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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
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What Comes to Mind When You Hear the Word, “Chapter”?

By Sister Marcella Clancy

The best part of your favorite book? Your membership in a special local group? The most significant phase in your life? All are included in the definition of Chapter, and there is a fourth definition: the governing body of a religious community. Yet I must confess none of these definitions begin to describe the experience of the recent “Chapter” we held as the Congregation of St. Joseph.

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It is true when the Chapter is in session it is the highest governing body in the Congregation, but the experience of “Chapter” is so much more than that. I am sure that everyone who participated in Chapter would have her or his own description of that experience. Here is mine!

 

  1. Beginnings: Chapter officially opened the morning of April 2, 2018, but it really began two years earlier. Reading meaningful articles expanded our thinking and our vision. Reflecting on our lives, ministries, and future challenged our hearts. Holy conversations in varied and diverse groups brought new awareness. Prayer and discernment, personally and together, brought us to deeper levels. These activities marinated each of us in the Spirit’s movement within ourselves and each other. The unspoken questions we pondered were: For the next five years, from 2018 to 2023 —- Where was the Spirit leading us? What would be our thrust? Where would we focus Congregational energy? What were the demanding needs of our time? Who would be our future leaders?

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    We opened Chapter with love and joy!

  2. Anticipation: We came to Chapter excited and cautious, expectant and apprehensive, as prepared as we could be yet realizing we were like empty vessels waiting to be filled with divine exuberance. Sisters, associates, staff, and other partners in mission gathered around tables, not to persuade others to our perspective, but to share the movement of the Spirit in our hearts and to listen attentively and intently to others. Reflecting back on the experience, there was a palpable presence and a force in the room much larger than our collective selves.

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    You could feel the energy in the room!

  3. Movement: In some sense we were dancing among ourselves and with God, leaving open spaces for the Spirit to move between us and within us while we chatted happily, ate plentifully, laughed freely, exercised when we could, celebrated often, prayed deeply and tended carefully to the business of the Chapter. The pace was slow and deliberate, being careful not to walk ahead of grace. There was a pervading sense of gentle joy.
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  4. Work: So, what was this work that we accomplished? We affirmed the Evolving Design, which outlines how we commit ourselves to live our mission in this time and in this place. We further advanced the Generous Promises we committed ourselves to in 2007 by articulating Our Sacred Work, in which we pledged ourselves:
    • to deepen our practice of shared leadership
    • to strengthen and expand our collaboration…with a diversity of persons and groups to bring about life-giving change
    • to respectfully engage people who may hold different values or world views to bring about cultural transformation
    • to exercise our moral authority… standing in solidarity with Earth and all who are oppressed… giving public voice when addressing systemic injustice.(Note: we tend to be exceptionally, some would say foolishly, bold and broad in our commitments.)
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      Me at my table, doing the work!

      Finally we deeply discerned and elected five wonderful women to guide us in keeping us faithful to these commitments. We ended our time together, as Jesus so often did with his friends, around a festive meal, full of thanksgiving and stirred to begin anew witnessing to God’s love transforming ourselves and our world.

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      Festivities and thanksgiving closed out our time together!

  5. After Glow: We arrived home exhausted, spent by days of attentive listening, overwhelmed by the utter goodness of those present and hollowed out by God’s consuming energy yet utterly hopeful that God would complete the good work God had begun in us. Chapters are held only every five years. They are concentrated and intensive experiences of community, mission and vision, and God’s abiding grace. Chapters really do not end. Rather they impel us forward for five years until we meet again.
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    As we move forward from chapter, we all carry with us the glow of energy!

    About the Author

    marcella 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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Spring is a Noun and a Verb

By Sister Judith Minear

Spring is late this year, at least where I live. It is nearly the end of April, yet flowers are just beginning to debut in our neighborhoods! Forsythia dots the highways, but trees seem reluctant to bud, no doubt suspicious that we have not seen the end of snow.

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Last Sunday morning, sunshine was ‘live-streaming’ through my balcony doors, lighting everything in its path. And I do mean everything! Delighting in its beauty soon became noticing every bit of dust and grime that has collected in my living room this winter.

“That does it,” I thought. “Time for Spring cleaning!”

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Anyone who knows me is aware that I am happiest when I am making lists and checking off completed tasks. Over the next hour, I created my Spring Cleaning 2018 to-do list. I also started to wonder about this pattern of “springing into action” in Spring. How many other phrases sprang from spring…and how many of them describe my life as a Sister of St. Joseph?

Let me count the ways! Here are three of my favorites.

1. No Spring Chicken:

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It is no surprise to anyone that the majority of us sisters are aging. I myself am turning 66 this week. What might surprise you is how little aging affects what sisters are doing every day for the sake of our mission of unity! Every sister generously brings her gifts to the ministry table. Those gifts include prayer, “hidden” support, insightful ideas, and/or action. Being a part of a cross-generational community of women and associates is profound, and bears the fruits of both wisdom and ingenuity, lived out by sisters who willingly do “anything of which a woman is capable” (a saying from our early documents which we live by to this day!).

Years ago, one of our oldest sisters in Wheeling was trying to understand what it meant to “roast” someone who had recently retired.

“You know, sister,” said a man who had attended the roast, “it is when a group gets together and tells stories about the person retiring. Some of them are funny, some of them are serious. It’s a way of showing love and appreciation for the person.”

“Oh, yes,” said Sister Mary Grace. “We have that too. We call it a wake.”

In other words, we don’t every truly “retire,” we stay active until the very end!

2. Spring into action:

Sisters of St. Joseph are known to spring into action, regardless of the task. Our mission calls us to assess the needs of those around us, and then to meet them, often partnering with others to do so. In my 21 years of religious life I have watched my sisters create trafficking initiatives as readily as they help clear tables after an event. I have learned from them to stand with the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized; to support peace and justice initiatives; and to advocate for systemic change. My sisters live and love boldly, ministering in ways “that all may be one” with God and with one another. There is no age-limit for springing into action as a sister. Living Love is for all time.

3. Hope springs eternal: Hope-springs-eternalA call to religious life is both radical and prophetic. A call to religious life is a call to stand in the mystery of this present moment in history and bring Jesus’ gospel to it. It means letting go of the familiar and risking the new. Numerous articles I have read about religious life speak of “diminishment.” As one who lives it, I choose to speak instead of the transformation and evolution of religious life. In her Global Sisters Report article, Linda Romey, a Benedictine Sister, quoted Carol Zinn, CSJ as saying “We are living in a moment where God is saying, to quote Isaiah, ‘Behold, I am doing something new. Do you not perceive it?'”

Eleven years ago my congregation reconfigured itself to live life differently in ways that simplified our ability and opportunity to live all of life for the sake of the mission. I am proud of how willingly (if also sometimes painfully) our sisters sacrificed what we knew for the sake of what could be. Our sacrifices for our mission are small when compared with Jesus’ great sacrifice, yet in both cases risk was taken with the confidence that this was the next right thing to do for the sake of the mission. Hope and Trust spring true.

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Spring sunshine certainly helps me to see how my space is improved by a good Spring cleaning. In the same way, I pray that my eyes, ears and heart remain open to the many ways my sisters help me to continually spring back to life and love as a Sister of St. Joseph!

About the Author

16-judyminear-copySister 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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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.