Today is my Mom’s 15th birthday in heaven. As often happens around anniversaries, she’s been on my heart and mind a bit of late.
I am grateful to her for so many things, not the least of which is the gift of life! She taught me so much by her love and example.
My mom was a true contemplative in action. She could stop and stare for hours … at the forest, at the ocean, at her own backyard. She saw the love of God reflected in creation and knew instinctively how to soak it all in.
I used to love just watching her as she stared at the embodiment of God’s love all around us. My Dad took this picture in West Virginia. It’s classic mom. She’s probably a little older than I am now in this picture. She’s got her book on her lap, but she’s contemplating the book of creation instead.
Nourished and fed by the love of God, be it at Sunday mass or all around her, my mom put it into action. Dust did not settle under her feet.
Over the years in her work, helping prisoners at the local jail learn decision making skills or as a congressional aide helping citizens navigate our system, she found herself on the right side of justice and helped to build the kindom.
In our community, she was a leader in ways we never even knew until her wake, when person after person came up to us to tell us how she helped them with x, y and z. So unassuming, she just did what needed to be done.
At home, journeying with her own parents through chronic illness and death, welcoming them into her own home, raising five kids, supporting her husband’s call to serve the wider world, she was most always grounded and exuding love.
Even when she herself was very ill, she would sit and ponder and teach us how to love and be loved.
I still miss you mom, and always will, but I will also always be grateful for your lessons in contemplation, action, and love.
One year ago today I woke up to a fire alarm indicating a real, actual, and very scary fire here at St. Michael Villa. No one was hurt, thank God, but life was and continues to be disrupted here on the campus.
Tomorrow we will be having a small mass of thanksgiving, with some of the first responders as our guests. I will never forget that in our shock that morning, huddled in the gym of the building next door, it was the Chief of Police who asked if we’d like to pray and led us in the Hail Mary.
I am also painfully aware of all those in California who are facing flames and the aftermath. Praying for their safety and for peace of mind and heart in the days and months ahead.
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
Today we will celebrate the life of Sister Christine who passed away last week here in the infirmary at our east coast regional center. Last night we actually began the ritual of remembrance, with the vigil service.
I remember Sister Christine from when I lived here eight years ago, and what I remember most is her smile and her warmth. It was lovely last night to sit with our Sisters at the wake and remember her. Each story that was told brought her memory to life, and especially the ways that our lives and community were enriched by her presence. I was especially touched by the theme of quiet generosity which emerged.
I love the way that we as Sisters of St Joseph of Peace say goodbye to our Sisters. Each region has its own flavor and traditions, but there is a simple love and sense of gratitude which always shines through.
I know that Sister Christine will continue her generosity in the next phase of her life with her loving Creator, praying for us and cheering us on.
Last night I attended an event at the Brother Darst Center in Chicago on supply chains. That in itself would be interesting, especially as it is so connected to my thesis topic, given that there is in fact so much forced labor in our supply chain that we are all connected to human trafficking just by the pervasive act of purchasing goods and services.
What made the evening extra special was that it was a special event co-hosted by the Chicago Justice Cafe.
The reason this is cool is that Justice Cafes are a program for young adults that I had a hand in creating when I was working at the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle. Essentially they are a network of young adults committed to a spirituality that does justice who get together monthly to learn and share about important issues. The IPJC office puts together a discussion guide, prayer, etc… so it is ready to go right out of the box.
We started out small about 5 years ago with about 10 Justice Cafes mostly in the Pacific Northwest, although pretty early on through God’s providence we also had groups in California, on the East Coast, and even in Kenya and Nigeria.
It has been amazing to see something I helped to start continue to grow and expand. So when I saw that there was an event being co-hosted by the local Justice Cafe, I knew I had to go!
As I get ready to leave Chicago for new adventures, it was a nice way to tap back into earlier adventures and realize you never know what kind of impact you can have.
When I graduated from college (ahem … twenty years ago!) I spent a year living in Switzerland with my brother and his family while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
When I arrived in July 1994 I met my niece Alison who had been born the previous December. I consider having spent that year with her and her big brothers one of the graced times of my life. There is nothing quite like seeing a little one learn something new every minute.
Kids grow up of course, and my little niece Alison somehow turns 21 today. Which makes me exactly twice her age!!
Happy Birthday niece of mine! You are the same age I was when I first met you. Can’t wait to see where the next 21 years take you!
Three years ago today I professed my final and forever YES as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. In our chapel at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, in the presence of my congregation leader, community members, family and friends, I said:
In gratitude for the wondrous gift of God’s love, I ask to life a life of love and service as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. I pray that each day of my life I may “take that step which will lead [me] into the deepest depths of the heart of Jesus.” (Mother Clare)
Trusting in God with all my heart and relying on the support and example of our sisters and all others who touch my life, I hope to live with an open heart by listening, pondering, and contemplating the word of God in my life and witnessing to it in action for justice and peace.
In response to God’s call to seek justice, to love tenderly, and to walk in the way of peace, I Susan Rose Francois, in the presence of Margaret Byrne, Congregation Leader, and in the presence of the community gathered here, vow to God, poverty, celibacy, and obedience for life according to the Constitutions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
Three years later I continue to be so very grateful for God’s love and the opportunity to respond to that love as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. I continue to feel the call to live with an open heart and to seek justice, love tenderly, and walk in the way of peace. New adventures are still to come as I continue to take steps which lead me deeper into the deepest depths of the heart of Jesus. And for that, my friends, I am very grateful!