My novice classmate, sister, and friend Chero reminded me that yesterday was the 11th anniversary of our first profession of vows.
So much had happened since then: four years of social justice ministry, two and a half years of graduate school, and now four and a half years of community ministry on the leadership team. Many moves. And so much in between!
This morning, as I walked down the stairs in my pajamas to get my morning coffee, I remembered that today is the 3rd anniversary of the fire at St. Michael Villa, our regional center where I happen to live. While we are back in our corner of the house that received less smoke damage, we are anxiously anticipating the reopening of the main house soon. Lots of losses and discoveries and moves to temporary housing since waking up to a very real fire alarm.
Both memories lead me to give thanks for the gifts of community and belonging.
The past eleven years have been filled with so much love in action.
Prayers, hopes, and dreams shared.
Challenges and disasters navigated together.
Waiting in joyful hope, and maybe a bit of impatience thrown in for good measure.
Invitations and opportunities.
Roadblocks and detours.
Growing together as community for mission.
Finding my voice as a writer and discovering bit by bit my role as a leader.
It is the big moments and the little ones that make up this adventure called life, and God is always in the mix if we care to look.
Our Father. Our daily bread. Forgive us as we forgive. Lead us. Deliver us.
This prayer that for decades I have said desperately at my most lonely hours calls us to be community. It is not a prayer to my Father for my daily bread and my forgiveness or deliverance. It is a prayer for the whole. As I have prayed this prayer anew in these days, I haven’t been able to get this sense of the collective out of my heart and mind. The hour for “our” is now. …
What would happen, I wonder, if instead of spreading negative energy in our conversations that contribute to the toxic levels of our current civic discourse, we practiced loving even those bits of the whole we struggle with? Speaking the truth in love, standing in solidarity in love, acting for justice in love.
Maybe this would lead us to deliverance, provide our nourishment and sustain us, help us to listen deeply for that which binds us together, no matter how small, in the sea of division.
What if we all lived as if are already part of the beloved community?
I have been asking myself that question lately. When I am frustrated or disappointed, angry or just plaim grumpy, can I nevertheless respond with love?
I have been experimenting with this through my daily tweets to the president. It has not been easy, but it has helped me stay sane amd engaged over the past year.
What if I could apply this desire to my daily interactions? Annoyed by a neverending customer service loop? What if I attend to the business and seek resolution of the problem, but could do so as if the person on the other end of the phone were also part of the beloved community?
What if I approached the challenging daily intersections of life this way? Friend, family, stranger, community … all beloved by God and doing their best. Can I be gentle with them, and gentle with myself? Can I try again and again when I find it too hard to respond with agape love, so that in the end I am helping to create the beloved community?
What if my response were first and foremost love?
We are almost a week into the New Year, but I think I have stumbled upon my resolution.
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
My novitiate classmate Sister Chero texted me this morning to remind me that ten years ago today we were received as novices and added “Sister” to the beginning of our names.
Then I wrote on my old blog: “Mostly I’m deeply happy and grateful to God for this invitation and the whatever it took to finally say yes. Not to mention this amazing community of friends I have found to journey with. Wow…”
Now, ten years later, I can only say that my joy and gratitude has deepened in ways I could not have even imagined then. I continue to be amazed at the joy, love, grace, and blessing that comes with being a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.
My latest column on Global Sisters Report has been published, inspired by my Congregation’s statement: Welcome Immigrants and Refugees.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace have long had a concern for immigrants and refugees. In 1881 our founder Margaret Anna Cusack (Mother Clare) wrote to the Irish bishops: “Whatever opinion many of us may have as to the cause of emigration, of the fact there is no question.” Seeing the massive waves of emigration from the starvation of Ireland to the promise of America, she expressed grave concern for the safety of the new immigrants, especially young women in a strange land. …
Every year our community celebrates Founder’s Day on June 5, the anniversary of Mother Clare’s death. This year we celebrated by issuing a congregational statement she would no doubt have supported: Welcome Immigrants and Refugees. We “express our grave concern for refugees, asylum seekers, and our migrant brothers and sisters.” Not only do we call on all governments to provide safe haven, we also urge them to address the root causes of forced migration, such as economic inequality, war, arm sales, and environmental degradation.
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 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.
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.