Finding Connectedness

By Sister Theresa Hafner

Walking to get my 10,000 steps in is something that I do every day.  I enjoy being out in nature.  It instills a sense of calm from the difficulties or struggles of the day, and provides time to reflect.  Experiencing the wonders of creation imparts a sense of connectedness with everyone and everything I encounter.


Taking a walk the past few weeks, during the corona virus stay at home order, has heightened this sense of oneness.  There is a sensitivity, that each person I pass or see in the distance is carrying their own fears, anxieties, and hopes; for themselves and those they care about and love.  How can I be strong for my family?  Will I get my job back when all this passes?  How can I take care of my father when I can’t even visit him?  Will my sister be safe working at the hospital?  How can I ration my food so I don’t have to risk going out to the store again?  The uncertainty of our lives is palpable.  And yet, almost everyone I pass smiles, waves, and says hello.  The realization that we are all in this together helps to put things in perspective, and allows us not to become overwhelmed by how much our daily lives have changed.


I have felt at times, when I am sitting impatiently alone in my apartment, the strong need to do something, to get out and physically help others during this health and economic crisis.  I would like to encourage everyone to not overlook the little things.  A simple greeting to unknown neighbors we pass on a walk; a phone call to family or friends; a smile and wave through the window; including those we have encountered throughout the day in our prayers; are all things that have the potential to significantly brighten, and help to relieve the stress, of someone’s day.  While I talk, text, and zoom with people to stay connected, it dawned on me that these unknown neighbors I pass on my walk are the only people I see in person, and that connection means the world to me right now.  As in any service we offer, we also are the recipients of the caring and love that is expressed.


Shout out to my sister Jo, and brothers John and Ed who are essential workers, and to all people who are doing the work needed in our communities during this difficult time.

Sending love, prayers, and God’s peace to everyone.

About the Author

Theresa croppedSister Theresa Hafner, CSJ, entered the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph in March of 2001.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from John Carroll University and currently ministers in the Cleveland diocese at a local parish in the Faith Formation office.  Theresa enjoys nature photography, is an avid baseball fan, and  treasures the company of  family, community, and friends.  ​


A Blessing in Times of Uncertainty

It’s hard to know what to say as I write today, when our world seems to have changed dramatically in the past week, and so much more could change between now and when you read this. I’m sure that many of us are filled with all kinds of questions and emotions as we enter one of the most extraordinary periods of Lenten “fasting” that any of us have known, giving up habits of socializing, travel, going to work, eating out, and even attending Mass.


And yet scripture continues to speak to us—to comfort, challenge, and offer us hope—in extraordinary and routine circumstances alike. This past Sunday’s readings speak of awakening to see as God sees, calling us to be healed of our blindness and live in the light of Christ.

The masterful storytelling of this week’s Gospel weaves together different forms of blindness and sight: not only the literal, physical blindness of the man who Jesus heals, but also the metaphorical blindness of the disciples who assume that sickness and disability are punishment for sin, as well as the blindness of the man’s neighbors and parents, and the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees.


I can picture the willful blindness of the latter being almost comical as the story unfolds: a man blind since birth is suddenly able to see after a stranger rubs mud made of spit on his eyes, and his neighbors are unable to see the miracle (“No, it just looks like him,” they say). His parents are unable to appropriately acknowledge what has happened—Jesus has healed their son!—because they are blinded by their fear of the religious authorities. And when the man is brought to the Pharisees, they are unable to see the reality in front of them because they are blinded by a fixation on legalistic righteousness. I can practically hear the exasperation in the man’s voice as he explains, for at least the third time, that Jesus healed his blindness—“One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see . . . I told you once and you did not listen,” (John 9:25, 27)—and yet the Pharisees are still unable to see.

This story invites us to ask how we, too, may be blind to what God is calling us to see, the miracles that may be taking place before our eyes. Particularly at a time when the path ahead of us is unclear and many people are blinded or paralyzed by ideology and fear, how is God calling us to see past appearances “into the heart” of our reality and the needs of our time? In the weeks ahead and always, may we seek the light of Christ to illuminate our hearts and allow us to see truly in a time of chaos and fear, trusting, like the psalmist, that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil, for God is with us and will be our light.


I leave you with the following prayer, that I hope will bring you light in these difficult times.

A Blessing in Times of Uncertainty

When it feels as if your foundations are being shaken
and the way ahead is dark,
may you feel yourself surrounded and filled by the Love
in which we live and move
and by whom we draw our every breath.
May the Love that moves the sun and other stars
light the path before you–if not the entire journey,
at least your steps today.
And may you know kindness and courage and health
and truth and freedom from all anxiety.

About the Author

59311500010__B3FFF6AF-E78E-4D94-81FC-4467158B0B52Jessica Wrobleski is an Associate with the Congregation of St. Joseph and currently serves as Vice President of Mission at Saint Joseph Academy in Cleveland, Ohio.  Originally from West Virginia, she received her PhD from Yale University in 2009 and has taught and written on theological ethics and spirituality.


One Week in the Spotlight

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

This week, we celebrate Catholic Sisters Week. As the Catholic Sisters Week website says:

Fifty-two weeks a year women religious stand with the poor and immigrants, teach children, fight injustice, heal the sick, share spirituality, empower women, defend the planet, promote peace, create community, offer hope …

But for one week, we shine the spotlight on women religious.

On the whole, sisters don’t seek the spotlight. But for one week, we make the exception and highlight the good work being done by our sisters around the world. So, in honor of Catholic Sisters Week, I thought I would offer you a look at one sister who is a shero of mine: Sister Marlene Schemmel.


Sister Marlene with associate Marlene Rink

Sister Marlene actually has done all that in the list above, in one way or another. Most of it since she moved “beyond the habit” in 1965.

Like so many of us, Sister Marlene has taught children about everything from spelling to Jesus, and served in administrative positions in Catholic schools—creating community as she went along.


Sister Marlene with students

She has offered hope to the marginalized—especially women—by standing in the margins with them, and fighting the injustices that would keep them there.

1994 Marlene Schemmel in Bolivia

Sister Marlene doing justice work in Bolivia

Sister Marlene is a founding and ongoing animator of one of our Congregation of St. Joseph Spirituality Centers, The Well. Her ministry there is essentially one of integral ecology, fostering a holistic quest for health of mind, body and spirit; as well as promoting peace in many ways, including the care of our beloved planet.


Sister Marlene with students at “Peace Camp”

When she’s not on the ground in Haiti with medical and educational trips, Sister Marlene is fundraising for them back in the States.

2006 Marlene Schemmel in Haiti

Sister Marlene on a recent trip to Haiti

A stalwart member of the Congregation’s anti-racism team, Sister Marlene has “walked the talk” in opposing institutional racism, at home and in society.


Sister Marlene with Linda Eastman from the CommUnity Diversity Group, from which she and the congregation received an award for anti-racism efforts

Last year Sister Marlene was among the many sisters who served migrants in El Paso.  Everywhere she goes, she tell the story of the pain and injustice experienced by the asylum seekers. She illustrates these hardships by sharing her experience of witnessing the tender, yet bittersweet, reunion of one man with his wife and children.

Reunited at the border

Through it all, Sister Marlene lives with God and neighbor in humble friendship, exuding gentleness, peace and joy. She has great trust in the power of prayer, and is grateful in advance to all of you who will hold her in prayer as she faces kidney cancer. Indeed, we sisters and associates are all eternally grateful for how you have sustained us with your love and prayer throughout the years.


Sister Marlene, shining her light

Sister Marlene is just one example of a sister who has made a difference in the lives of others. This Catholic Sisters Week I’d like to ask, what difference have sisters made in your life? Consider thanking a sister today!


About the Author

MaryJo.LoResSister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, holds a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago where she later served as the director of the Biblical Study and Travel Program. She was received as a candidate for vowed membership with the Congregation of St. Joseph in 2002 and professed final vows in 2011. She taught theology courses at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park (a sponsored ministry of the Congregation), and now serves as Co-Director of Vocations Ministry for the Congregation.



The Ritual of Ash Wednesday

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

When I was in college at Cleveland State University, I worked part time in the CYO Office of the Diocese of Cleveland. On Ash Wednesday, I went to the Cathedral for Mass at noon. The place was packed! While Mass was being celebrated, people were lined up in the side aisles to get ashes. It came time for Communion, and the businessman in front of me in line appeared before the priest who offered the Body of Christ. The businessman said: “I’m not here for THAT, where are the ashes?” I was just shocked.


Then, when I was a Pastoral Associate in a parish, the phones rang continuously asking when ashes were being given. One of the priests on our team laughingly suggested we put in a drive through window to give ashes.


Another time, when I was at Catholic Theological  Union in Chicago, I wasn’t able to be present for the prayer and giving of ashes. I stopped in the sacristy of the chapel, to find another faculty member preparing the little bowls of ashes. I asked to receive them. He paused in silence,  blessed the ashes, and signed my forehead with the words: Repent and believe in the Gospel. This holy moment returns to my mind each Ash Wednesday, and my understanding and appreciation of this ritual grows deeper.

ashes edited 1

As the Catechumens, or those who are converting to Catholicism, begin this Lenten time of purification, as they prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, we who have been baptized enter into a time of purification as well: recalling our Baptism, and seeking to renew our commitment. We are marked with ashes as a sign of our intent to enter into this process.


Later in the Lenten season, the Catechumens experience three scrutinies, or special rites, involving self reflection on sin and the saving grace of Christ. We too enter into these reflections as individuals, communities,  and as society. Let us ask ourselves the following questions based upon scripture:

  • John 4:5-42
    How are we the Samaritan woman at the well? How are we offered living water, and thus new and true life?


  • John 9:1-41
    How might we be the man born blind, and to what are we blinded? How are we offered new sight and new vision, leading to a new and deeper belief in Christ? (


  • John 11:1-45
    Like Lazarus, what is dead in our lives? How are we entombed? What does the voice of Jesus sound like, calling us by name to new life?


Being signed with ashes on Ash Wednesday is much more than a once a year ritual that is rote. It is rich in meaning, and marks our annual process of purification and renewal of our baptismal gift. I wish you a spirit-filled and blessed Lenten journey and Easter season.

About the Author

SallieLatkovich.Portrait.webAfter nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.


Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

By Elizabeth Powers

In a world where screens rule our daily lives, I try very hard to make sure my one year old daughter does not get too much time with technology. I keep phones and tablets away and generally try to keep the TV turned off. But on those occasions where turning on the television is a necessity, Sesame Street is my go to. Having grown up with the loveable and learning oriented puppets myself, I feel more inclined to let my daughter watch them sing about the ABC’s then to allow her to view other cartoons or children’s shows that are less educational.

While my daughter does like some less traditional favorites (I’ve never seen a child get so excited about Count von Count in my life) her absolute favorite, like so many toddlers before her, is Elmo.

But if you haven’t watched Sesame Street in awhile, you may have forgotten that the show does more than teach ABC’s and 123’s. Having now watched more episodes than I care to admit, I’ve been reminded over and over again that this show is not only educational in an academic way, but in a moral way as well. Often, as I’ve watched Elmo and the other characters grapple with learning important lessons, I’ve thought of the sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph live and work that all people may be united with God and with one another. And what does Sesame Street preach if not the importance of caring for and being united with our neighbors, friends, and even those we don’t see eye to eye with. So, here are three lessons that Sesame Street teaches that remind me of the sisters.

1. Be Kind to Everyone.

Kindness reigns on Sesame Street. No matter who you are or what you look like, you are treated with kindness. And, if you’re not, others will jump to your aide and explain why kindness is important for everyone. The people (and monsters) bring kindness to everyone, even the most vulnerable among us. In an episode I recently saw, Slimey, the pet worm of Oscar the Grouch, is being bullied by the Big Bad Wolf.

Once they know what is happening, all the other characters stand up for Slimey, not only to stop the bullying, but to teach the Big Bad Wolf why what he is doing is wrong. While the wolf may enjoy “huffing and puffing,” the poor worm does not enjoy being blown to the other side of Sesame Street. And isn’t this the sort of kindness that we wish to see in the world? The kind where we all band together, not only to help those in need, but to right the wrongs in our society through kindness?

2. We Are All the Same

Diversity is also an important concept that stays at the forefront of Sesame Street. The storylines often share the importance of different cultures and traditions and help talk through difficult topics that may come up as a result. For example, in one episode, two girl puppets of different ethnicities worry that they won’t be able to do a dance routine together because they are unable to style their hair the same way. In another, a woman from India teaches about a holiday that she enjoyed with her family growing up and the culture that she misses. Whether the problems faced in an episode are big or small, they are all met with caring by everyone. No one is made to feel less than because they look different from someone else or come from a different place.

3. Love One Another

My daughter’s favorite, Elmo holds one of the most important lessons of all. In every episode of Sesame Street, we are treated to a segment of “Elmo’s World,” a world where Elmo explains a word or concept he’s thinking about and then learns more about it. Each of these segments ends with a simple “Elmo loves you!” Because no matter who you are, you are worthy of love and friendship.

So how do we get to Sesame Street? How do we get to a world where kindness, diversity, and love are some of the most important issues of the day? In our day to day lives, it may be easy to forget the importance of these simple lessons. But if we each do our best to keep them at the forefront of our minds, perhaps we can help bring sunny days to our world.

About the Author

me and sophie 1 cropped
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, Harry Potter, and PBS. She is a new mom, and working to figure it out!


The Gift of Winter

By Sister Marcella Clancy

The singer and song writer, Sara Thomsen, in speaking of her Winter Wanderings Tour talks about how the season of winter calls her to a “crawling inward”. She asserts that the hushed silence of winter inevitably draws her inward. Winter calls us to introspection in way perhaps the other seasons do not. There is the lovely promise of spring calling us to witness its soft blooming. There is the sunny allure of summer beckoning us to play outside. There is the exquisite beauty of autumn with its delicious fruitfulness delighting all our senses. Winter calls us to be more courageous of heart, to brave the chilling cold, the long hours of darkness, the stilling of the world wrapped in waiting. Winter calls us to contemplation.


There is a tree that has befriended me outside my window in the courtyard. In the summer it looks like it has decked itself out and is ready to go to a ball. Now it seems dead. Its lovely curved branches all bare but for a soft layer of snow resting peacefully on them. I know under the blanket of snow the tree is still vibrant and that flowers lie sleeping. Even the birds chirping noisily who visit my balcony every morning in spring are now nowhere to be seen or heard. Rain makes distinctive pattering sounds as it falls. Snow is hushed and silent, soundlessly heaping up soft mounds on the ground.


For the most part life is hidden, resting, sleeping in the winter. Winter calls us to consider what is hibernating within us, what new life is geminating waiting to burst forth in the spring. There is a natural quieting in winter. We shutter tight our windows and close our shades much earlier. Outside noises are dulled or eliminated. We cuddle into sweaters and huddle under blankets. Perhaps we also need to nestle into the inner chambers of our heart. Perhaps we are called to warm ourselves by that inner fire that burns slowly within.


It is a challenge in our culture to listen to the quiet. It is so much easier to turn on the TV, the CD, and the smart phone that provides music, news, and distraction, literally at our fingertips. There is a certain discipline we require that other ages and cultures did not. We are very busy people. There is always another task to be done, another project to accomplish, something new to hear or report. Yet each season calls us to notice the changing season in our inmost being.


I always tend to be a little cold. A friend once told me he thought God would send me to purgatory just for a while to warm me up a bit. So it has not always been easy for me to make winter a friend. Yet I have come to recognize winter brings its own unique blessings and inviting beauty. Earth rests in winter. Perhaps we are invited to find times and places to give ourselves more rest. This does not necessarily mean more sleep but a rather a fruitful rest that allows for creativity and generativity to emerge.


Life is present but more hidden in winter. Perhaps we are encouraged to spend less time in the world without and more time in that hidden inner life within. Silence is louder in winter. Perhaps we are moved into more extended moments of silence, to listen more deeply to the quiet longings, urgings, and deep desires of our own heart. We wait in winter. We expectantly wait for the first warming and buds of spring. Yet there is something sacred about waiting. Waiting prepares us, helps us get ready, arouses expectations, develops anticipation, creates an eagerness for a promise we cannot yet see. What might winter be inviting us to wait for?


A recent Gallup Poll found that 36% of Americans named spring as their favorite season of the year while 27% preferred fall, 25% summer, while only 11% identified winter as the season they liked most. Obviously we might have to reconsider what it is about winter that we are missing.

Gifts of the Winter Season: quiet restfulness, peaceful silence, comforting darkness, warmth against the chill, artistic layers of soft snow, the hidden life within, sacred waiting – which gift of the Winter Season beckons to your heart? What gift of winter longs to nourish you?


About the Author

Marcella Clancy.LoResSister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, has degrees in nursing and theology. In the past she ministered in hospitals, taught nursing and theology at the college level and served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Currently, Sister Marcella ministers as a spiritual director, facilitates retreats and offers presentations through Transformation Spirituality Center at our Nazareth Center in Kalamazoo.


The After Holiday Blues

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

The “after holiday blues” is what many of us experience after the hustle and bustle of the holidays: the various celebrations with family and friends, time off of work, and the fun of it all. There is a time of withdrawal from all of that, as we resume something of a normal life and schedule. That transition may be accompanied by feelings of some sadness—the after holiday blues.


What can we do to beat the blues?  I’d suggest following all of the good advice we hear on ever so many TV Commercials, promoting physical health. These same suggestions can promote inner and spiritual health as well.



assorted-variety-of-foods-on-plates-on-dining-table-1528013 flipped.jpg

What nourishes your soul?  What might you be allergic to, that makes you “soul sick?”

My soul is nourished by good conversations with friends—not just a quick “Hi, how are you?” but a real sharing of hearts. I am also nourished by a good concert of an orchestra or a singer I enjoy.  Then there are good movies. All of these “nourishers” are food for the soul, taken to heart. It is so important to eat good, nourishing food for the body; and it is equally important that our souls are well nourished.


Just as some of us have food allergies, there might be activities that make us “soul sick.”  I find I am allergic to negativity and complaining, to violence that is provided for entertainment. Sometimes, the evening news is “soul-sickening.” Trying to avoid these activities can help keep my soul nourished.




What stretches your soul, and builds “spiritual muscle?”

Often, my soul is stretched by reading books and articles that are outside of my penchant for theology and spirituality. Thus, biographies of people who have accomplished great things, reflections on historical events, and accounts of organizations that serve various groups of people in need.


A few of Sister Sallie’s recent soul-stretching reads

Even moreso, my soul is stretched by conversation, even with people with whom I do not agree. Sometimes the conclusion of those conversations is simply to agree to disagree.




What is truly restful for your soul?

Here we might hear the words of Jesus in the Gospel saying “Come to me all of you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is interesting to me that Jesus did not say: I’ll do your work, I’ll pay your bills, I’ll step in for you. His best promise is simply rest.

Perhaps that rest comes in “peace and quiet.”  And, in that peace and quiet, we might be given to prayer—to remembering the presence of God in our lives. A gentle walk in a place of beauty is very restful.

I recently discovered that holding a baby who is sleeping is equally restful for the one holding the baby.


So, if you find yourself experiencing the after holiday blues, I hope that these simple suggestions will be a way for you to restore hope and goodness as we await the new life of springtime.

About the Author

After nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.