I am remembering my dear friend Sister Kieran this morning who went home to God over the weekend.
Kieran was herself fond of the early morning hours. She lived for many years at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, our main west coast community on the shores of Lake Washington. When she was more able, she’d be the one to fetch the morning papers from up the hill, to make the proper Irish oatmeal, and keep you company in the dining room. I remember when she was in the hospital a few years ago, there was a long list of all the tasks she normally took care of that needed to be done by a whole host of others while she recovered.
Sister Kieran brought life just by her presence. She was one of the first sisters to welcome me to community. I mean that in more than one way. She was a constant presence at St. Mary’s whenever I visited. She had a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. She also made you feel accepted just as you were. She made me feel at home and wanted and part of the CSJP family from the very beginning.
Sister Kieran was also, as the title says, a fiesty and faithful friend. She’d be the first to tell you if your homily reflection was a bit on the long side. She loved to tell stories, and my favorite was when she’d preference a story about me by saying, “Remember when you were a young sister and you …”. As I was remembering Kieran this morning, I thought of this picture, which was taken at a recent assembly. This is Kieran, alive and engaged and in action. No doubt she is alive and engaged and in action in heaven, catching up with loved ones and keeping a keen eye on all the goings on in this world as we prepare to celebrate her life.
Thank you Kieran for being my friend, for your faithful witness and your fiesty spirit. I will miss you but am better for having known and loved you, even if just for a time.
November is a time for remembering. In our Christian tradition we remember all saints and all souls. We also remember our veteran’s on November 11th, which is known as remembrance day in the UK to remember the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the first world war ended. November 11th is also the day I professed final vows five years ago.
I now have another reason to remember on November 11th, because this Friday my dear friend, leadership teammate and local community member Sister Kristin Funari passed away after a rapid yet valiant struggle with cancer. It was an honor and a privilege to accompany her on this journey. We spent many precious moments together these past few months. She has taught me so much about living and leading and loving. My heart aches that she has left us, but she is now free and one with her loving God. As for me, I am a better person for having shared life with her these past two years.
In her last days, she planned her funeral with an old friend who shared the notes with me when the time came to plan the service for real after her death. It was a surprise and a great honor that Kristin wanted me to give the welcome at her funeral liturgy. These are the words I shared at the funeral yesterday:
We gather this morning to celebrate the life of a shining light in our lives, Sister Kristin Funari, who burned with a passion for everything that is good.
Many of us are used to Kristin herself giving the welcome at an occasion such as this. I know I am, yet it is also a deep honor and a privilege to be the one to welcome you today on behalf of Kristin, her family, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
We gather in this beautiful sanctuary, yet we pine to be at home in our own Chapel. As you know, those of us who live at St. Michael’s experienced a major fire last month, and we are still adjusting to our new reality. We are grateful to be able to find shelter here at St. Anastaia’s. As it happens, I discovered this weekend that Kristin took Anastasia as her confirmation name when she was a young woman, so perhaps this was meant to be.
We welcome Kristin’s brother Ralph and his wife Chickie, along with their children Felicia and her husband Stephen, Renata and her husband Craig, Anthony and his girlfriend Kim, and three of Kristin’s grand nephews Ashton, Nicholas and Sebastian. We also welcome Kristin’s cousin Sandra, het husband Joe and their daughter Kristin.
We remember too Kristin’s parents Ivo and Helen, her Auntie Viola, Uncle Joe, and her sister Ricky. I have no doubt that they are enjoying great Italian meals and catching up on all the news of the Funari family among the stars.
When 20 year old Elaine applied to enter the Congregation in 1965 as a postulant, she wrote in her application that she wished “to bring myself and others to God.” Decades later, in an interview with Jan Linley, Kristin reflected that “seeking God and seeking truth is part of why I stay and why I entered. You know, really wanting to know God.” Kristin has finally lived into the deep desire she expressed in her final vows, “to live in the joy of a celibate love that does not lie in a separation from but a deeper penetration into the universe.” She is now at one with God, with the angels, and the stars.
But we all know that Kristin’s life shined bright like the stars when she was with us. She was passionate about community, her family, and poor and marginalized people. She was passionate about good food and a nice drink at the end of the day. She was passionate about life … and of that, any of us who were ever on the losing side of an argument with Kristin, have no doubt.
When Kristin was featured in an article in the National Catholic Reporter in 1996, she outlined her passions.
“I’m passionate about the gospels,” she said. “Passionate about the economy. I want to get more passionate about the poor. Get more passionate about the violence in our cities in the United States and say what can we do to change that. … I get passionate about the suffering that’s caused by all that and then the wrong people who are blamed. Passionate about the beatitudes. Passionate about the truth being the way. None of us have the total truth. Passionate about us being able to peel that apart together and break it open together and single-mindedly staying in community, pursuing those gospel truths. That’s what makes my passion. I get passionate when I see real struggle around who we say we are or want to be.”
Community was a constant in Kristin’s life. She built community wherever she was. As a social worker in Rockleigh and in Jersey City, at St. Boniface and of course, the York Street Project, Kristin loved and learned from those she served and accompanied them as they made positive change in their own community. In Congregation leadership, Kristin challenged us to face the future with gratitude and hope, while staying true to our roots as what she called meat and potato women. Before her death last year, Sister Jeanne Keaveny, who taught Kristin in Penns Grove, described Kristin to me as someone who had one foot firmly in the past, and one foot firmly in the future.
Kristin was unforgettable. We heard many stories to that effect last night at the wake. She left a lasting impression on everyone she met. I would often joke that Kristin would even make the local dog catcher feel like he was her dear friend. You felt like a valued whole person in her presence. Relationships and community, presence and hospitality were part of Kirstin’s core. Who among us did not enjoy her delicious cooking, her infectious laughter, her open heart, her willingness to always make room at the table for one more?
And so today, we gather at this table, to celebrate this shining light in our lives. We know that she is now one with her loving God, penetrated by love. Let us now give thanks for her transformation from death into life through the celebration of this liturgy.
Susan Francois, CSJP
I have just returned to the States after a visit to our CSJP community in the UK. One of the sisters I was pleased to have the opportunity to spend time with during my visit with was Sister Joan Ward. This morning, I heard that Sister Joan passed away in the early hours today.
I first met Joan when I was a novice spending four months with our community in England. Sister Alexine, who I lived with in London, arranged for the two of us to spend several weekends travelling about with Joan who was an expert in our Congregation’s founding story. In fact, here is a picture that Alexine took of Joan and myself at the grave side of our founder Margaret Anna Cusack (Mother Francis Clare) in Leamington Spa on one of those weekend pilgrimages. (I wrote about this particular 2007 pilgrimage trip on my old blog –you can still read that post.)
Joan was a dedicated researcher who cherished the story of our founders and early community. I myself will always cherish those special weekends. Joan, Alexine and I went to Grimsby on the east cost of England where our first sisters ministered with the poor. I will never forget going to the Grimsby library with Joan and looking at original census records that listed our early sisters. (In fact, thanks to the way back machine which is my old blog, I have also recorded that experience for posterity!)
In addition to being a community historian, Joan was a dedicated community member. In her younger days she was novice mistress. She was dearly loved across the congregation and so committed to our mission. We had our community assembly in the UK this past Saturday, and Joan was there, attentive and present to our conversations about the vitality of religious life.
I had dinner with Joan this past Sunday. We talked about religious life and our congregation and vocations. “I don’t worry about vocations,” Joan said. “I never really have. It is all in God’s hands.” Given that one of my roles these days is as congregation vocation director, and given that my thoughts are often preoccupied with vocations, I took Joan’s hand and said to her: “Joan, I need you to do something for me. Please pray for me, in my role as vocation director, that I don’t worry about vocations.” She promised me that she would indeed pray for me, and I have absolutely no doubt that she will.
Rest in peace Joan. I am so grateful that I had the chance to get to know you. You have been such a tremendous gift to our congregation! Please pray for us and for those who God will send our way as future Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
This weekend is Mother’s Day in the US. My latest Global Sisters Report column is a reflection on racism, white privilege, and lessons I learned from my mother about confronting systemic injustice.
My mother had a particularly informed conscience and made choices that confronted systems of oppression. While I grew up in a mostly-white suburb, my mother would take me shopping at the mall located in a neighboring suburb where most residents were people of color. This was not only to expose her children to diverse groupings of people, but also because she knew that the major department stores intentionally sent lower quality goods and a lesser product selection to stores in communities of color. She was sending a message by choosing to spend her money in those stores, hoping to contribute the strength of her purchasing power to changing what she understood to be an unjust and racist system. …
This Mother’s Day weekend, I choose to remember and honor my mother by lamenting the ways I am connected to and benefit from systems of oppression and exclusion. As my mother’s daughter, I commit myself, once again, to work for justice and the common good.
We have a tradition in our congregation known as “Lest We Forget” … A book with the obituaries of all the Sisters who have gone before us since our founding, organized by their day of death. Reading about different women each day who lived as Sisters of St Joseph of Peace is a marvelous way of soaking in our history and charism as witnessed by their lives.
Yesterday was the anniversary of Sister Anastasia Daigle, a Sister I never knew but certainly have heard a lot about. She entered in 1925 and went home to God in 2002 at he age of 99 years. As an older retired Sister, she started a ministry to people who were homeless on First Avenue in downtown Seattle. “I’m a beggar and I don’t mind begging for the poor.”
Reading about her this morning, I was really touched by this advice she gave to the “younger sisters” on the occasion of her 60th Jubilee:
“Give your whole self to God … Don’t hold back. Take each day at a time and trust. Let God do in you what needs to be done. If you love enough you can put up with a whole lot.”
This week the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace celebrate the life of Sister Alicia Cavanaugh, CSJP who passed away late Saturday night at the age of 82.
I first met Alicia when she opened her home, and her heart, to me as a novice. I lived with Sisters Alicia and Eleanor for 3 months during my novitiate ministry year. I was placed in two very challenging ministries–three days a week working with survivors of human trafficking, two days a week helping women emerging from domestic violence situations attain restraining orders. Every day when I would come home from work after hearing stories of such hardship and suffering, there would be Alicia inviting me to sit down with a cup of tea and tell her about my day. She was always interested, always inviting, always engaged.
She was also extremely generous. She had a number of people in the neighborhood who would stop by regularly for a visit and a little bit of help. Whenever we went out in the car, she always had a small stash of one dollar bills to give to folks begging on the side of the road. And on more than one occasion, when I came home from work to make dinner, I’d find that the food that had been there in the morning when I’d made my plans for the evening meal was no longer there. Alicia, I’d say, do you know what happened to the tuna fish or pasta or rice? Oh, she’d say, so and so came to the door and she was just so hungry …. We of course made do and never went hungry ourselves. She’d always help me find something else in our ample pantry that would suffice … It was a good lesson for me.
During her time as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, Alicia shared her generous heart with many people. She was a teacher in schools in New Jersey, California, and Kenya! She worked as Director of Religious Education and Catechist. But I will remember her for the lessons she taught me through daily living and compassionate care for all of God’s children, especially the poor and vulnerable.
My latest column has been posted on Global Sisters Report. This one is more of a reflection where I mull over the communion of saints and what their witness and presence means to us today:
There is great wisdom in our Catholic tradition of setting aside time in the liturgical year to remember all the saints and souls, just as we take time to remember and celebrate the impact of our loved ones upon their passing. As theologian Flora Keshgegian writes in Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation, remembering is meant to be oriented to ‘affect present action'(p. 25). We do not remember to stay in the past. Rather, we remember for the present, and dare I say, for the future.”
Our CSJP community is saying goodbye to one of our shining lights this week. Jeanne Celeste Keaveny, CSJP passed away last Thursday at the age of 95. She entered the Congregation from Ireland in 1936 and ministered as an educator in New Jersey and California before being asked to step into the ministry of leadership in 1964. She served as provincial of our eastern province until 1968.
Those were of course tumultuous years, but also years of great hope and energy. When I met Jeanne in 2006 during my novitiate, her eyes still shone brightly when she talked of the hope and promise of the Second Vatican Council, and the work that was still to be done. She was interested and engaged in social justice issues, geo-politics, and the future of religious life. Her bookshelf always flabbergasted me, filled to the brim a it was with Ilia Delio and Teillhard de Chardin and Diarmud O’Murchu, to name a few.
It is next to impossible to describe Jeanne, let alone what she meant to me personally. She and her dear friend Sister Dorothy Vidulich were a dynamic duo who played an important role during my early years of formation. When I moved to New Jersey in 2006 to start my novitiate, they had recently moved into the retirement community next door after many years in Washington, D.C. Jeanne’s room was an oasis of lively and engaging conversation on many an occasion. When it was hard to see beyond the little things of the novitiate experience that seemed so big, I knew that I could head next door to visit Jeanne and Dorothy for a dash of perspective and inspiration. They were always so gracious, not to mention intellectually stimulating. We would talk about the state of the world, the church, the cosmos, the community … you name it! As I wrote on my old blog after Dorothy’s passing in 2012, they “were incredible mentors to me and my novitiate classmates in our early months of formation, true kindred spirits and role models who journeyed with us through challenges that in retrospect seem small but at the time almost insurmountable.”
Jeanne continued to be a friend and mentor to me. When I was in New Jersey last summer to attend the discernment retreat for sisters invited to leave their name in for leadership, I had some key conversations with her that helped me see that maybe my gifts were needed at this time. In the past ten months since I began to serve in the ministry of leadership, I have had the pleasure of many conversations with Jeanne. She continued to be a shining light for me, helping me to gain some necessary perspective while also holding fast to the vision, promise, and call of our charism of peace. For example, I found this little exchange documented in my journal from this past March:
Me: I have no idea what I am doing Jeanne.
Jeanne: Good. You never really will. That means you’re where you should be, in the chaos.
On that particular day, that was exactly what I needed to hear!
In the end, Jeanne was ready to go, and I am so happy for her that she has passed over to the other side, where she is in the company of her loving God, family, community, and friends who have gone before. She went quickly in the end, but I was lucky enough to spend some good quality time with her during her last days. In a way, being able to sit with her during her final journey was yet another gift of mentorship that she gave to me, teaching me how to simply be present when that is what the moment calls for.
As I was sitting with her the day she died, I found myself thinking of all the reading she had done and the conversations we’d had about the universe and the cosmos and God. I found myself thinking, “Don’t be afraid Jeanne … just go be light.” And so that’s what I told her, and that’s what she is, and that’s what she will always be to me, a shining light in love and memory.
Today is the 95th anniversary of the death of Mother Evangelista (born Honoria Gaffney), one of the founding Sisters of the Congregation of the Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. Evangelista was one of the first Sisters to take vows in the new congregation on January 7, 1884 – the date we claim as our founding date and celebrate as our Community Day of Thanksgiving.
When her dear friend Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack) was forced to leave the community due to conflicts with the church hierarchy, Evangelista became the first Mother General. Her strong leadership helped the community not only to survive, but to thrive. She ministered in all three present day regions of the Congregation.
Part of her strength, it seems, was her humility and faithfulness. Take for example this excerpt from our Lest We Forget book:
To our Sisters she left a wonderful example of sincere humility, generosity, charity and loyalty–all through her life she was loyal to Mother Clare. On one occasion Mother Evangelista confided to a close friend: ‘of course I know our good Mother’s limitations, but nevertheless she has always been a loving and kind Religious. … Her principal difficulty lies in wanting to make reforms before people are ready to accept them. Of necessity, progress must be slow.
There is deep wisdom there. Unlike Mother Clare, Evangelista was not a prolific writer. But the words that she does leave us are worthy of much reflection. Take, for example, her retreat notes from 1897:
Here then is Jesus’ will–that I be poor in spirit, be meek, that I mourn when God is offended, that I hunger and thirst after justice, that I be merciful, that I be pure of heart, that I be a peace-maker and that I may suffer persecution for justice sake. Take these two beatitudes, two and two, and I have the whole retreat in a nut shell.
Her simple words, written on retreat, are imbued with our community’s charism and the needs of the world and church.
When I was a candidate, I ran across another quote from Evangelista somewhere. I think perhaps it was shared during a community retreat, or I made have read it. In any case, it is something I have carried with me during my time in community and return to again and again. On this anniversary of Mother Evangelista’s passing, I pass these words of wisdom on to you as something to ponder and act upon as you see fit.
What we will do will follow what we are … humility is the truth about ourselves. Empty yourself of yourself and you will find God.
I was thinking this morning of Sister Rose Francois, FSPA, my great-great aunt. My friend Julia is making final profession today as an FSPA Sister. But I’ve also just found myself thinking more and more of Sister Rose of late, even though of course she’s not a person I ever knew.
Sister Rose was born Elizabeth Francois in Weiskirchen, Germany (then Prussia) in 1842. She emigrated to the United States as a toddler with her father, my great-grandfather Peter Francois and his new wife. The family settled in Wisconsin where they continued the family tradition of farming and the family grew. Their youngest child, my grandfather Joseph Francois, was born in 1852.
Five years later, at the ripe old age of 15, Elizabeth joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin. Thanks to the efforts of my father and brother to gather our family history, I have a copy of her file from the community archivist. Sister Rose was really one of their pioneer Sisters, joining the community a mere eight years after the first Sisters arrived in Wisconsin from Bavaria.
According to her obituary, she held many positions of responsibility in the new Congregation. Shortly after professing first vows she was named superior of St. Ameliana’s Orphanage. She was Novice Mistress, and in 1865 (at the age of 23 and after just eight years after entering the community), she was elected Assistant to the Mother General, a position she held for a total of 32 and 1/2 years!
So perhaps by now it is obvious why I feel a growing connection with Sister Rose, especially given that I was recently elected to the leadership team of my religious congregation about eight years after I entered. There’s also another twist … family lore has always held that my middle name (Rose) is after my mother’s Aunt Rose and my Dad’s great-aunt Sister Rose, so she’s always been on my radar. In any case, I’ve found myself thinking of her from time to time, as a spiritual companion of sorts on my own journey and adventures in leadership. According to her obituary:
“Everyone felt at home and secure with her, for she was sincerely humble and approachable. She always regarded failures that occurred from the best side and was indulgent in reprimanding. It is evident that the good Lord directed her on the thorny path of life, but who ever saw her discouraged or dejected? It was just such equanimity in the most difficult situations that made Archbishop [Michael] Heiss of blessed memory, founder of our community, say: ‘One never knew when anything went crosswise with Sister Rose, she looked always the same. That was the characteristic trend of her life.”
Sister Rose was also administrator of St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse for 20 years. Her obituary in the local newspaper had this to say:
“The predominant unity and progress in this institution is due to a great extent to her indefatigable activity. She worked faithfully and zealously in the service of the sick, was outstanding for her peaceful disposition and her vivacious congeniality.With exceptional skill she directed the administration of the hospital, and it won’t be easy to replace her.”
St Francis Hospital was also the setting for perhaps the most touching episode I read in her file, when her father (my great-grandfather) died in her arms:
“Mr. Francois who was suffering for several days happily expired at 4:30 PM. About three o’clock he began to fail rapidly. Father Rheinhardt was sent for, he said the prayers for the dying. Mr. Francois answered the prayers with great fervor, then sat up to recover breath, in a few minutes he was supported by Sister Assistant (Sister Rose) and died in her arms. Rev. Mother and several sisters were present. Funeral will be Saturday.”
I must make the trip to La Crosse some day, both to visit some younger Sister friends I have there and to visit the cemetary. Apparently both Sister Rose and my great-grandfather are buried there, my great-grandfather in an unmarked grave and Sister Rose beneath a tall monument to her memory.
As for today, I send my prayers and support to my friend Julia, and I ask Sister Rose to pray for her and to pray for me on our journeys as women religious.