Thursday, September 15, 2016

Life As A Missionary Daughter of Charity

I have been very busy with patient care and developing into the role of Medical Director of the hospital. I am learning a lot about how a health zone in a developing country works. It is all very interesting and sometimes seems a bit overwhelming, but I am glad to have Sister Marie Cecile, D.C. here to learn from. She is from Italy and has been in the Congo for more than 40 years. 

Our health zone covers an area of 14,000 sq. kilometers with a population of 150,000. There are 14 health centers, 18 health posts and one reference hospital which is run by our Sisters. The health zone does things such as monitor the number of cases of malaria, typhoid, meningitis, and other less common infectious diseases (pertussis, tetanus, polio, monkey pox, hemorrhagic fever, etc.) in order to be able to detect the beginning of an epidemic, allowing us to respond early. The health centers send their data on a weekly basis and our staff has a meeting every Tuesday to compile and analyze it.

Last year, our hospital received a grant from “Daughters of Charity International Project Services” to build a cement fence around our hospital. It serves to keep out the pigs, goats, and thieves. The fence also serves to keep our grounds confined. Inside, each of our patients must have a family member or friend who stays with them to help with their cooking, laundry, and other tasks.

Now, we have received another grant to build a new lab because the one we have is not large enough for our needs. The cement has recently arrived by boat and teams worked from 8 AM to 10 PM to unload and transport it to our storehouse. Some of the hospital staff have already begun working extra hours to make the bricks.

We recently received two new missionary Sisters, Sister Anna and Sister Theresa, in our house from Vietnam, bringing us to a total of 11 Sisters! One is a nurse and will work in the hospital while the other works in Social Services. On Holy Saturday, they prepared a type of egg roll. I never imagined eating egg rolls in Lukolela, but this just proves the richness of being part of an international community. What a beautiful example of the marvels of God!

Written by Sister Mary Felice, D.C., during her time as a missionary in Congo.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Formation's Scratchy Side

All of us entering this Vincentian Family have to go through what is known as “formation.” Formation: people being formed, shaped, molded – maybe better, being re-molded, re-shaped, and maybe even sometimes, re-formed! In all the ins and outs of this process, there’s an underlying question: what are you being formed for? What’s the endpoint of these different influences being put upon you?
A fundamental answer comes in this reading from Isaiah. Yahweh says that He wants the nations to “See My glory;” that is, “See My fullness, My justice, My radiance – or perhaps best expressed, “See My Aliveness, My Livingness.” And then Yahweh goes on to say how that will be accomplished. “I shall set a sign among them. And it is this sign (or signs) that shall proclaim My Glory among all the nations.’’ In one way or other, anyone being “formed” in the Vincentian Family is responding to a call to be one of these signs, one of these breakthroughs of God’s glory to all the nations.
And so the question: how do you do it? How does one become better able to take up that role and perform that task? How does the sign that you are right now, and the clearer one you want to become —  how does it come to shine brighter over the years?
Here we bring in the Letter to the Hebrews and its advice on Formation – and in this particular section its counsel on what might be called “the scratchy side of being formed.”
On the one hand, much of the process happens in graceful and smooth ways, say by inspiration and heartfelt imitation, by encouragement, by the validation of the gifts and talents you have, by the different appreciations people show for what you’ve done and who you are. This is formation felt like a silky, expensive, perfectly sized new shirt that fits you so snugly that it seems to breathe when you breathe.
But then. There’s also formation as rubbing-against, formation on its going-contrary-to-the-grain days.  This is preparation as a rough, scratchy, over-starched shirt into which you have to fit yourself in order to someday wear it more comfortably. In its pinching and its rubbing against parts of your skin, there’s a way in which over time it shapes you as much as you shape it.
And so in Hebrews. “The Lord disciplines His children… For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He gives His sons and daughters trials, even at times scourges them.”
And indeed, it doesn’t feel good, it’s not a cause for joy but rather of pain. But down the line, instructs the author, it pays off in “the fruits of righteousness,” in that child of God becoming more God-like, a clearer “sign of God’s glory,” here in this world.
The letter continues: “…so this is what you, who are to be God’s children, are to do.
– If in some way or other your hands are shaky and drooping, do what’s necessary to strengthen them.
– If your knees are weak, do what needs to be done to firm them up.
– If there are habits and attitudes in you that dim God’s presence coming through, that in the service of God’s Kingdom are lame and out of joint, then take the hard road of doing what you can to heal them – maybe better, havethem healed.”
As you can hear, Hebrews, at least in this section, is of the scratchy shirt school. What is it in my present way of operating, of coming at the world, of sizing up what counts more and counts less — that’s going to have to be reshaped if I’m to be a font of God’s glory in my world? What is it in me that needs sanding down (or building up) to have that God-light shine more brightly and convincingly through me?
To be clear, this is not an injunction to turn into a different person, to do violence to who you are down deep. That would never let the goodness of God that’s unique to you shine through. Neither is it a counsel to passively conform to some outside set of rules so you can “make it past inspection.” That wouldn’t be formation so much at it would be a long term exercise in people-pleasing and eye-servantry.  Rather, for all of us, it’s a matter of letting ourselves be somewhat vulnerable to the new, of being malleable in the face of the wisdom and experience of others. It’s to drop one’s guard, so that, however irritating that new habit or different attitude is, you let it rub against your old ways of seeing and doing – and hopefully sand them down into something more serviceable for being that beacon of God to your world.
Looking at things this way might seem overly negative. It might come across too much like the hard-nosed U.S. Marine pitch of saying we need a few good men and women, and to do that you’re going to have to tough it out to prove you are one of those. That is not the whole of the formation package. But for sure it’s a necessary part of it. It’s a person entering in with the attitude that there are things to be learned that will stretch me. And for us there’s a certain kind of fit required in the Vincentian Family, some of which the person has already, but some to which the person has to be fitted. Vincent and Louise make this point over and over.
These lesson is meant not just for beginners but for every believer all along the line, for both veteran and old and newly minted members of the Family of Vincent and Louise.  Formation is on-going, life-long. Nobody, short of Jesus himself, ever measures up to what it takes to be that “sign” of God’s glory in the world. Nobody likes being scraped and scratched in the process. And nobody does it entirely smoothly, with no sanding of the edges and sometimes even a little of the center. But without moving through this phase of the process, no one grows as much as he or she could have in that (sacramental) ability to be transparent of (and to) God. The chastening side is not the only side, but it’s real enough.  It’s as real as that correction and reproof which “the Lord unerringly sends to his daughters and sons.”
In back of this, however, is the underlying consolation. If being formed in its right sense happens, it’s not just us (and not even mainly us) who are doing it and letting it happen. From beginning to end, it’s The Lord’s doing. It’s the working of The Lord, flowing through those sometimes scratchy experiences we endure. It’s the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who begins the formation, sustains it, inspires it, and along the way shakes it up – moving the process ever further down the road.

So the message to each of us who is always ‘in formation:’ “Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight ways for your feet. Let the healing Lord, working with your healthy parts but also rebuilding whatever is lame and disjointed in you, turn you more and more into that sign of His Father’s Glory shining out for all the nations to see.”
Content written by Father Tom McKenna, C.M., and published on FamVin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wholehearted Living

“When you leave a mission, the last thing you pack is your heart. When you arrive at your new mission, the first thing you unpack is your heart.” – Daughter of Charity saying.

How many times have these words been echoed in the life of a Daughter of Charity? How many times has a sister been encouraged by these very words as she transitioned from one mission to the next – feeling the heartache of leaving a mission she loved dearly, while moving forward to embrace a new way of serving.

This is our life. Wholehearted living with and serving those in need wherever we are sent.


In our lives as Daughters of Charity, we understand that all we do - our life in community, our prayer life and even our vows – they all exist for the stability of our mission – serving Christ in people who are poor. This has always been God’s design for the Daughters of Charity – since 1633.

Daughters of Charity spend their life on mission in so many ways. Some sisters minister in a particular field all their community life – for example, in healthcare, social work or education. Some sisters experience many manifestations of how their life on mission will look over the years. A few sisters are called to serve on foreign missions. In our lexicon, these are ALL examples of the life of a Daughter of Charity on mission.

Every Daughter of Charity begins that experience with her first sending on mission upon completion of the seminary (novitiate). We recently celebrated the sending on mission of two Daughters of Charity - Sister Georgina Severin, D.C. and Sister Truc Nguyen, D.C.

When they arrived at their new missions – we know the very first thing they unpacked.

Content written by Sister Lisa Laguna, D.C.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Year of Mercy and the Miraculous Medal

During the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate God’s forgiveness and compassion for the entire human family. As members of the Association of the Miraculous Medal, the familiar image of the Blessed Virgin Mary imprinted on the Miraculous Medal holds special significance for us as a symbol of the abundant nature of God’s love. Let’s take a few moments to reflect more deeply upon this powerful image that we often take for granted.

One thing that immediately comes to mind is the fact that Mary is pictured in an open stance, welcoming all who come to her. Her arms are extended toward the viewer, almost inviting one to be embraced. Secondly, the facial expression of Mary includes a gentle smile and eyes that are warm and tender, as a loving mother’s would be. Then, there are those extraordinary rays of light emanating from Mary’s hands! They are the power of God’s love coming through Mary to each of us, and all we need to do is to open ourselves to these abundant graces. God’s mercy is available beyond measure!

You may recall that the image of the Miraculous Medal was first designed following the 1830 appearance of our Blessed Virgin Mary to a very young and unassuming Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in France. Saint Catherine Labouré had an intense desire to experience Mary as a merciful and forgiving parent, after having lost her own mother at the tender age of nine. It is interesting to note that the first time Mary reveals herself to Catherine she is seated on a chair, and invites Catherine to come near and place her hands on her lap. This is a touching scene of total acceptance. It serves as a keen reminder that the mission of the Association of the Miraculous Medal is to express this same unconditional love of God in the ordinary events of daily life. Mary is the perfect example of how to do this.

The abundant love of God is clearly visible in Mary’s love for her earthly children. “From the Church [the Christian] learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary…[and] discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it…” (Catholic Catechism, Art. 2030). We are challenged in this sacred Year of Mercy to actually become the loving face of God to all those we encounter. We have the capacity to surround the globe with God’s mercy as viewed through the lens of Mary’s image. The medal that is so dear to us bears a message of faith, hope and love to all who allow God’s loving kindness to permeate their lives. Will you do your part during this Year of Mercy to live in such a way that others experience the compassion of God by your words, actions and works of charity? Let us pray together for the grace to respond wholeheartedly to this mission of charity in the world.

Content written by Sister Joanne Vasa, D.C. and originally published in the Association of the Miraculous Medal Summer Bulletin.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Blessed Are Those Who Give and Receive Mercy

By By Sister Theresa Peck, D.C.

I believe my vocation call began when visiting my aunt’s convent in Chicago to celebrate her Jubilee. I will always recall our dessert – fruit cocktail with a sugared rim. I must have been in sixth grade then, and was impressed with the convent quiet and the fruit cocktail.
In high school we were studying Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.’ I committed to memory the following lines of Portia: “The quality of Mercy is not strained; it dropeth like a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesses him who gives and him who receives.” I thought about that verse for a long time, and even today it resonates loudly in my memory. Over the years I continue to say that verse as it carries a message of substance for my life.  When the year of Mercy was announced those words came right up!
As high school students we were all thinking about our futures. I was attracted to nursing and in Spring I went to the open houses of three-year programs to find “my” school. I ended up enrolling at St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Milwaukee, a Daughter of Charity hospital. The three years flew by with many activities toward becoming a Registered Nurse, including visiting the poor with the Sisters.
I recall that on Tuesday evenings we had to go to Assembly and hear from our Director of the School. One time she showed the movie “Monsieur Vincent,” which told the story of how Vincent de Paul lived his life. It told of the many ministries which he founded to assist people stricken by illness; abandoned children; a poor girl asking to learn to read; and the formation and establishment of the Daughters of Charity. It lived in my heart; and in some way I knew my calling was to be a Sister nurse. I saw mercy and compassion lived out through the movie of Vincent’s life, which inspired me to enter the community.
The Lord always leads us along crooked paths to get us where we belong. For me it is as a Daughter of Charity – 60 years this coming August. I opened my heart to mercy and compassion and lived my life as a staff nurse, nursing director and then as an administrator and CEO at several of our hospitals (St. Mary’s and St. Vincent to name two) and also at Ascension Health as we worked toward becoming one system. I was in direct service of persons who were ill and dying for several years, and then got into administration. It was not direct service then, but I believe I made a difference through “personal influence.”  My dad gave me a pamphlet – “The Art of Personal Influence” – a long time ago, which helped me to reconcile direct and indirect service in my life. At the Health System we developed Policy X, Care of the Poor, which over time was edited to meet the many changes effecting healthcare, but it remains as a core document for our mission of healthcare; demonstrating that indirect service continues to work with those in need. Mercy and compassion is alive and well in living my life.
Through time I served on 33 Boards, chairing some, both health care and other related fields. In all of this activity the question of mercy and compassion drove my reflections, directions and decisions. As a member of the Church and as a member of the Daughters of Charity, and in this Jubilee year of Mercy, I continue to open my heart to the works of mercy toward those with whom I serve and with those whom I serve. The words of Micah resonate here: This is what the Lord God requires of you; to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God! God has blessed me and I am grateful.
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