called to be bearers of Christ and therefore bearers of hope to all people we meet especially people who are in need.  My Sister who visited the elderly woman too was a bearer of hope to the woman.  Sister was able to give hope to the elderly woman that someone could speak of her kindly when she was gone. 

May we all remember we are, like Mary, a bearer of hope.  O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Way of Elizabeth

By Sr. Romina Sapinoso, SC Federation Canonical Novice

  Click HERE to learn more about Romina

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Come walk Elizabeth’s Way with us through this video of our pilgrimage to the places that were touched by and became part of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life and the life of her daughters in the Sisters of Charity Federation.

“Look up, my love, and be thankful for the good that yet remains.”
- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

“God has given me a great deal to do, and I hope always to prefer
His will to every wish of my own.”
- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

To learn about the different places in the pilgrimage, click on the following links:

National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Mt. St. Mary’s University National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes
Gettysburg National Military Park
St. Mary’s Spiritual Center and Historic Site
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Gettysburg
Our Lady of the Rosary (Seton Shrine in New York)
St. Paul’s Chapel (Trinity Church)
St. Andrew’s Church
Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill
Sisters of Charity of New York
Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth New Jersey