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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Casting My Lot

On January 7th, I made my vows for the first time. Some of my family was able to come to celebrate this next step with me. My mom's cousin, Mary Margaret, came to Emmitsburg from Kansas City for my celebration. After Mass, Mary Margaret came up to me and gave me a huge hug. With tears in her eyes, she said "I'm so proud of you! I've never seen so many joyful women in one place. I can see why you cast your lot with them."

In the weeks following my vows, Mary Margaret's words resonated with me. I thought of the Apostles leaving their nets to follow Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that, "Going on from there, [Jesus] saw two brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father, preparing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father to follow Him."

Like the Apostles, I chose to follow Jesus' call to me to leave my family of origin to "cast my lot" within the Daughters of Charity. I wanted to share the joy of Christ's presence in my life in a special way. In our vows, the Daughters pray, "In response to the call of Christ who invites me to follow Him and to be a witness to His charity of the poor, I ... vow to God, for one year, chastity, poverty, and obedience ... and to devote myself to the corporal and spiritual service of the poor."

Like all of the Apostles, I chose to cast my lot through God's call to me to be a witness with others to God's love. I chose to cast my lot with the example of the Sisters I live with, the Vincentian Saints and Blesseds, and the other smaller saints that have influenced my journey.

Story written by Sister Meg Kymes, D.C.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Provincial Office Goes Green

An energy audit was conducted at the Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Louise, USA Provincial Office in St. Louis, Missouri, a 30,000 square foot building. After several meetings with consultants, engineers, and facilities personnel, it was decided that the Provincial Office would take action to move forward in implementing improvements to conserve energy. The project was separated into three components--LED lighting, new roof, and solar array installation.

The first step to becoming more environmentally friendly was to replace the old bulbs with LED bulbs. During their 10 year lifespan, the LED bulbs will reduce the amount of CO2, saving 84 acres of forest, the consumption of 238 barrels of oil, and the consumption of 11,524 gallons of gasoline.

Next, a new Thermoplastic Olefin (TPO) roof, which has energy saving characteristics due to the white reflective material, was installed to accommodate the solar array.

Once the roof was in place, the solar panels were added. The 146 305 watt panels will provide power for the entire building including lighting, heating, cooling, and other electrical components. Facing due south, the panels provide supplemental power that can be switched between solar and Ameren UE power seamlessly when the sun is not producing enough light on rainy or cloudy days.

The conversation about significant energy savings began in August of 2015 following Pope Francis's Laudato Si. "As a Province, we have been taking time to discuss Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si and challenging ourselves to be more intentional about decisions that reflect our care for our common home," says Visitatrix, Sister Louise Gallahue, D.C. "The solar panel project and LED conversion are two concrete efforts of our 'walking the talk!'"

Provincial Councillor, Sister Mary Walz, D.C., adds, "Over the years, the Advocacy and Social Justice Committee has encouraged our Sisters to advocate for policies and practices that protect the earth. I'm thrilled that we were able to make this commitment to being better stewards of the gifts of creation!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A First-Hand Account of the Diversity of Religious Life

The former chapel in the convent building at Our Lady of the Presentation Church years ago was subdivided into two small rooms, an informal entry/waiting area and an office.

Nothing extraordinary about it...except God's work still happens in that space.

Whereas the sounds of Mass or the silence of prayer once dominated, the musical notes of joy now fill the air. Under the auspice of Sister Brenda Fritz, D.C., the parish's music director, the convent has been transformed into the Presentation Arts Center, an arts ministry thriving in its first year.

The parish offers after-school music lessons in piano, violin, and guitar with the drums hopefully on the horizon. Through a partnership with Ritenour School District, high school students volunteer as teachers and International Welcome Center students can get free music lessons.

Religious sisters such as Sister Brenda, a Daughter of Charity, joyfully spearhead numerous vibrant ministries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, filing vital roles in education, health care, social services, and more. These accomplished women live their dreams while serving the Lord.

Religious communities are working to fill those vital roles with several combining for a two-day vocation tour, the novely named "Convent Crawl" on Friday, February 17 and Saturday, February 18. Over 24 hours, interested women will explore how religious sisters live, pray, and serve in St. Louis. The convent crawl will include stops at the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Sister Brenda's Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, Adorers of the Blood of Christ, and Society of Helpers will also participate, with several other communities as possibilities.

The sisters appropriated the term from "pub crawl" and adopted the social-networking and traveling aspects, like-minded people gathering and visiting multiple venues. Interested women explore multiple communities instead of just one on an individual order's come and see weekend.

"With an event like this, you'll get a bigger group, which is nice for the girls," said Sister Amy Hereford, CSJ, a lawyer. "They can go around with other women kind of thinking like they're thinking and build some relationships and support networks as well."

The sisters also collaborated for a weekend reflection and discernment retreat in November. Events such as the convent crawl and conceptually similar nun runs allow interested women to experience the diversity in religious life and charisms, which Sister Pam Falter, OSF, described as a "really important part of collaborative."

Sister Brenda's unique ministry ranks among many with accomplished women doing the Lord's work. The program grew out of the parish viability study, which showed it needed to shore up its outreach and young adult ministries. Sister Brenda oversees the new arts center, which includes "amazing art classes" for adults during the day and weekly quilters.

With the arts center, Sister Brenda is building on a bachelor's degree in piano presentation from Chicago's DePaul University--a Vincentian School--where she first encountered the Daughters.

"I felt like they were very balanced women," said Sister Brenda, who entered the community 29 years ago. "They worked hard, prayed hard, and had such a joy. I loved their community life. Of course, their service to the poor...Wow!"

At Presentation, Sister Brenda fulfills the community's charism by reaching out to families in need. Venezuela and Mexico are represented among her students, including Benjamin Delgado. With his mom and two brothers in the waiting room on a recent day, he played a piano in her office, just to the side of the canopy above the former altar space.

"It's only his second lesson," she told a visitor. "He's totally nailing it."

Story originally published by the St. Louis Review.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Reflection on the 400th Anniversary of the Charism of Charity

In January 2017, the Vincentian Family around the world will begin a year of celebration to highlight 400 years of the "Charism of Charity." In January 1617, two events changed the life of Vincent de Paul. The first happened in Gannes where Vincent heard the confession of a dying man who proclaimed his joy at being forgiven and made Vincent aware of how much the country people needed to have easier access to priests. From this began the effort to organize priests to preach missions to the country people. This effort grew into the Congregation of the Mission (or the Vincentian priests).

During this same year, as Vincent was serving as pastor at the country church in Chatillon, he was approached by some parishioners before Mass who told him of a family in which everyone was sick. Vincent preached such a heartfelt sermon about the need to reach out to help others that a large crowd of parishioners went to the family, bringing along food and aid. Vincent then realized the need to organize efforts on behalf of the poor and he began to write a set of guidelines. This effort grew into the "Confraternities of Charity." Today, these confraternities are known as the "International Association of Charity" (IAC) and are the largest and oldest group of volunteers in the Church.

I recently had the privilege to participate in a month-long Vincentian Session at our Motherhouse in Paris, studying, praying, and reflecting on the lives of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. One day of this session was spent in Chatillon, visiting the church where Vincent preached the sermon that was the beginning of the IAC. As I prayed in that church and walked around it in pilgrimage, two things that I have known all of the fifty years I have been a Daughter of Charity took on a whole new meaning to me.

The first was that Vincent's first organized work of charity was the creation of a lay organization to serve the poor. As I looked at the stained glass windows in the sanctuary of the church which depict Vincent giving the women of the first confraternity the rule which he had written, I was struck by how God's Providence began, through Vincent, to empower and inspire the laity to service in the Church. Then, I recalled that 300 years later, the Holy Spirit, through Vatican Council II, sought to restore the laity to their position of leadership and service in the Church.

The second realization I had was that it was not until 1633 that the Daughters of Charity were established as the first community of religious women to serve actively outside the cloister. St. Vincent often reminded the first Daughters that he never thought of founding a religious community, that it was God who founded the Daughters of Charity.

These pondering gave me a new appreciation of God's presence and action in our daily lives. I pray for the grace to be attentive to God's presence each day, just as St. Vincent was!

Written by Sister Mary Frate, D.C.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

O Jesus, Living in Mary, Come and Live in Our Hearts!

Advent has always been a special time in life for all of us, especially from our earliest memories. The expectation shines bright in our eyes, like the lights glowing in the stores or on the lit Christmas trees on the streets of our cities. As a child, we never knew what presents would greet us on Christmas morn, but we knew that it was a time of wonderment as we prepared all Advent long for the Birth of Christ.

As we explore the readings of the second week of Advent, we can see the coming together of the Advent message. The first reading speaks of the opposites sitting together, as in the Lion and the Lamb, in a peaceful way along with other types of animals. Such peace is observed and we wonder how that can be but they do. That same peace can fill the world and particularly our own country if we allow it to be.

The Gospel speaks of St. John the Baptist and his strong position as a disciple of Christ. He was more than a prophet bringing us closer to knowing Jesus and wanting to know more about Him. John calls us to repentance and to respond to the gift of mercy. We need to reflect on this year of Mercy just ending and how it will move us in the years to come.

When I was new in Community life, we had a practice of the Presence of God. The practice would have different prayers for the season of the Church year. The prayer for Advent is "O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in our hearts." It is very simple, but calls me to be mindful of Jesus' reason for coming to earth to live among us. It calls me to reflect on His gospel messages, to go out and do what I can for others. It makes me aware of the many calls to serve those in need. It calls me to think of Mary and her "Yes" to be the Mother of God. She knew her mission. She went about being a Mother who loved her Son as only a Mother can. Her sacrifices were many, she is a good teacher of life for me.

Ann Weems writes a verse that motivates me in her bool Kneeling in Bethlehem.

The Christmas spirit
      Is that hope
            Which tenaciously clings
                  To the hearts of the faithful

And announces
      In the face
            Of any Herod the world can produce
            And all the inn doors slammed in our faces
            And all the dark nights of our souls

That with God
      All things still are possible,
That even now
      Unto us
            A Child is born!

As we enter the second week of Advent, let us pray that peace will come to our land and that we can and will welcome Christ into our hearts again.

Let us pray: O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in our hearts.

Written by Sister Theresa Peck, D.C., for The Message.