Monday, December 24, 2018

Welcome: Christmas Eve Reflections From The Border

by S. Andrea Koverman, S.C., S. Romina Sapinoso, S.C., Sandra Ramirez

Andrea, Romina and Sandra are all spending their Christmas and New Year’s holidays down on the border at the Sister of Charity Casa de Caridad in Anthony, New Mexico. Andrea and Romina are Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and Sandra Ramirez is a freshman at Mt. St. Joseph University who chose to spend her whole winter break with the SCs at the Southern border. These stories and reflections come from their days of volunteering at different houses of hospitality in El Paso, Texas this past week. 


This temporary shelter sits in the area of central El Paso overlooking the international
Dr. Veronica Rayas hanging out with SCs Romina Sapinoso,
Carol Wirtz, Janet Gildea and Andrea Koverman back in 2013
border between US and Mexico. From the building, there is a good view of the border fence, the mountains on the other side, and the neighborhoods in central Juarez. The building is supposed to be a Religious Education Center initiated by a good friend, Dr. Veronica Rayas. She had a vision of a different way of teaching religion to young people in the church, incorporating their culture and day to day living in deepening their understanding of Catholicism. From these ideas, this place was born. Cooking, silk-screen printing, pottery, and painting are just a few of the ways Veronica and her religious ed teachers are teaching their students about their faith. However, these days, this center is serving quite a different purpose than what it was originally intended for.

Veronica, her sister Ana and a group of volunteers have been welcoming and serving warm meals to hundreds of asylum seekers released from ICE detention since the center opened its doors to them in late October of this year. Veronica often talks about how she never expected the way God has steered the center in the direction of becoming a house of welcome to immigrant fathers, mothers and their children. But her sense of awe and amazement at being blessed to have a place such as this to welcome them is palpable. It is also no coincidence that the center is connected to a parish just across the street whose parishioners allow their space to be used as an extension for the overflow of people. How appropriate as it is an opportunity to welcome the Holy Family in our midst today.

This past Saturday, this temporary shelter received its biggest number of asylum-seekers yet in one day - a total of 124. As the first big bus load of people arrived, Veronica called all the volunteers as well as guests that arrived earlier during the week to help welcome the new arrivals. Led by Veronica, everyone lined up outside ready, with big smiles on their faces. They held a hand-made banner with the word, “¡BIENVENIDOS!” written in big bright colors. Tentative faces looked back at us but as we continued greeting and welcoming them, the tentativeness slowly turned into shy but big smiles of relief and the knowledge that they are welcomed by people who see and care for them. As Christmas draws near, this beautiful image of welcome makes me stop and reflect about how ready I am, we are, to welcome Jesus in our midst this Christmas. As the celebration of Jesus’ birth draws nearer, it is my prayer that we never miss an opportunity to welcome him in our midst in whatever way, shape or form he presents himself to us.


"Hola buenas tardes," said each person I ran into at the shelter. As I entered the office I see four to

six different Sisters from different states running the center. Children gathered at the living room that was filled with many toys. Sisters who brought instruments singing christmas carols in spanish and the refugees singing along and smiling as if they can finally relax for a bit. As I did my normal walk around the center I always walk upon this beautiful cross. A cross that is a remembrance of God's
love for us that he gave his only begotten son. I stood for a minute and got closer to it. I have never given much thought about what was around the cross and as I got closer I realized what it was. On both sides of the cross I found a lot of Pesos. It sparked in my head that these beautiful people where leaving pesos as an offering to God. They have gone through so much mistreatment and had very little that they still found a need in their hearts to leave an offering. As I walked away I felt a sense of peace in my heart to know that these people truly have a strong faith in God even after this hard part of their journey.

I walked by again and this time I stumble upon a little girl holding on to a rosary and kneeling in front of the cross. The girl was about five or six. She had two pigtails and a cute red summer dress. As I saw her it reminded me of the verse Matthew 18:2-4: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said:“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I walk by one last time and see a dad and his son. They both were kneeling in front of the cross. I got a little closer and realized they were praying in mum. They whispered quietly and then it hit me that I understood one phrase they were saying. The dad kept saying, “Thank you God, Thank you.” I
learned this phrase because my parents speak mum. Listening it reminded me of my dad when he prays. A man of strong faith who came to America 21 years ago to be able to give me the life I am living today.

My admiration for these people can’t be described in words. Their willingness to continue their relationship with God. I pray that they find peace and acceptance in this country because like God says in Mark 9:37: "Anyone who welcomes a little child welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me."


I can relate to the various expressions I saw on the three busloads of refugees and migrants as the deboarded upon arrival at a shelter in El Paso. Some faces showed fear and anxiety, while others relief, joy and hopefulness. I, too have just arrived at the border, not knowing quite what my change in ministry and location will mean, and am a jumble of all of these emotions as well.

But there is something very very different when comparing my situation to those arriving from detention centers. Unlike them, my decision to migrate was not a result of abject poverty, a lethal lack of basic necessities for sustaining my very existence or that of those depending upon me for theirs. It was not a result of death threats or because I had witnessed family members and friends murdered or disappeared, never to be seen again. It was not because I was being hunted down or extorted for refusing to cooperate with gangs and organized crime. It was not because I was left unprotected and neglected by my government and social programs. I freely chose to migrate, they did not.

Part of my reason for returning to live at the border was the opportunity to encounter and be in relationship with people who have been marginalized by their refugee or migrant status and economic injustice. I hope to be of service in some way, shape or form and was happily reminded the other night from a line in the movie, A Christmas Carol, that “no life is useless that lifts the heart of another.” But more than coming to see how I can be helpful, I came for the ways these people are helpful to me.

I was rewarded immediately during the first night I volunteered to greet and assist newly released
detainees at the shelter. Not speaking Spanish very well (yet), I was most helpful in the kitchen preparing and serving a hot home-cooked meal to the 124 plus guests. Their earnest responses of “Muchas gracias” and the looks in their eyes that said so much more than their words ever could broke my heart and brought a quote of St. Vincent de Paul to mind: “It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you for the bread you give them.” These people are no less deserving of security and resources than anyone else, and it is an injustice we are all called to address that there is such economic disparity among the people of the world. But rather than being angry at such an injustice, I was met with only gratitude for what we were offering: food, a warm shower, a clean change of clothing, help in contacting the people they were trying to get to, and the display of pure pleasure to welcome and connect with these sisters and brothers coming into our country and into our hearts.

I was given an early Christmas present of remembering who I am and what I am to be about. I am a beloved child of God no less and no more loved by God than any other. And I am to be about reflecting God’s unconditional, immeasurable, incomprehensible love that I have come to know with those who need to have that same experience the very most.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Who, Me???

By Sister Andrea Koverman, SC
SC Federation First Professed

The season of Advent never fails to be a time of growth and deepening transformation when we dedicate ourselves to an extended and deepened examination of how well prepared we are to receive God. Our stumbling blocks emerge so that we can get to work making straight the path, clearing away whatever keeps us from being receptive and reflective of God so that we, too can honor the call to be Christ bearers in the world, birthers of God’s love and life.

But this Advent has been an even more intense period of discernment for me.  Though I have been very happy in my ministry in Cincinnati, I began feeling a “holy dissatisfaction” several months ago that I couldn’t explain. I spent a significant period of time trying to ignore, suppress and pray my feelings away, thinking that I should be content with all that I had been blessed with and intensely ashamed of not feeling more grateful.

It wasn’t until my local community hosted a discernment weekend for young women exploring what God might be calling them to do with their lives, that I got some insight that helped me recognize what was happening with me. In a video clip used by a member of the planning team Fr. Michael Himes, SJ explained that God sometimes prompts us to move on from perfectly meaningful and fulfilling ministry into something new through feelings like the ones I was having. We experience what he calls a “holy dissatisfaction,” a sense that there is something else God is calling us to that helps us detach from what is, not to serve personal preferences or ambitions, but for a purpose only known by God.

It took months of intense discernment for me to grow confident enough that my feelings really were of God to share them with my community, but my heart had known at once when I heard Fr. explanation. It was not easy to communicate this leap of faith I felt so compelled to take, but my congregational leadership has given me their support, and I am truly grateful. I have left one loving local community in Cincinnati and come to another in a border town near El Paso. Though I do not know exactly how God will put me to use, I do know coming to this place where migrants and refugees are experiencing such pain and suffering is a crucial part of it. These sisters and brothers need to experience God’s love through us, Jesus’ disciples more than ever before. We are called to encounter the most marginalized among us and in coming I am following in the footsteps of our foundresses and predecessors who did what presented itself, going to the places where great needs were identified, not with a ready-made plan, but in obedience to their vows to go where God sent them, to trust God to reveal the way they were to minister and to depend on God to help them do it.

The season of Advent is full of examples of people who felt less than confident that they were the right choice to answer God’s call to be Christ-bearers, ushering in God’s kindom of justice, love and peace in a cold and suffering world. I am in the best of company in responding, “Who, me?” and “How can this be?” I am called to respond through the religious vows I have made. The vow of celibacy means that I am free to love beyond my immediate circle of family, friends and community and what enabled me to pack up and leave when I felt called to do so. My vow of obedience requires that I pay attention and respond to the way God calls me uniquely and particularly regardless of my own doubts and those of others. And my vow of poverty keeps me mindful and accepting of my dependency on God in all that I am and do. I feel a deep joy and inner peace as I put myself at God’s disposal and wait to see what good will come of it. I am confident, even in moments of questioning that as in Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord is saying to me, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That sounds very good to me, so here I am, Lord!

May you all experience the joy of receiving God within and among us, and be filled with the joy of this love beyond all understanding this Christmas!

Packed Pilgrim Heading Out

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Report from the Border

SC Federation First Professed

I'm spending my graduate school Thanksgiving break at the border, a place dear to my heart and central to my vocation. Our Sisters have been ministering here, truly on the margins, for almost thirty years.  They're currently collaborating with hundreds of people of goodwill to welcome migrants who are released from detention centers daily in huge numbers.  Annunciation House coordinates the network of hospitality shelters throughout El Paso.

I came to volunteer in one of the shelters with the little time I have right now, and I wish I could stay so much longer.  The beautiful people I am meeting are Christ among us: hungry, thirsty, sick, desperately in need of clothing, shelter, and welcome (Matt 25:31-46).  Below, I offer you a snapshot of one beautiful and heartbreaking encounter.   There is much more to tell, but for now, a glimpse into the current border reality:


The midday El Paso sun sears into my forehead.  I shield my eyes and look up at Pedro, sitting on a cement block next to me.  His 8-year-old son, Juanito, and a few friends kick around a deflated basketball in the gravel lot, the first time they’ve played freely since they left Honduras one month ago.

Pedro’s eyes are tired as he tells me about their journey. For three weeks, he was on the road with his son and other migrants they met along the way.  For three weeks, they slept and ate only intermittently.  When Juanito cried, Pedro held him tight and reminded him that he would get to see his mom in the United States.

Once they finally arrived to the U.S-Mexico border, Pedro and Juanito spent four days in detention.

“When we first got there, they lined us up in the hallway, and we stood for four hours until they could take our information.  Then, they gave us each an aluminum blanket and shuffled us into a small room with other dads and kids, with barely enough space for us to crawl up on the floor to sleep. It was freezing – the air conditioner blasted day and night.  There was one toilet in our room.  Twice a day, they brought a bean burrito, still quite frozen, for each of us, and a small juice for the kids.  We couldn’t go outside, except one day they took us to a bigger detention center to finish processing us, and they let us take a shower.”

It was the first chance they’d had to bathe in weeks.  That evening, immigration agents crammed forty fathers and children into an even smaller room and told them they could sleep standing since it would be their last night in detention.  The dads worked together to get their children accommodated on the floor, and then they did what they could to rest.  Some sat on the small floor of the bathroom; others just stood and leaned against the wall all night.

Yesterday, they were brought in a bus with fifty-eight other Central American migrants to this center, one of several run by Annunciation House and staffed by volunteers.  Here, they are given good meals, clothes, toiletries, showers, cots, pillows, blankets, and a warm welcome that honors their God-given dignity, before they continue their journeys to relatives and friends elsewhere in the United States.

“It’s been difficult,” he says quietly.  “I can deal with it. I’m an adult, you know?  But my little guy…” He trails off as he beholds his only son with misty eyes.  “I brought him because I want him to grow up safe, and I want to be able to feed him every day.  I never dreamed it would come to this.”

I’m in awe at his resilience and simultaneously overcome with sorrow.  “You’re an amazing father.  You know that?  You’re so brave.”

“I hope so,” he sighs.  “Everything I do, I do for my beautiful boy.”

The duo will board a bus later tonight for the final leg (for now) of their exodus.  Tomorrow, they’ll arrive to the city where Juanito’s mom lives.  She will be able to embrace her son for the first time in five years.  Pedro and Juanito will report to court in early December to begin asylum proceedings – which rarely end favorably.  But this is no time to be hopeless.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Pedro,” I tell him, and it's true.  My heart is bursting with admiration.  I feel like I'm in the presence of a saint.  “I don’t know how you do it.  You have been through so much, and you’re still going strong.”

“Gracias a Dios,” he asserts, gesturing to the sky, strength in his cheekbones.  “Everything is all thanks to God.  We’re alive.  We made it.  I can never stop thanking my God.”


**Please support Annunciation House 
and our beloved migrant sisters and brothers 
by donating HERE.**

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Fall Gathering in NOLA

This past weekend, eight members of the Future of Charity and one discerner gathered at the House of Charity in New Orleans for fellowship and faith-sharing. Guiding our prayer and conversations was the theme of self-awareness and identity. As we listened to Jesus ask his disciples, Who do people say that I am? and Who do you say that I am? (Mk 8:27-30) we asked ourselves: Who do I say I am? and Who do we say we are?

Utilizing a template of George Ella Lyon's I Am From poem, we reflected on our lives and how our unique backgrounds have helped form us into the women we are today. Then, we each selected two lines from these poems to compile the following We Are From poem...

We Are From…
We are from cardboard tubes,
From playing sports and building forts.
We are from the monster bush,
      a secret fortress in the yard.
We are from the forest and oceans.
We are from the Pearl of the Orient,
      from brown skin, white rice and coconut milk.
We are from rotini and peanut butter-tomato sandwiches,
From the selfless giving of my father,
      coaching our teams, caravanning kids, and filling up gas tanks.
We are from Sr. Armella and faithful Sunday­ Worship.
We are from St. John's and Catholic school,
      God the Father of light bless this Advent candle.
We are from a sharp contrast between independence and interdependence.
We are from my Aunt who took me shopping for school clothes
      and strong faith.
We are from a house without borders.
We are from the woods,
      from untamed, fascinating freedom.
We are from the Mt. Giri that manifests the sublime beauty of nature,
      quietly surrendering me to its great power.­
We are from the peach tree in the backyard,
      whose canopy of leaves made the perfect place for singing.
We are from wise stewardship and peaceful encounters,
      though sensitive strings were rarely touched.
From keeping one another accountable
      yet embracing one another's faults.
We are from the love that is stronger than the wounds.
We are from the Charity charism and all its founders,
      From the women and men on whose shoulders we stand.
We are from the vision of sisters
      who not too long ago dreamed of a future together.

In another exercise, we each wrote five answers to the question Who are you? and put together our favorite responses to create somewhat of a mantra for ourselves as the Future of Charity. It reads...

We are women of courage.
We are generative co-creators.
We are bridge-builders and seekers of peace.
We are Sisters of Charity in a global world.
We are women held, formed, and challenged in community.
We are able to see the light in the darkness.
We are women vowed to God.
We are human.
We are love.

Thank you to everyone who kept us in their prayers during our time together!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Real Presence

By Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC Federation Temporary Professed

      Click HERE to learn more about Annie

The door was slightly ajar.  I knocked lightly and softly called into the room, not wanting to disturb her if she was resting.  “Who is it?” she asked.  I entered fully into the room, but knowing that her poor eye sight would prevent her from recognizing me, I announced my identity, “It’s Annie.”  “Oh Annie!” she exclaimed, as she threw her head back and the widest smile spread across her face.  “I am so happy it’s you!”

This describes the opening scene of any (of my many) visits to S. Annina Morgan, a beloved Sister of Charity who went home to God earlier this year after 102 years of faithful discipleship on this earth.  The visit would continue with S. Annina inquiring about everything happening in my life, and the two of us delighting in each other’s presence.  I always felt like I was someone special after a visit with Annina.  After her death, many stories were shared, and it turns out my experience of Annina was not unique.  She had a way of making everyone who encountered her feel like someone special.  How did she do it?  I believe Annina knew what it meant to be real presence.   
My memories of S. Annina re-surfaced in my heart recently after returning home from my annual retreat; a week of sacred solitude in the peaceful woods of Nerinx, Kentucky.  I can best describe my week as an experience of, and a call to be, real presence.  Although I was physically alone most of the time, I was very aware of the Trinity as my divine retreat companions.  At times I imaged three distinct persons with physical features; and at other times I imaged more of a vibe or energy – like the way it feels when you are in a bustling kitchen with family or friends preparing for a special meal.  The sound of chatter, laughter and clinking glasses; the aroma of delicious food; and the feeling of joy and belonging while experiencing table fellowship.  I find it fitting that Andrei Rublev’s icon The Trinity depicts the divine community as gathered around a table – real presence to each another.

The Trinity is one of my favorite images of God – God’s very existence is community.  The power of community is that the whole is greater than the sum of its’ parts.  That is because something more is creating between the individual parts: relationship.  It is one thing (and an important thing) to recognize Christ in everyone we meet; but when our presence to the other is real, we help to create a fuller image of God by the relationship between us.  As Catholics, we proclaim and embrace the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  When we commit to becoming what we receive, it means more than just being Christ alone in the world; rather it is a commitment to being Christ in relationship to others, to become real presence in the world.

I live with three other Sisters of Charity in the neighborhood of East Price Hill on the west side of Cincinnati.  It is a neighborhood both rich in diversity, and in need of a little extra love and care.  We were thrilled to move into the neighborhood, but after a few months we began to ask ourselves, ‘How can we be a more positive presence in this neighborhood?’ – after my retreat experience I think I would re-word the question, ‘How can we be a more real presence in this neighborhood?’  Inspired by the concept of the Little Free Library, we decided to install a House of Prayer at the base of our driveway.  With the construction skills of my dad, and the wood burning artistry of one of our sisters, we have a beautiful little house along our heavily-traveled sidewalk where folks are invited to write their prayer requests.  After its installation, we waited and wondered, would anyone write?  Within the first 24 hours the first request came, ‘please pray for my grandma’.  Every day since, the prayers have continued, ranging from prayers of gratitude, to pleas of desperation for freedom from drug addiction.  We continue to be awed by the willingness of our neighbors to be vulnerable and to share their most intimate prayers with us.  Each day we collect the little slips of paper out of the pray house and read them aloud during our community morning prayer.  It has helped us to become more aware of the real presence of real people in our neighborhood.  We hope that our neighbors are more aware of the real presence of our prayers for them. 

God is more than the Spirit dwelling within us; God is also the relationship that we create between us.  May we be Real Presence in the world.

"The Trinity" by Andrei Rublev

Me with S. Annina after I professed my first vows

Visitation House Community after installation of our prayer house

Prayer requests from our neighbors

Thursday, October 11, 2018


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

      Click HERE to learn more about Meg

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

In last Monday’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37) a lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response told the parable of the Good Samaritan then asked the lawyer about who was neighbor to the man who was beaten. The lawyer replied, “The one who treated him with mercy." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 

My parish’s pastor gave the homily, explaining that during Jesus’ time a neighbor was thought of as anyone who lived in your faith community. Father proceeded to explain that what Jesus was calling his followers to, and now us to today, was a broader idea of neighbor as including Gentiles (non-Jewish people). For today’s interpretation this would include non-Christians: Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, etc. Today in a world that is so divided along so many lines this call to “Go and do likewise” is more needed than ever. We are called to look beyond labels and see our neighbor no matter what and respond in mercy.

For me that call does not just apply to my ministry to people coming home from jail or prison but to my own Sisters as well. At times I only see the little foibles that annoy or anger me and not my Sister or neighbor who is worthy of mercy and love. However as a follower of Christ I am called to see all of his loved ones as he does. When these times of shortcomings occur, I beg for our Lord’s’ mercy through prayer and the Sacraments. Praise God for the gift of our Faith!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Builders

By Sr. Whitney Schieltz, SC Federation Apostolic Novice

      Click HERE to learn more about Whitney

      Click HERE to learn more about the SC Federation

Throughout my whole life I've had an affinity for buildings. I love to study them, photograph them, design them. Even as a child I would spend hours on end with my building blocks, sketch books, and eventually computer drafting programs. I can't remember ever wanting to be anything but an architect when I grew up. When I was in college I realized that I was more interested in working with existing buildings and decided to pursue a career in historic preservation. Years later, I am still discerning what ministry will fulfill my passion for buildings and my desire to serve others.

The building I am in charge of renovating.
Now in my apostolic (second) year of novitiate, I have returned to one of the organizations where I previously volunteered (Working In Neighborhoods) to continue exploring a ministry in housing and community development. My main project is the renovation of an empty century-old building that will hopefully provide affordable housing in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cincinnati. While it is a rather daunting task for me, I am also extremely excited for the opportunity to work hands-on in a field that I have been journeying toward my entire life.

Recently when I was reflecting upon and praying with all this, I came across a poem entitled "The Builders" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In addition to its obvious architectural imagery, I think it has a beautiful message about how we live our lives. Since I believe the beauty of poetry is its openness to interpretation, I will let you read it for yourself and receive whatever message the Spirit offers you.

The Builders
- by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All are architects of Fate,
  Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
  Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;
  Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
  Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
  Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
  Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
  Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
  Such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
  Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
  For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
  Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
  Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our lives are incomplete,
  Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
  Stumble as they seek to climb.

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
  With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
  Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
  To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
  And one boundless reach of sky.