By Sister Carol Crepeau
Welcome! I want to invite you into my house, my home. It’s actually an almost-100-year-old-farm-house-turned-rectory that the Sisters of St. Joseph rent from an Episcopal parish. Two of us live here in Helena House, Sister Jackie and I, but in reality many in our Congregation and neighborhood have experienced this homes warmth.
Thinking about our house I started wondering, what would an anthropologist, that is, one who tries to figure out what makes humans human, who studies the origins, the behaviors, the physical, social, cultural reality and the developments of humans, say about Sister Jackie, me, and our house?
I’ll bet that an anthropologist (let’s name her “Ms. Anthropologist”) would concentrate on three aspects of Helena House:
- The Dining Room
- The Deck
- The Refrigerator Door
These three areas could serve as symbols, or even better, examples, of what make my housemate and I most human, most whole, and, hopefully, most holy.
I would imagine that, upon visiting our home, Ms. Anthropologist would have questions for us about these three areas. For example, why, since there are two sisters living in the house, do you have a dining room table that seats ten?
In a very real way, our dining room table is as sacred as an altar in a church. The Sisters of St Joseph was first founded in 1650 in Le Puy, France by a Jesuit priest and six women in a kitchen that contained a large table. For Sisters of St Joseph, gathering for a meal is an extension of Jesus dining with friends. If we squeeze together at our table, we can even seat 12!
Ms. Anthropologist might then ask, why the deck? The deck is our outside gathering place for experiencing life in Spring, Summer and Fall. Often times we are visited by seven deer, including a buck, two pairs of mourning doves, countless warblers, one yellow tail hawk and of course robins, cardinals and blue jays, chipmunks and squirrels. There is something wholly perfect about wine, cheese, close friends, neighbors and nature.
Finally, Ms. Anthropologist might ask about the refrigerator door. After all, aren’t most people interested in the contents of the refrigerator?
But for us, our refrigerator door is really an illustration of our lives. It is our bulletin board, art gallery, and where we post artifacts of significant people, places and things in our lives. When Ms. Anthropologist studies the refrigerator, she will see a number of magnets, each symbolizing some significant realities in the lives of myself and Jackie. Magnets from places we’ve been: New Orleans, Le Puy, Seal Beach, Tanzania. In the center of the door, right now, is a photo of an Air Force Doctor hugging his daughters’ good-bye as he leaves for deployment in Afghanistan – he is Jackie’s nephew, Matt.
Ms. Anthropologist might notice a couple of magnets with quotes on them:
“You would make a great nun.”
And my favorite
“DANCE as though no one is watching you, LOVE as though you have never been hurt before, SING as though no one can hear you, LIVE as though heaven is on earth – Souza”
On one side of our refrigerator lives our list for the store. On the other? The refrigerator bulletins the photos of the next generation of children in our families – Ms. Anthropologist might see Mason, Charlie, Gracie, Jack, Lila…the most recent photos, all depending on our families’ current Facebook activity.
Finally, Ms. Anthropologist should know that there are two principles of spirituality that underpin life at Helena House:
St Irenaeus in the third century proclaimed, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Jean Pierre Medaille SJ, our Congregation’s primary founder, wrote: “Let the Sisters live that they will become fully human, in glory and grace, with God and the dear neighbor.”
Hopefully, Ms. Anthropologist’s study, and our own, concludes that Helena House is truly a warm, welcoming, unpretentious, real home, and that hospitality, a core value of the Sisters of St Joseph, is an important reality for the two humans who live in this home.
About the Author
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.