Tag Archives: community

Go Be Light … Sister Jeanne Keaveny

Jeanne (left) and Dorothy deeply engage at a community meeting in 2008
Jeanne (left) and Dorothy deeply engaged in conversation at a community meeting in 2008

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.

Securing Peace: Global Sisters Report

My latest Global Sisters Report column has been posted, in which I try to weave together my Congregation’s founding story, the violence and suffering of today, with some inspiration I received from Pope Francis and our Sisters in the UK, not to mention Gandhi’s 82 year old grandson.

In the 131 years since my congregation was founded, the human family has faced two world wars and the onset of the global war on terror. We have developed the capacity to destroy all of God’s creation countless times over with nuclear weapons. Human communities have suffered through more than250 armed conflicts across the globe since 1945, and civilians now make up the majority of the causalities of war, with some estimates as high as 90 percent. Then, of course, there is the ugly reality of gun violence in our own nation, a reality which only seems to seep into our collective consciousness briefly in the face of tragedies such as the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

Last week I found myself holding all of this in prayer as I sat in St. Barnabas Cathedral in Nottingham, England, where our first sisters professed their vows in 1884. I could not help but reflect anew on Bishop Bagshawe’s words then to our first sisters (“To secure this divine peace for ourselves and procure its blessings for others in the midst of the sin, turmoil and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.”) . I wondered: What would he make of the sin, turmoil and restless anxiety of our contemporary world which gives rise to such violence? One thing is certain — there continues to be an urgent need for faithful witnesses to peace, compassion and nonviolence today.

Visit Global Sisters Report to read the whole thing.

Peace vigil at the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland with my CSJP Sisters, some new Catholic worker friends, and Arun Gandhi
Peace vigil at the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland with my CSJP Sisters, some new Catholic worker friends, and Arun Gandhi

Here and Now with Mary & Martha

MaryMarthaI am back from my visit with our sisters and associates in the United Kingdom. It was a wonderful trip and always so good to be with our community in the various regions where we minister.

Transatlantic travel means I woke up very early this morning. By nature I am not a morning person, although these days I am becoming more so. I am coming to appreciate the quiet of the morning. For one thing it is a good time for prayer.

In the little booklet I use for prayer and reflection, today there was a reflection by Henri Nouwen:

Somehow we don’t fully trust that our God is a God of the present and speaks to us where we are. “This is the day the Lord has made.” When the people of Nineveh heard Jonah speak, they turned back to God. Can we listen to the word that God speaks to us today and do the same? This is a very simple but crucial message: Don’t wait for tomorrow to change your heart. This is the favorable time!

I came back to New Jersey yesterday with a very long running to do list in my mind. It was great to be with our UK community for a few weeks, to sit at the feet of wisdom women and experience the movement of God in their lives and ministry. But my practical side is anxious to get busy about many things.

How fitting then that today we have the Gospel of Mary and Martha, one sitting at the feet of Jesus, the other anxious and busy about many things. If sit in the quiet of the morning and listen to the word that God speaks to me today, I realize it is good to be here, it is good to be in the present moment. It is good to sit and be present to my sisters. It is also good to be about the work I have been called to do for the community. God is here, now, with me. God is with us, always, if we but pay attention!

And so this morning I pray in gratitude for the Mary moments of the past few weeks, even as I get ready to face my to do list and channel Martha for a bit. I also hold the promise of many Mary moments with our Sisters and Associates in our two US regions. I am feeling very blessed for the opportunity to soak in the presence of such amazing faith filled people. Fairly often these days, I give thanks to God who broke through all my resistance to religious life a decade ago and led me to this community of peace. I am all the better for it, and have come to know and love and serve God in a whole new way in the process.

God is good.

Peace.

Shared Responsibility

dontcarryitallThis morning I woke up feeling a wee bit overwhelmed by everything. Not just everything on my own proverbial plate, but the situation of the world, of people I care about who are suffering, about the unknowns of the future. You know the drill, we all I am sure have our own versions of these moments.  But I got out of bed, drank my coffee, put on my gym clothes and went to the gym where I heard a song on my music mix that helped to lift me out of the overwhelmed overresponsibility blues … “Don’t Carry it All” by the Decemberists.

So raise a glass to turnings of the season

And watch it as it arcs towards the sun

And you must bear your neighbor’s burden within reason

And your labors will be borne when all is done

And nobody, nobody knows

Let the yoke fall from our shoulders

Don’t carry it all don’t carry it all

We are all our hands and holders

Beneath this bold and brilliant sun

A message that speaks to me of community and trust and love, in the people I am called to share the journey with and ultimately in my good and gracious God. We carry our share in love and hope, but we don’t carry it all. And that my friends is a blessing worth remembering indeed.

We each have responsibilities born of promise and commitment, whether that be a parent to a child, between spouses, in religious community, or in common work and friendship. But part of the beauty of being human is that we are inherently social beings and we share that load even as we face the future together in gratitude and hope.

Prayer on waking

Sometimes like Jacob I wrestle

with my demons, my doubts, my frustrations,

my wondering how it will all work out.

But maybe that is what it takes,

those moments of struggle to make it

through to the other side,

to joy and wonder and awe and light and love.

And laughter. Don’t forget the laughter.

Or the tears.

God is present to us and with us and for us

through it all.

God is present through our friends and family

and community.

Together we struggle. Together we live.

And on waking I am content

in the loving

 (if sometimes mischevious)

presence of God.
Inspired by Genesis 32 and Psalm 17

Rise and Walk

Paralytic (1)Today’s gospel story is both a powerful and perplexing one (Matthew 9:1-8). It is one of many stories of healing by Jesus where he heals in the face of challenges by the powers that be or prevailing wisdom.

It is also quite simple in a way. Friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. Jesus knows what is possible. “Courage,” he says to the man. He lifts the weight of sin from the man, telling him that his sins are forgiven. That draws the ire of some scribes, who thought Jesus to be presumptuous at best and blasphemous at worst. So Jesus draws on his practical side and tells the man to do what he knows he can now do. Rise and walk. And he does.

It is a story recorded long ago of a healing from a physical ailment, paralysis. Yet it speaks to me and maybe it speaks to you. My own inner critics doubt whether I am really healed, whether I can really rise and walk into whatever lies ahead. Sometimes it is as if I am paralyzed by my own ailments which weigh me down, anxieties or self doubt or any other mix of worries and woes and wounds. Am I paralyzed by what I am sure is not possible, or do I  choose to live in the light of possibility and hope that is the way to peace?

One key to the story for me is that the man is brought to Jesus by his friends. He is strengthened and supported and brought to new life by community. He also responds to the loving action of Jesus, stepping literally into possibility.

And so I pray for faith, to truly live as if I believe that all things are possible through Jesus. I pray that I may stand with those close to me on their path to freedom, and accept their love and accompaniment on mine.

Rise and walk.

Sister Marie Paula – In Memory

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Sister Marie Paula listening

Sister Marie Paula went home to her loving God yesterday, just a little more than a month shy of reaching 98 years of age. She was one of the first CSJP Sisters I met in the east on a visit I made to check out the lay of the land before I entered the novitiate.

I will never forget her delight at meeting one of the “postulants from the west.” I can still picture that first encounter in my mind’s eye. It was in the chapel of Villa Marie Claire, where she was living and which is now used as a hospice. She told me that she had been praying for me. This is not an unusual statement, given the context, but then she pulled a picture out of her pocket. It was a picture of me with the other candidates who were set to enter the novitiate. She was carrying us in her pocket as she prayed for us, literally holding us in prayer.

A few weeks ago I had a good visit with her in her room in the infirmary. She was now on hospice herself  at the end of a life of prayer and loving service. I told her this story, and that I felt like she had literally prayed me into the congregation. I then told her that when she got to the other side, she had a lot of work to do praying for the new sisters who have not yet come. They needed her prayers too. She got very animated and talked about the joy of a life lived in community serving the Lord. She was alive right up until the end with the love of God and love for our CSJP community.

I love this picture of Sister Marie Paula. It was taken in March at our community assembly which was focused on future oriented conversations about mission.  There she is, leaning in, actively listening. For me it is a perfect portrait of an amazing, authentic, and animated woman of peace.

We will say goodbye to Sister Marie Paula this week. We will celebrate her life and remember the gift she was to our community, church, and world.  I have no doubt that she will be leaning in from her new home, listening to all that is going on, and praying fervently for our community, our  mission of peace, and the sisters yet to to come.

Margaret Anna Fridays – Founder’s Day Edition

Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)
Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)

Today is one of our CSJP Community Feast Days – Founders Day. On this day in 1899 our founder, Margaret Anna Cuasck (known in religion as Mother Francis Clare) went home to God.  Periodically on Fridays I share some words of wisdom from her here on the blog.  She was a prolific writer in her day, writing lives of the saints, spiritual works, histories, and social reform.  Under the inspiration of the Spirit, she also founded our Congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, to promote peace in family life, in the church, and in society.

On this Founders Day, I share an excerpt from The Nun of Kenmare, her autobiography, in which she recounts her audience with Pope Leo XIII on the founding of the new order, St. Joseph’s Sisters of Peace:

My audience [with Pope Leo XIII] was entirely private, as I did not require an interpreter. Mgr. Macchi brought in the whole set of my books to his holiness, who looked at them, I think somewhat surprised at the number. Some of them were duplicated, having been translated into German, French, and Italian. …

His holiness specially commended the plan of my new order, and encouraged me in every way to continue writing. He gave his blessing to all the sisters present and to come, and to all those who would contribute to my work. I cannot forget his paternal and affectionate kindness, and the sympathy he expressed for the troubles I had gone through. My last audience was a public one, and at this the Holy Father noticed me specially, and spoke to those who were standing around, explaining to them in a few words that we were Sisters of Peace, and the object of our work.
~M. F. Cusack, The Nun of Kenmare, 1889

If you’d like to learn more about Mother Fracnis Clare, here are a few places to start:

Shifting understandings of home

DChitwood_TheresNoPlaceLikeHomeI lived the first 18 years of my life in the same house on Seabury Lane in Bowie, Maryland.  First the house was painted green, later yellow. We were a family of five children and two parents, later adding grandparents to the residential mix even as sibling after sibling went off to college, sometimes returning for a stint after graduation. (I’m the youngest.)

When I went away to college on the left coast in Portland, the Seabury Lane house was still home. As a young adult, I began to create my own home in Portland where I lived for 16 years until I entered community.  But I still spent many holidays back in Bowie with the family.  During the years when my mom was sick, the visits home were more and more frequent as my siblings and I provided a tag team support system.  My Dad sold the family house about a year after my Mom died.  I remember the last day I was there.  I had a little ritual of thanksgiving, thanking God for everything the house had represented as home.

So where is home now?  I’m often perplexed when people ask me where I’m from, or where is home.  I no longer have family in Maryland.  I have moved quite a bit since I entered community.  My home CSJP Western region is Seattle, but I’m also at home in our Eastern region where I’m now living or in our UK region where I just had the pleasure of visiting.  I just spent a few days in Portland for a meeting and visiting with friends.  I have so much history there that it is also a place where I am at home. I just spent 2 1/2 years in Chicago for grad school and my sister and dad now live there, so that place also is special to me.

I have literally been all over the map the past month, travelling for community meetings and leadership/vocation related meetings and a conference and graduation and visiting family and friends and CSJP community.  I’ve been in Seattle, Leicestershire and London, Chicago, and Portland.  Each stop on the journey held elements of home — roots, connection, relationships, past, present, and future. This afternoon as I was on the last flight of this long trip, I found myself once again offering prayers of gratitude for the many places that are home to me, even as my understanding of home continues to shift and evolve.

And now I am sitting in my chair in my room in the place I currently call home.  And it is good to be here, to stop moving and breathe deeply and sink into the present and presence of the people and place that right now make this community house my home.

In memory … Sister Teresa Catherine

SisterTCI just received word that Sister Teresa Catherine Carberry passed away over the weekend in New Jersey. I am afraid I will miss the wake service tomorrow night and funeral on Wednesday, as I am on my way to visit with our Sisters in the United Kingdom for a couple of weeks. I know that the celebration of Sister Teresa Catherine’s life will be grand, with many stories told, laughter shared, and more than a few tears shed.  There is nothing quite like the way that we say goodbye to our beloved Sisters.

Sister Teresa Catherine entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace 71 years ago. She was a teacher, principal, and administrator of St. Joseph’s Home for the Blind (now Cusack Care Center) in Jersey City.  It is amazing to think of the countless number of lives she touched through her faithful and dedicated ministry to God’s people.

I was lucky enough to get to know Sister Teresa Catherine when she was my neighbor during my novitiate ministry experience in Jersey City. I lived with two Sisters in a house next door to Cusack Care Center, where Sister Teresa Catherine lived in the convent on the top floor with two other Sisters. Our two communities frequently got together to share meals and fellowship.

Visiting with Jersey City CSJPs as a novice
Visiting with Jersey City CSJPs as a novice (Sister Teresa Catherine is second from the right)

After a few weeks of being neighbors, I got to know Sister Teresa Catherine better when she asked me if I could give her some computer lessons.  She was an eager student and wanted to get to know how to use the new technology. I discovered that she liked to play cards, and so I showed her how to play solitaire on the computer, which was also a way to get her comfortable with the mouse.  Before long, she had an email account and was getting in touch with people electronically far and wide.

It wasn’t too long before our lessons turned into opportunities for our own far reaching conversations, which often lasted long past our computer lesson time. We talked about the history of our community, her experiences, the present state of the world, what it was like to enter religious life today as well as the future of religious life.  While in the beginning I had a feeling that we did not have much in common, by the end of my three months as her neighbor I knew that deep down she was a kindred spirit, one I was proud to be able to call Sister.

Thank you Sister Teresa Catherine for your friendship and all you have given to our community and God’s people. I know that you will be praying for us and doing all you can for our little community from your new digs in heaven.