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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Passing the Baton

As I was transitioning to the seminary, the Olympics were just getting started. I couldn't help but think of the 4 x 100 relays and passing the baton on to the next runner as a great analogy for my time of transition from postulancy to seminary. While I was packing up all of my belongings and reflecting on my wonderful year in Philadelphia, so too, was Kate packing her belongings. Kate was heading to Philadelphia to begin her own time as a pre-postulant.

For me, the baton is the passing on of the Vincentian tradition. It is the joy of finding your place in this world, where the world's deep hunger and your happiness meet.

Transitions are not always easy. There is excitement and an uneasy feeling, but knowing that the baton was passed to me and now I get to pass it on makes the transition time smoother. I know others who have walked the same path. I am grateful for my time as a pre-postulant and postulant and all of the Daughters who have passed on the baton and entrusted me with such a long-lasting and beautiful tradition. Just as Vincent and Louise passed the baton on to the first Confreres and Daughters, so too, I hope to cultivate the Vincentian tradition everyday and pass along the baton.

Written by Sister Michelle Hoffman, D.C.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

St. Catherine Laboure: A Saint We Can All Emulate

On November 28th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Miraculous Medal, Mary's gift to us. On November 29th, the Church remembers St. Catherine Labouré, the chosen messenger of the Miraculous Medal. The life of Catherine Labouré has much to teach us and there is much about her life that we can imitate.
I have always found the story of Mary's apparitions to Catherine awesome. Imagine being led to the chapel by an angel in the middle of the night to find Mary waiting there and then to spend several hours in conversation with her! Years later, Catherine would say they were the sweetest moments of her life and she could not begin to describe them. This visit with Mary was followed by an apparition while at prayer with sisters in the chapel. Mary appeared holding a globe which she said "represented the whole world and each person in particular." This image was followed by the image of what we now know as the Miraculous Medal: Mary's hands extended bestowing graces and the word "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

These apparitions and Mary's words to Catherine surely affirm Mary's love for each of us and her constant intercession on our behalf. The apparitions are not part of what we can imitate of St. Catherine; nor are the apparitions what made her a saint. Rather, it is Catherine's fidelity to keeping room for God in her life, paying attention to life and people around, and using the gifts God gave her that make her a saint. And these are things that each of us can also do.

For example, Catherine was a small child when her mother died. Catherine accepted this reality, putting confidence in our Blessed Mother to be her mother and accepting the guidance of her father and her older sister and aunts who cared for her. And Catherine prayed, often in the small village church, and sometimes walking six miles to Mass in the parish church. Some years later, when her older sister wanted to enter the Daughters of Charity, Catherine stepped up to manager the household for her father and brothers who worked the family farm. Each of us can find ways in our life to accept what befalls us, to pray regularly, and to step up and use the gifts God has given us to do what needs to be done.

When Catherine wanted to enter the Daughters of Charity, her father's first response was "No. I have already given one daughter to God." He sent Catherine to Paris to help her brother run his restaurant, thinking that Parisian life would distract her. Catherine went to Parish and worked hard to help her brother, but she was not distracted. She continued to keep room for God in her life. eventually, her father gave his permission and Catherine entered the Daughters of Charity in the Motherhouse at 140 Rue du Bac. It was here during her Seminary that Catherine had her apparitions. She shared the apparitions with her confessor who helped to get the Miraculous Medals made. No one else knew to whom the apparitions were made.

From the Seminary, Catherine was sent to work at a home for the elderly outside Paris. She lived and worked with the local community of Daughters of Charity here for years. She was a faithful Daughter of Charity: a good companion and a gentle and attentive caregiver to the elderly men given to her care. No one knew that she was the one who had received the apparitions of the Miraculous Medal. Catherine was a country girl, not very well educated and, for the most part, unnoticed by others. Her Sister Servant did not particularly like Catherine and often berated her. Catherine never took offense at this behavior, but instead would find a reason to approach the Sister after a confrontation to ask a permission or make a comment so that she would know that there was no offense taken. We can imitate these choices of Catherine: to not look for the praise or attention of others, even for "special" things that happen to us; to be the first to forgive and forget.

St. Catherine Labouré, pray for us.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.