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Celebrating Life

By Sister Carol Crepeau

Today is my birthday. My Italian friends tell me that if I had been born in Rome I could very well been named Assumpta, since I share my birthday with the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. As life and geography would have it, I was born in Chicago and am named Carol.

When I was five years old my grandfather swept me, his oldest grandchild, into his arm and heart and took it upon himself to start me on the “path of life.”active-adolescent-affection-167300 His recurring words, spoken often and clearly, of who I am and who I am invited to become stay with me today.

When you were little, how did you celebrate your birthday? Well my mom was a great cook and for birthdays in my family, we had the special “privilege” of cooking our favorite meal, all courses, side by side with her in our kitchen. My dad did not have this privilege. This practice started when I was six and somehow the cooking and entertaining on special days is imbedded in my genes. In fact, my housemate, Sister Jackie, and I have an active, unofficial ministry of wining and dining. Thanks, Mom.food-3230799_1920

Today, when I celebrate my birthday, it is quieter, though no less evocative of childhood cooking and gathering with family and friends and making wishes for the whole world. I still sit with my Grandfather’s advice of who I am, though some of his descriptors have been adjusted a bit.

Two pieces of wisdom are active in my spirit these days – the first a Chinese proverb:

If I keep a green bough in my heart the singing bird will come.

The second a Cherokee expression:

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

So on this day I invite you to cook a meal, invite friends, gather a green bough for your heart and rejoice – wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyday, not only on our birthday, we would birth life?

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About the Author

Sr. Carol photo edited
Sister Carol Crepeau, CSJ ministers as a facilitator and leader of group dynamics for non-profits. Guiding the annual Congregation of St Joseph Pilgrimage to LePuy and Lyon, France is one of the most wonderful activities of her life. She also enjoys a good book and gathering with friends for prayer and conversation.

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To Be a Leader

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

Having recently been elected to the leadership team of the Congregation of St. Joseph, I have been thinking a lot about leadership. When I search “leadership” on Amazon.com, there are 60,000 entries! That’s not a typo: 60,000!!!

It seems there is a blur between the understandings of leadership, administration, and management. And, indeed, there are some blurry edges, where leaders do exercise administration and management. But, my own reflecting has been about the role of the leader. And, I keep coming back to who a leader IS, rather than what a leader DOES.

Thus, I share the fruit of my reflection: a leader is. . .

. . .a team player. When a child first enters into preschool or kindergarten, one of the evaluations is: “plays nice with others.” I once knew a parish music director who encouraged his choir members to “play nice together.” The more sophisticated word is that a leader is collaborative: shares responsibility for consensus building with others and among those who are led.

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. . . a model. I have long been an observer of leaders in various domains. I once had a student who did a research paper on pastoral leadership in various denominations and came to the conclusion that “as the leader was, so the congregation was.” If the pastoral leader was present, engaged, and joyful, so was the congregation. The opposite was also true: if the pastoral leader was withdrawn, unavailable, and crabby, so was the congregation. Thus, the model of leadership sets the tone for those who are led.

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. . .person of wisdom/life experience. When I have taught courses on the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, I ask the students to describe a wise person. Their responses always come down to “someone who has integrated their life experience.” Thus, a wise leader is one who has life experience and evokes and respects the wisdom of those who are led.directory-229117_1920. . .person of vision. In the Gospels, the healing of blindness may be a metaphor for coming to believe. As such, a person of vision is rooted in a strong belief system which allows them to envision a future full of hope. Such vision is the motivation for actions in the present.alphabet-creativity-cube-462353. . .”leads” the dance of life. It seems that every culture has a particular dance for life celebrations. And, when people are dancing, they are usually smiling. I’d suggest that a good leader actually leads the dance of life enjoyed by those who are led. Whether or not they are physically able to dance, one can still dance in heart and spirit. In times of life when there is loss and sadness, it is also important to express grief, in the dance of mourning.people-2588899_1920So, these are some suggestions of the “is-ness” of leadership. Rooted in these qualities, the leader can approach various tasks that they must accomplish. I see these qualities in the members of the team with whom I am privileged and happy to serve. I look forward to teaming together in these qualities.
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About the Author

sallie-sized-for-useAfter nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph. The new team takes office on August 6.

 

 

 

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Gardening, Like Life, Can Be Messy

 By Sister Christine Parks

I’ve been sitting with my morning coffee, looking out the window and thinking about gardens—in particular my gardens—which are gasping dryly in this un-seasonal heat. It’s the middle of July which brings us close to the middle of another summer—another summer that is flying by much faster than I like.

My gardens have suffered this year from heat (we’ve already had way more 90 degree days than is “normal” for Michigan), lack of rain, and from neglect. I’ve been gone more than usual, or so it seems, with little time to tend them, and thus my garden beds are a mess! True my gardens were never quite up to the standard of Better Homes & Gardens, but they did start out a bit more orderly and contained than they are today. An apt metaphor for a goodly portion of my life some days.

MaycroftGarden CLParks photoGrass and weeds abound in the perennial bed. And, in the deep shade out back, wild things are creeping up into the bed and threatening a take-over. I’m trying to believe that they are a valued part of the creation I know I am “one with”; but it’s not easy when the wild vines begin to strangle the tame perennials I’ve been trying to nurture. Can’t help believing there’s a lot of that going on in our nation and world too.FairyLilies 2016-06I really want to believe what I say to others: weed is just a pejorative word for a plant growing where we don’t want it. But it’s not so easy as I look out at the tangled mass of vegetation, that seems too far gone to redeem this summer. In the world around us too, it seems that it is often easier to label or name-call something or someone than it is to see the potential value or beauty in something or someone who doesn’t conform to our/my notion of value or beauty.Butterfly on bushBut it’s too hot to get preachy today…and I really need another cup of coffee before I head out with the hose and weed digger. One of the best ways I know to get centered for the work ahead.

About the Author

Christine Parks
Sister Christine Parks currently serves as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

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Lean on Us!

By Sister Jacqueline Goodin and Shirelle Boyd

We have so many ways to enjoy the Fourth of July, the day we remember the history of our independence and rejoice that we live in a democratic nation (despite past and current flaws and struggles). Whether we celebrate this national holiday with a picnic, at a family gathering, in the local parade, or with brilliant, booming fireworks, the theme of the day is “INDEPENDENCE”!

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What if we turned this theme a tad up-side-down? What if we become more aware of our “interdependence”—in our neighborhoods, in our complex, diverse nation, and in our one global community? This takes us to a different place, doesn’t it?

It reminds me of the Bill Withers song, Lean On Me.

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”

Working together to accomplish small tasks of everyday life can affect positive change in our lives and most importantly, the lives of others. We can become more intentional in our practice of living interdependently. Even with small, conscious acts of interdependence, our sphere of influence can be significant because we all live somewhere, we all worship in a community of faith, we all engage in the civic and economic arenas of modern society.

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One way to practice interdependence is to appreciate the many, often nameless, persons with whom we come in contact on a daily basis. What would happen if we paid attention to the grocery store check-out clerk, the TSA official, the letter carrier, the library aide, the school crossing guard, the telephone customer service rep? Simple, sincere words such as “How is your day going? Busy today? Thanks so much for your help today. I appreciate how hard your job is” and so forth can help us realize that we are all in this together.

It just takes two minutes or less to look someone in the eye and express a real, sincere, brief greeting or inquiry as to his/her well-being. Can it be so hard to remember, or teach our children, a mantra of interdependence? “It costs us nothing to be nice to people.”

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Initiating a warm smile as you pass a stranger on the street, going out of your way to give someone directions (or not being timid about asking for directions from someone after Siri leads you to a dead-end) and going above and beyond to help someone out of a desperate situation are all different ways we can dip our big toe into the pool of interdependence.

The belief that we are all one—the heart of Jesus’s Gospel and the heart of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s mission, impels us to be interdependent on one another and to take risks for the betterment of others. We are created to be our sisters’ keeper, just as our brothers are to be our keepers in times of trouble.

“Lean on us” the Congregation says, as women and men called to live the Gospel through the mission of “oneness.”

“Lean on us” we say to the survivors of human trafficking.

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“Lean on us” we say to the young ones and the families who cross borders to escape violence, persecution, and poverty.

“Lean on us” we say to Mother Earth as we work to reduce the use of fossil fuels and plastic in our consumer society.

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“Lean on us” we say to those who are imprisoned and are on Death Row.

“Lean on us” we say to those persons who are marginalized or victimized because of racism which still predominates in our national hearts and minds.

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“Lean on us” we say to anyone who is “other” or “not like me.”

“Lean on us” we say our global sisters and brothers who live in poverty because we live with so much abundance.

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“Lean on us” we say to you when you need hope or encouragement.

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We are in this one Life together!

About the Authors

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Sister Jacqueline (left) and Shirelle (right) were excited to work together!

Shirelle Boyd is a wife and mother of two who enjoys teaching children and adults how to eat healthier. She fashions herself as a “food activist,” a supporter of growing and sustainability when it comes to the area of food.

Sister Jacqueline Goodin is a Clinical Social Worker who has traveled to Thailand, Tanzania (2010-14), and most recently Japan. She is an avid reader of mystery and detective stories. She will begin service in elected leadership to the Congregation in August.

Shirelle and Sister Jacqueline enjoyed intermingling their creativity and writing this blog in a spirit and practice of interdependence!

 

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Welcome to the Family

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

One of my fav witticisms of Mark Twain is this:

“There are two kinds of people in the world:
the kind who put people into categories,
and the kind who don’t.”

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I think that Jesus would chuckle along with Twain’s clever phrasing, and say something like “That’s what I’m talkin’ about…Be the kind who don’t categorize and exclude!”

Yet even though we might believe that the human family is one, we humans have to keep practicing the virtue of including others who aren’t in our family or don’t seem to fit in our circle of friends. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky frames it more starkly, arguing that we are “wired” to behave from an “us vs. them” perspective (from his book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst). This means that we really have to consciously work at becoming our best, inclusive selves.

Four things happened last week that gave me a chance to practice. I’ll just name them all, then try to sort them out for you. 1) I went “home” to South Carolina for a visit with my friends and relatives; 2) I heard the gospel proclaimed in which Jesus clarifies “family”(Mark 3:20-35); 3) I watched the film The Greatest Showman; and 4) I joined in meals breaking the Ramadan fast with Muslims of the InnerCity Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago, on two Wednesdays.

1) My friends Mary Ann and Mike Fey (and their two daughters, sons-in-law, and grandkids) are family to me. I longed to see them again, after a two-year gap. But my sister Trish and niece Ella (13) have since moved three hours upstate from the Feys. I wanted to visit them too, but time was short.

An unprecedented thing happened: The Feys welcomed Trish and Ella to their home for part of my visit. My family met my family, and became family.

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Now, you might say this wasn’t much of a stretch. Look at us, we all even kind of look alike. Yet it took considerable effort and hospitable good will to bring about these smiles.

2) On Sunday we went to Eucharist together. My friend, Fr. Sandy McDonald, preached about Jesus revamping our cultural concept of family: Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. Aha. Many circle God and behave in the ways that God wants them to, and they don’t necessarily look like me or us at all.

3) Sunday night, Trish and Ella drove home, Mike passed on the opportunity to snooze during a musical, and Mary Ann and I delightedly dug in to enjoy The Greatest Showman, a depiction of P.T. Barnum’s launch of what we know as the circus.

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At the outset I wasn’t expecting inclusion. I’ve actually become more than a little suspicious of entrepreneurs who bill themselves as “the greatest” or “showmen,” who sing “This Is Me,” and who turn things into a circus.

But I have to hand it to Phineas T. Barnum, at least as he was depicted here. Business-minded as he was, he remembered what it was to struggle to survive. The love he shared with his wife and children opened him to a solidarity with others, who had been cruelly rejected by kin and society.

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See the film and decide for yourself. Did Phineas invite the marginalized to be accepted for whom they were? Or did he exploit these others for his personal gain? Whatever the historical Barnum might have done, the film functions sacramentally for me in portraying the human struggle to be true to an ethic of loving inclusion.

4) How do I fit this in with my mini-experiences celebrating Ramadan with Muslims? First, I felt like I was truly received as sister, especially by Um-Gemali, who I just met last year. Her son—who works at IMAN—took our picture there.
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I find lots of relatives of Jesus in the Muslim community, i.e., I detect a lot of hearing the word of God and keeping it. I’m amazed by their generous hospitality, unrelenting prayer, and works for justice.

But check out IMAN’s website and decide for yourself. Maybe by next Ramadan, we will have met many new sisters and brothers, as we keep practicing our best human behavior. Insh’Allah. (God willing.)

About the Author

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Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min. completed the Doctor of Ministry degree last month from Catholic Theological Union at Chicago,with her thesis-project entitled:
Truly Sisters: Catholic and Muslim Women Walking Together on the Path of Interfaith Leadership. She enjoys walking, movies, and laughing with friends.

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Come to Your Senses!

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

Put away your prayer book!

Back away from your Bible!

Come to your senses!

Child of the universe, God is speaking to you through your body and through all creation. All is gift. Listen! Watch! Pay attention! Pray with all that you are!

God says, “Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

Look again, and see if you can!

Creator God, use my eyes and feast on the sunrise, the faces of little children, hazy mountains and blue oceans. Marvel at the brilliant green of springtime, the dazzling white of fresh snow, the red and orange of autumn leaves.

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Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!

Creator God, enjoy your creation through me. Taste the creamy coolness of ice cream. Smack your lips over a hot dog with the works! Savor this sweet apple I picked from the tree—it’s called “golden delicious”—don’t you think that’s a good name for it?

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Are you out of touch?

Creator God, can you feel the wind caressing you? Hold my hand as we walk along the beach and dig our toes in the sand. Sit by the fire with us and warm up after your winter walk.

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Do you hear what I hear?

Creator God, do you hear what I hear? Do you hear the chirping of the birds greeting the morning? Sit on the porch with me and listen to the children shouting and laughing, playing baseball in the street on this summer evening. I think music is more lovely when one hears it under the stars. What about you?

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Wake up and smell the roses!

Creator God, thank you for noses! Can you smell the scent of roses carried on a gentle summer breeze? Come and smell the freshness of the garden after the rain. Dad is grilling hamburgers for supper and the delicious smell makes my stomach growl. Please stay and eat with us.

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Come to your senses! Pray with all that you are!

Walk this world amazed, full of wonder and gratitude.
Say to God,
Thank you for your creation.
Use my eyes and my ears to savor what you have made.
Show me your face hidden in all beauty.
Remind me that wherever I walk, I am on holy ground.

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About the Author

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Sister Jeanne Cmolik is a spiritual director, works with new members of the Congregation, and coordinates RCIA at St. Christopher Church in Rocky River, Ohio. She enjoys reading, cooking, walking in the park, and eating ice cream.

 

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Studying Yoga, Finding Themselves

By Sister Jane Harrington

Recently I found myself driving along a winding country road, on my way to prison.

Hmm – let me clarify. I was indeed going to the West Virginia State Prison for Women (known as Lakin), but as an invited guest for a special graduation. Eight woman in prison at Lakin, having completed the rigorous curriculum, were graduating as certified yoga instructors! Not only could they teach in the prison, but upon release, they would leave with a valuable skill.

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How did this happen? What’s the “backstory” here? Trust me, the story is exciting, inspiring, touching, and encouraging.

I don’t remember how I learned about Laotong Yoga but when I saw the names of the two women who founded it, I knew I wanted to learn more. A mutual friend arranged for us to meet over lunch – and I was hooked! After retiring from their “day jobs,” Sue and Barb had begun bringing yoga (movement) and stillness (meditation) to those who couldn’t access regular classes – specifically, those incarcerated. The goals include nurturing peace, wellness, justice, and compassion.

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Barb and Sue, who run Laotong Yoga

After a few years of classes, the next step was to begin yoga teacher training ( referred to as YTT) at Lakin. It was demanding – one full weekend each month for a year, with 200 hours of instruction, practice, testing, and supervised teaching. And these women did it!!

yoga-304635_1280 croppedWhen I walked into the graduation site, several women of Lakin were putting the final touches on their decorating – the walls were lined with paper cut-outs of yoga mats – each with the name of a woman at Lakin who had completed at least one series of 8 yoga classes – over 200 names. Other women (those in a Culinary Class at Lakin) were setting up and preparing for the luncheon buffet to follow.

Then a gong sounded. Led by Sue and Barb (wearing white stoles), the eight woman (also wearing white stoles) walked with grace and dignity to their seats facing us. And as with all graduations, we experienced a number of speakers! The Warden and the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections not only congratulated the women but expressed their gratitude for how their practice was benefiting others at the prison and the entire atmosphere.
yoga-1916729_1920Finally – awarding the certificates. Sue and Barb introduced each woman, adding a few comments so we could know her a little better, and presented her with a well-deserved certificate. Each woman addressed the guests, and everyone began by thanking those who made this day possible for them, including funders! (A grant from the Congregation of St. Joseph Generous Promise Grant Fund helped supply each woman with her yoga mat, a binder of resources, and accessories — or as the women put it, “the super cool supplies that we received.”)

Here are a few of the women’s comments:

“It has been a privilege to be part of the YTT program – a blessing we never expected to receive – an extraordinary opportunity, a special gift”Barbara - when i get stressed
“Laotong Yoga and the YTT program have transformed us into the people we have always been deep inside but that had been lost or forgotten.”

“Physically I can do more. Emotionally I deal with problems at a different level now.”female-breathing calms me down
“I seem to be more relaxed but when stress happens, I’m a lot quicker to just breathe and collect myself.”

“As Laotong Yoga taught us, we are all connected as kindred spirits through energies of deep awareness, great compassion, and expansive love.”Sue-tyhe best partIn late afternoon, as I once again drove the curving, country road back home, memories of my day filled my heart:

  • the unfailing welcomes and courtesies of the staff, visitors and the women of Lakin
  • The eloquence, confidence, gratitude and vibrant spirituality of the graduates
  • The delicious lunch, graciously served by the women who prepared it

yoga-422196_1920And with the memories came a deepening awareness of the profound connection and mutuality between what I had seen and experienced that day and the Congregation’s Generous Promises and Mission:

“we commit to deepen our practice of shared leadership to activate personal and collective empowerment:”

“we commit to strengthen and expand our . . .partnering with a diversity of persons and groups to bring about life-giving change”

“that all may be one.”

 

About the Author

Jane Harrington (Chartres)Sister Jane Harrington retired as Executive Director of the Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund (now the Sisters Health Foundation), and currently serves on the board of directors for Catholic Charities, West Virginia. She enjoys visiting family and friends in various parts of the country, quilting, and occasional (ad)ventures into knitting.

 

*Pictures from Laotong Yoga used with permission of the program