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Being Nun-ish

When I tell people I am an associate of The Congregation of St. Joseph, puzzled looks usually follow. In the secular world, the word ‘associate’ is fairly generic and can mean all kinds of things. Since I also work for the sisters, most people assume it must be some kind of professional designation. When asked, I used to explain that it meant I’m kinda, sorta a non-vowed ‘member’ of the Congregation. However, that didn’t ultimately bring any further clarity. In fact, the next question was always, “So are you a nun?” So, I’ve learned to say to folks not familiar with religious life that being an associate means I believe and share in the mission of the sisters. I’m not a nun, but I am nun-ish.

Being nun-ish means that I get to participate in some important work of the sisters including Chapter, a week-long meeting held every five years. I’ve just returned from this year’s Chapter where, amongst other important work, the Congregation set the direction they plan to move in for the next several years and elected a new leadership team.

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But attending Chapter was far from all work, and some of the best moments for me were the one-on-one interactions I was able to have with sisters and other associates whom I rarely get to see due to our large geography. We prayed together, sang, ate, danced, visited, laughed, and strengthened and relished in the relationships that are the cornerstone of the Congregation. The event is aptly titled, because as the week unfolded, each experience, session, and day was like a chapter in a book; each important in their own right, but also collectively guiding us to a grace-filled conclusion.

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So what were some of my favorite experiences of Chapter? I thought I’d share my 6 favorite moments.

  1. Being with the sisters, including the sisters at my table, with whom I had table discussions, shared discernment, and prayed throughout the week. They are all amazing women and I was blessed to share time with each of them.Sisters at table
  2. Hearing the personal stories of other associates. Associates are such a diverse group of women and men (yes men!), and I feel blessed to be one with them. Like the Congregation itself, the associate program is evolving, and I’m excited to see where the spirit is leading! (Want to know more about being an associate? Learn more here.) associates
  3. Hearing from the younger sisters and candidates. As one of these young women said “Religious life is very much alive!” Hearing from these women who have more recently committed themselves to the Congregation as vowed members was inspirational! Young sisters
  4. Thanking the Congregations current leadership team for their years of service. What a fun and heart-felt evening we had as we thanked and blessed these incredible women who led the Congregation so well and through so much. current CLT
  5. Electing the new leadership team, which will lead the Congregation over the course of the next several years. What a faith-filled, spirit-led process this was. To sit in a room filled with sisters as they were moved by the Holy Spirit to elect a new team was very special, and I feel blessed to have been a part of it. New CLT
  6. The blessing of the hotel staff. This is always one of my favorite parts of any of the Congregation’s gatherings. The hotel staff is called forth – servers, cooks, etc. – and all those in attendance say a blessing over them. The staff’s expressions say it all – appreciation, wonder, and awe- and I’m sure this kind of blessing doesn’t happen with most of the groups they serve. It is a wonderful expression of who we are as a Congregation. IMG_3990

How blessed I feel to be nun-ish!

About the Author

Gina's BioGina Sullivan is the Director of Communications for the Congregation of St. Joseph, as well as an associate. She is also the mother of two daughters ages 19 and 16, and, when not worrying about them, enjoys cooking, walking, reading and experiencing new places and people. Want to talk more about what it means to be nun-ish? Email Gina at gsullivan@csjoseph.org.

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Connecting to Life’s Melodies

Writing is an intensely personal experience for me. Being an editor and writing emails that are work related do not translate to my desire to write for myself. Journaling is tortuous for me as I edit, rewrite, edit and usually delete any self-reflective musings. Even just writing this blog post made me feel a bit queasy.

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As one of the editors of ImagineOne, the magazine published twice a year by the Congregation, I recently put an email out asking for sisters and associates who might want to write for the magazine. Knowing my own feeling about writing, I wasn’t sure what to expect in response. I shouldn’t have worried. I was immediately overwhelmed by the numbers of people who felt called to write.Spring.2018.Final.COVER
Hearing from over 25 writers who really want to write is inspirational to me. I was offered haiku, personal reflections, spiritual reflections, cartoons, and self-help articles. A bounty of writing within our sisters and our associates! Such a gift and a responsibility; I’m still sorting it all out.

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One of our sisters sent me a twine bound folder of writings from over 60 years of religious life. Time fell away as I read of her personal challenges in the 1960s, her friendships and losses, and read different pieces on life as a Sister of St. Joseph. I thought that I knew this sister, she has known me and my family for over 50 years, but I was wrong. The depth of her experiences took away my breath. The pages and her writings felt sacred and momentous to me. I looked at her with new eyes. Unfortunately, as moved as I was, there was no place for her writings in the magazine. Her trust in me as a reader sits with me. Gift and responsibility; I’m still sorting it out.

OLA. picnic. roasting marshmallows. habits. 1960sA picture of our Sisters from the 1960’s

One of my children will be confirmed in April and struggled to choose a name. For most of my children, picking the confirmation name was the easy part. Who hasn’t wanted to choose a name for themselves? I love my confirmation name (it’s Elizabeth, by the way) and I always longed to use it. So, the reluctance of my child to make the choice was surprising to me. I offered books on the lives of the saints and encouraged him to choose a name that had meaning for him. Weeks went by and the deadline loomed.

all-saints-2887463_1920 (1)So many saints to choose from!

Finally, I cornered him. “What did you decide?” He narrowed it to two choices, he said. One was the patron saint of his grade school, Christopher, and the other, the patron saint of music, Cecilia. Athletic and musical, both saints made sense to me for him. Sensitive to how others might interpret the choices, I mentioned that boys usually chose a male saint. He asked me if he was ‘breaking a law’ if he chose a female saint. “Of course not”, I replied. He will be confirmed as Cecilia. I looked at him with new eyes.
How does this connect to the sister who shared her life writings with me? Her name is Cecilia.

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I’m struck by the links here between holding the experiences of two totally different lives and how they have been shared with me. I’m touched by the trust that is present in each of them as they offer their gifts to me and the world. There is a melody here. I’m determined to keep listening to is as it plays.

 

About the Author

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Eileen Biehl is an Associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph and also works as the editor of the magazine, ImagineONE. She loves her family, good coffee, and Pilates. She’d like to love writing for fun, but she’s not quite there yet.

How Lady Bird Got Catholic Sisters Right

If you, like me, love the movies, you’ve probably heard of Lady Bird, a movie by Greta Gerwig about a girl in Catholic high school who is navigating her future, her family, and her own faith. I’d heard a lot about this movie, in part because of the widespread critical acclaim that it’s received (it was nominated for several Oscars) and in part because many Catholic news sources were talking about it. And so, when one of my best friends and I headed to the theater a few weeks ago, it seemed like the best choice for our movie night.

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While I had heard a lot about the movie, I didn’t know all of the details. But I anticipated that I would see some parallels to my own life. As a woman who went to an all-girls Catholic school that had been founded by sisters, I figured that Lady Bird and I were bound to have some crossover. What I didn’t expect was that the film is set in 2002, the same year I graduated from high school. I will admit to you, that this threw me for a bit of a loop. My friend and I turned to each other nervously, the realization hitting us at the same time that this film might hit a little too close to home for our own comfort.

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The look I’m sure I gave my best friend as the movie started.

We were, of course, right. We were transported back to the early aughts (the first decade of the 2000’s), to days filled with plaid skirts and button ups, mixers and school plays, uncertainty about our lives and our futures. Some of the things that stood out were small reminders of long forgotten Catholic school-isms that were a part of growing up: checks to make sure that our uniform skirts were long enough, making sure we “left room for the Holy Spirit” when dancing with boys, all school masses tailored to our young lives, the importance of female friendships.

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There’s nothing like the female friendships you make in Catholic school.

But what stood out to me as the most true to life about this film was the way that sisters were portrayed. Often the voice of reason in my own life, in ways that I certainly wouldn’t have understood as a teenager, the sisters that run the fictional Sacred Heart High School seem to be a guiding compass for the main character. And so, I’d like to offer you my thoughts on the how movie represented Catholic sisters that really rang true.

3 ways that Lady Bird got Catholic Sisters right.

1. Sisters encourage us to find the best parts of ourselves

Early on in the movie, the title character, Lady Bird, meets with Sister Sarah Joan, who is the principal of the school. Lady Bird, like many high schoolers, seems adrift. She often does things in dramatic ways as she works to find herself. Sister Sarah Joan suggests she try out for the school play, to use some of her natural dramatic skills in a way that might be more productive. This guidance may not be what Lady Bird expects, but it encourages her to be open to possibilities she had not explored previously. This was a wonderful reminder to me that sisters often act as the people in my life that encourage the good in me to come out. Without even realizing it, my interactions with sisters often lead me to a deeper understanding of myself and my place in the world, and encourage me to be the best person I can be.giphy (75).gif
2. Sisters have a sense of humor

Lady Bird plays a prank on Sister Sarah Joan later on in the film that, while harmless, she is worried she’ll be in trouble for. Instead, Sister Sarah Joan laughs. This moment seemed so poignant to me because it reminds us of an important thing that many people seem to forget when they talk about sisters: sisters are people! Just like the rest of us, they have a sense of humor and can laugh about themselves.giphy (84).gif3. Sisters understand love

One of the most poignant moments in the film, for me, is when Sister Sarah Joan reads Lady Bird’s college entrance essay. The essay is about Sacramento, the town Lady Bird lives in. Sister Sarah Joan tells Lady Bird she must really love Sacramento, because in her writing it’s clear she pays a lot of attention to the details of the city. Lady Bird is confused. She longs to leave Sacramento, and she doesn’t see how her essay reflects love. Sister Sarah Joan says “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention.”
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And isn’t this, at its core, the heart of love? That the things we pay attention to, the things we make time for, are the things we truly love? Sister Sarah Joan understands this because, despite her pranks and her drama, Sister Sarah Joan loves Lady Bird. She pays attention to her, to understanding her needs, to helping her succeed. And, in doing so, she shows Lady Bird what love really is, even when it is not always easy to see it in others.

Whether, like me, this film made you nostalgic for your own Catholic school days, or reminded you of your life in the early 2000’s, the message about Catholic Sisters seems clear. Catholic Sisters can touch and shape our lives in ways we may not even realize. Their humanity, encouragement, and love are some of what makes them such an important part of our lives.

About the Author

2002 and Today

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Elizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer. She loves reading, writing, and Harry Potter.

 

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Journeying Through Lent…Into Spring

By Sister Christine Parks

We’ve had sunshine two days in a row now, a rarity in February in Michigan. I confess I’ve never been particularly fond of February (Valentine’s Day notwithstanding) but on days like this my spirit lifts out of the slough of mid-winter, as the drab landscape brightens. I can look out and imagine a bit of green lying just below the surface—ready to burst upward reaching for the sun, and renewed life.

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It’s always seemed appropriate that Lent should begin in this backwater time of winter, (at least in our hemisphere) when our spirits can be at their lowest ebb. When the grey sky seems to have fallen so low and heavy and cold that all we want to do is huddle under a comforter with a cup of hot tea and a good book.

 

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Instead we rise, face the day, scrape off the car (if we aren’t blessed with a garage) and shiver into another day. And then Lent comes! Lent with its promise, more reliable than a hundred groundhogs, of spring. Lent, with its movement through the recurring cycle of lengthening days, increasing light, and inevitable greening. No accident that our spiritual ancestors of two millennia ago chose this time of year to remember and relive the mystery of Christ’s journey through life, into death and then the illimitable joy of rebirth.

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Yesterday I went to the Greater Lansing Orchid show—and there it was, the miracle of burgeoning life in the beauty surrounding us. In the face of those gorgeous blooms—their amazing variety of size, shape and color—that mostly live on air, I could anticipate the coming of another spring. March arrives, and whether it comes gentle and a lamb, or roaring like a lion we can be assured that the rebirth of nature, our own and the landscape around us is only weeks away. We can be assured that the journey through winter, like the journey through Lent, can lead us down into the depths of our being and back up to the joy of resurrection—ready to sing another season’s “Alleluia”.

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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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And Jesus said, “Will you be my Valentine?”

By Sister Judith Minear

Valentine’s Day!

As a child, Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday of the year. My classmates and I made beautiful boxes to contain our treasured cards, and it was understood from our teacher that nobody was to be left out. It was a day filled with joy and laughter, hidden surprises and tender messages. It was a day when Love could shine! And, at the end of the day, there was a classroom party with delicious cupcakes served by smiling moms. Sigh. What was not to love?

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As I grew older, I began to understand the lavish commercialism and complicated expectations that surround Valentine’s Day, and my “favorite holiday” lost its sparkle. I began to appreciate how complicated Love is, and that its scope of emotions ranges from unbridled joy to despair and sorrow. I learned from poets and artists that Life (and Love) presents itself as wells of chaos, and our human mission is to work through the chaos to discover the essential nugget at its core…which, in my experience, is always Love.

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I was truly saddened to lose the exhilaration of my child-heart’s view of this holiday. What I did not lose, through grace, was the idea that beautiful, hidden treasures are all around us, that Love trumps everything, and that nobody is to be left out.

This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a sacred day in the Christian calendar: Ash Wednesday. In the first reading from today’s Eucharistic liturgy, God cries out, “turn to me with your whole heart.” Whole-hearted intention is one of the great gifts of Jesus to us. We learn from Jesus to anchor our lives in God’s love, seeking always the highest moral freedom and the most perfect, inclusive Love we can achieve, each and every day. Of course, we humans fall and fail, over and over. But on our best days our higher selves continue to reach toward living a life with real purpose, just as Jesus did.

giphy (69)Each year, Lent is an opportunity to grow our love…to work on our relationship with the Holy One just as we must work on our relationships with every person in our lives who holds a piece of our heart. One way I do this is by asking myself questions. What habits in my life stand in the way of being the loving Presence God invites me to be in the world? What practice might I be called to that will help to open me to Love, rather than blocking me from noticing others around me who may be lacking Love?pexels-photo-433495One of my favorite writers/poets, Jan Richardson, speaks of Sojourner Truth in her reflection “Upon the Ashes.” Sojourner, a fiery abolitionist, orator, and preacher knew she was called by God to speak the truth about slavery. Ms. Richardson writes, “One day, while preparing for a speech at the town-house in Angola, Indiana, she heard that someone had threatened to burn down the building if she spoke there. ‘Then I will speak upon the ashes,’ Sojourner replied.”heart-1841781_1920Ashes can remind us of the horrible things we humans have done to one another: burning down the homes or cities of our “enemies,” setting crosses on fire because of skin color, and even reducing bodies to ashes in war or domestic disputes. Many of these crimes against Love claim to be committed in the name of religion, but Jesus’ life shows us another way. Always one to stand with the poor, the marginalized, with every neighbor without distinction, Jesus teaches us to “speak upon the ashes” of our neighborhoods and our world and, in moving among them, to coax Love to grow, to flourish, to thrive.

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May Ash Wednesday remind us that our very bodies are made of dirt, dust and earth, and that someday, we will return to this very state. May Valentine’s Day awaken us more deeply to God, who created us and who calls us to Love in the world. Not a perfect love, because we will fall, again and again…but with God’s help, we will continue to “stand upon the ashes” and speak God’s truth: that we must love every sort of neighbor without distinction. Nobody is to be left out.

The Lover of All Hearts says to each of us today:
“Will you be my valentine?” *

How will you respond to this question?

I respond humbly, gratefully:
“Jesus, You know everything.
You know I want to be your Valentine” *

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*Joyce Rupp, “Will You Be My Valentine.” 

About the Author

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Sister Judith Minear currently serves as part of the 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration, working with our 26 sponsored ministries. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.

 

 

 

 

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A Quiet Revival

By Sister Marcella Clancy

“All Sisters are expected to belong to a Renewed Local Community.”

In 2007, one of the practices begun by our first sisters in 1650 LePuy, France was revived among us. We were encouraged, urged, “expected” to gather ourselves in groups of between 6 and 10 sisters who would come together monthly for “sharing of the heart” and the “order of the house” during what we call Renewed Local Community or RLC.

LePuyKitchen.jpgThe kitchen in LePuy, France, where our first sisters gathered to share their hearts.

Having participated in this practice for over 10 years now, I have come to deeply appreciate the wisdom of the Spirit who moved us in this direction. This is a sacred monthly event. Like most sacred events, it is embedded in the very commonplace “stuff” of our everyday lives. We are ordinary women who, like you, experience the loss of family members and dear friends, are pained by the brokenness of those we love, profoundly impacted by the fragility, suffering and joy of those to whom and with whom we ministry, and struggle ourselves, constantly, to be attentive and faithful to God, who is often elusive and always mysteriously beyond our grasp.

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RLCs are not business meetings. In fact they are not meetings at all, but rather times of cherished personal communication. Our documents state, “RLCs are a place where courageous, loving, meaningful, celebrative, and intimate conversations take place.” I find it relatively easy to chat on about selected events and activities that have occurred in my life over the last month and with my Irish sense of humor could make it all very entertaining — but that’s not the point. The point is to share where I have recognized, been confronted, or awed by God’s presence in my daily routine of living or… perhaps not found God at all. This is not a place or space where we try to impress one another with our holiness, but rather honestly and transparently “share our heart,” with its struggles, failures, doubts, fears, hopes, joys, and efforts to be brave, to love and to be faithful all within the context of our most ordinary lives. Obviously prayerful reflection, vulnerability, reverence and confidentiality are requisite components of this kind of sharing.

So that’s the “sharing of the heart” but what’s this thing called “order of the house”? It is a strange term and it took us a while to get a grasp on it ourselves. After each woman has shared, we take time to reflect quietly about the common thread we heard in our sharing. Where is the Spirit moving in us as a community, what is the Spirit asking of us, where is the Spirit drawing us? Amazingly there is always a common thread. The Spirit works in us and through us individually, but also as a community. It is in this practice we begin to discern the subtle movement of the Spirit.

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So you might be thinking, “What’s the purpose or goal of the RLC? What do you accomplish? Couldn’t you use your time more profitably?” These are good questions, and some of us have asked ourselves these very questions as well. There isn’t any goal. We accomplish nothing. We are unprofitable servants. Sometimes the sharing is wonderful and I want to take off my shoes because I recognize I am on holy ground. And sometimes…not so much. Yet what is significant is the accumulative effect. Without deliberately trying, slowly a profound bond develops, a deep sense of awe develops of how uniquely God works in each of us, and a treasuring of each woman for her sheer goodness grows in our hearts.

Because of the quiet and hidden transforming experience of the RLCs, unwittingly, the sharing of the heart and order of the house has been integrated into all our more formal gatherings as well. Some associates, who are lay men and women who share in the Sisters of St. Joseph’s beliefs, belong to RLCs, and some have formed their own circles. It has become the essential practice in how we become attentive to where the Spirit is leading us as a Congregation.

RLC Christmas 2017 croppedA meeting of my RLC this winter.

So what’s the point of this blog? Just to impress you? NO! Not at all! In our culture, with all its divisions, with all our constant chatter, with all the many instantaneous ways available to us to communicate, and with often the meanness of social media, we offer an alternate way to communicate. One that is deeply personal, wonderfully healing, and profoundly hope filled. These kinds of small communities with this kind of intimate sharing can exist between spouses, within families, among friends, and even with co-workers. Start your own RLC! Let me know how it works out and find out how deeply you are REVIVED!

About the Author:

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Sister Marcella Clancy currently lives in the Detroit area. She offers spiritual direction, serves on Congregational committees, and companions one of our newer members. She loves long walks, good movies, and leisurely lunches with friends.

 

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The Building Blocks of Community

 By Sister Sallie Latkovich

Laying the groundwork. Putting down the foundation. Paving the way. Whether it’s for an actual building, a project, or a committee, these sayings are often used to point towards the start of something. I believe we often use metaphors for building because they are such visual representations of what we aim for: new structure.

Building a wall for structureWhat is the “stuff” or our building?

So, what are the “building blocks” for community life as a Sister in the Congregation of St. Joseph? I’d like to explore three of these building blocks, which are the very foundation of the strong relationships we share: our stories, our vision, and our commitment.

OUR SHARED STORIES

We, the Congregation of St. Joseph, share many stories. Some of these stories we also share with the wider world, starting with the story of our Earth, created by God, which nurtures all of life and our lives. We also share our Judeo-Christian heritage of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, with which we ponder and pray. We share being baptized into Christ, and members of the people-of-God Church.

earth-1990298_1920We all share the stories of our Earth

As sisters, we also share our CSJ history and charism, from our founding in 1650 in LePuy, France. We embrace the stories of our earliest Sisters there, and those who set out for St. Louis in 1836. We love to hear the stories of the Sisters being called to other dioceses around the United States. For example, Mother St. George Bradley came to establish the Cleveland foundation, having been in St. Paul, as a province of St. Louis.

The story goes that the St. Louis Sisters had become urbanized while St. Paul remained quite rural. Mother St. George couldn’t accept the new constitution of the St. Louis Sisters, and left St. Paul with all of the money and all of the novices! Mother St. George and her little band stayed in Erie for a short time, until she was invited to the diocese of Cleveland in 1872.

P croppedSisters with one of our buildings in Cleveland

In 1898, Mother Theresa Fitzmaurice purchased property on the far west side of Cleveland where two buildings were constructed: a motherhouse and a boarding school for boys and girls. It was in 1905 that a large motherhouse was built and in 1929, St. Joseph Academy was built. Various repairs and additions came about; and even now, restoration is taking place.

Along with the buildings, we still revere some of the earliest writings of the Congregation, which came to be called the Congregation of the Great Love of God! These include, among other things, the Maxims, and our early Constitution.

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We certainly share the stories of our mission and our ministries. These include schools where we have taught, parishes where we have served, and more recently, various services to the “dear neighbor” addressing the needs that have risen up such as immigration, sex-trafficking, direct service to the poor, gun control, etc.

To be short, it has been our shared experiences and stories such as these that bind us together as one.

OUR SHARED VISION

Our shared vision answers the question of “what do we see?” We see a world of oneness, the same world for which Jesus prayed: “That all may be one.” Thus, we see our mission as one of reconciling, unifying love in a world so in need of it.

That All May Be One

OUR SHARED COMMITMENT

Recognizing that we are called to incarnate our mission and charism in our world in fidelity to God’s call in the Gospel, the Congregation of St. Joseph commits ourselves to four Generous Promises:

–we promise to take the risk to surrender our lives and resources to work for specific systemic change in collaboration with others so that the hungers of the world might be fed.

–we promise to recognize the reality that Earth is dying, to claim our oneness with Earth, and to take stopes to strengthen, heal and renew the face of Earth.

–we promise to network with others across the world to bring about a shift in the global culture from institutionalized power and privilege to a culture of inclusivity and mutuality.

–we promise to be mutually responsible and accountable for leadership in the congregation.

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The call heard by St. Francis of Assisi from God was: “rebuild my Church.” We members of the Congregation of St. Joseph are busy rebuilding not only our brick and mortar structures, but rebuilding the community which gives us life, and gives life to the world!

About the Author

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Sister Sallie Latkovich directs the Bible Study and Travel Program as well as the Summer Institute at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. As a member of the Bible Department, she teaches Biblical Foundations of Spirituality and The Bible For Ministry. She enjoys music, plays, and movies; and loves visiting family and friends.