On Call

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ

Can you remember a time in life when you were challenged in conversations to find a simple answer to the question “What do you do?”

This question typically aims to elicit the nature of your work or ministry. While it’s up to your discretion as to how to portray the adventures of your waking hours, I find that if I don’t put it into a succinct phrase or two, the questioner usually begins to shift and fidget, or worse, look back at me like that RCA Victor dog.

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For almost three months now, my response to that question has usually included the mention of the words vocation ministry, and in so responding I’ve come to some new awarenesses. First, vocation ministry has little chance of making sense to anyone until the inquirer knows about my identity as a Sister of the Congregation of St. Joseph. And that awareness has led to another: I’ve actually been implicitly on call as a vocation minister ever since I’ve become a Sister of St. Joseph.

PaulaTeresePilon.jpgSome of us have had the lived experience of being explicitly on call in their work, and so have a head start on this concept. Sister Paula Terese Pilon, CSJ, for example (left), works as an at-home hospice caregiver through Cleveland Clinic on weekdays, but is also on call on rotating weekends. As we know, life happens outside of a Monday-Friday schedule, and someone needs to be ready to respond. When on call for hospice care, Paula Terese is in a kind of ready-to-respond consciousness that differs from when she’s “clocked out” on a free weekend.

Calling on God

So, does God ever “clock out?” Dutch theologian D. Erasmus (d. 1536) asserted a response—in Latin, as he was wont to do—that coheres with the theology of all Abrahamic faiths and more:


“Called upon or not called upon, God is present.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that this phrase (as well as its various translations) have been showing up lately in contemporary graphic art. There are several posters and wall art that feature it in connection with famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung (d. 1961), who had had this phrase carved over the door of his home. Jung is the one, by the way, who proposed that we humans share a collective unconscious.

Called by God

So, what is it we believe that God is up to in this omnipresence?

Isn’t God always calling us in some way to participate ever more radically in God’s own flourishing life and outpouring love? Haven’t our own “vocation stories” been written out from day-to-day encounters with the God of Life and Love, through the ones who have made God manifest in our lives? As you may have guessed, my answers to these questions are Yes, and Yes!

Being implicitly on call means to me that I’m alert to how God may be acting in my life and in other’s lives, and inviting them to take a step in joining the divine mission of unifying love. Simultaneously, God is calling me to model, invite and welcome.


Calling Others

Last June, attendees of the Skowhegan Moose Festival which takes place in Skowhegan, Maine, attempted to set a world record for the most amount of people calling moose at the same time. Did you know there wasn’t a record for this yet? Well there wasn’t, but now there is because the Bangor Daily News recently announced that the effort was confirmed by Guinness World Records. A total of 1,054 people, “grunted, wailed and otherwise channeled their inner moose” according to the official press release. If you have to know more about this you can read the story here.


What does this have to do with vocations? Let’s just say that it got me pondering how we Sisters and Associates of the Congregation of St. Joseph could muster our individual and collective consciousness to call people to our mission of unity and reconciliation. I’ve realized that I need to sit prayerfully before God and a mirror and ask which of my own attitudes and behaviors nurtures an invitational and welcoming disposition, and which inhibit the same? Borrowing from St. Ignatius, I might call this question a vocational examen.


We as followers of Jesus are on call every day to deepen our atunement to God’s calling. This is certainly the Lenten Gospel message! Jesus promises that our own deepened responses to his call to unity will bear much fruit, which could mean becoming the stuff of someone else’s vocation story.

Mk 4:8-9; Mt 5:15-17; Lk 24; Jn 4:39

About the Author


Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min. is a practical theologian who is co-ministering in vocation work with Kate Theriot, M.S., CSJ Associate Director. Whenever Mary Jo visits her sister’s family in Vermont, she is always hoping to sight a moose (from a safe distance of course).

Learn more about the Congregation of St. Joseph here. Meet a few of our Sisters including Sister Mary Jo here. To learn more about our vocation ministry, click here.


A Few of My Favorite Things: Sisters, The Sound of Music, and Moving Beyond the Habit

NOTE: The following was originally written and posted in January, 2017. It was our first ever blog post so we wanted to explain the title, Beyond the Habit, and what that means to us. For those who started following us later and sometimes ask about the title, we are re-sharing this. 

By Elizabeth Powers

When I was three years old, I met my first real-life nun. Or at least, the first one I recognized. She was dressed in a dark habit, her rosary dangling at her side. I was, in a word, ecstatic. I grabbed my grandmother’s hand the minute this sister walked in our front door and whisper-shouted to her in awe, as only toddlers can, “It’s a nun from The Sound of Music!” Both my grandmother and the sister laughed, and in a few weeks I received a gift from this sweet sister, a small music box that played the Sound of Music classic “My Favorite Things.” That music box sits on my shelf, still one of my own favorite things today.

  Nobody solves a problem like Maria.
Maybe she can help us understand habits?

These are the nuns that many of us recognize. The sisters we see on TV and in movies, from The Sound of Music to The Flying Nun and Sister Act, appear to us all in black, their habits a veil of secrecy, their lives a mystery of prayer. As I got older, I met many more Catholic nuns, but I quickly learned a long black habit and veil were seldom signs that I was speaking to a sister. In fact, the majority of the sisters I’ve had the pleasure of knowing do not wear a habit at all.

So why is the habit still what we associate with when we think of sisters? And why did sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph start wearing habits at all? When the Sisters of Saint Joseph were founded in 1650 in France, the garb they chose was the dress of the widow. By wearing this “habit”, sisters could move around freely in their community without the accompaniment of a father, brother or husband and safely do good works without being questioned. They blended in. But as widows stopped wearing black and times changed, the habit became a symbol that separated sisters from everyone else.

What’s ironic about this is that Sisters of St. Joseph believe that all people are ONE with God and one another; that no one should be singled out as being better or worse than any other person. While the habit told the world who the sisters were, it also encouraged this feeling of “otherness,” that sisters were somehow different. Thanks to guidelines established by the Vatican in the 1960s, sisters were encouraged to return to their roots and consider their original intentions as a congregation. For Sisters of St. Joseph, this meant a return to “blending in” with those with them they live and work in the world. In hopes that all people could work together, with no distinction between sisters and ordinary individuals, sisters in the Congregation of St. Joseph stopped wearing the habit and started wearing plain clothing.


Some sisters wear habits and some sisters don’t.
But we all wish we had Maria’s dance moves.

Today, our “habit,” the thing that guides us and connects us to our mission of oneness, is love. It is because of this habit of love that we are starting this blog today. In a world that often feels filled with separation, in which anxiety about the future and fear of “otherness” prevails, we start writing today to bring love to the world. You won’t see us in the traditional habit, but you can still find us in the habit of love, writing and working for the good of the world.

As Maria Von Trapp sang, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.” We hope that this blog will become one of your favorite things, a place to come to find love, understanding about the sisters and their work in the world, and fun sister stories to brighten your day!


About the Author


Elizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer when faced with a particularly poignant, sister-inspired moment. She loves reading, writing, and Harry Potter.


A Fresh Look at Lent

By Sister Marcella Clancy, CSJ

If the title of this blog caught your eye, chances are good that like me, you’ve lived through many Lents. Over the years it’s easy to start having embedded ideas about Lent; to fall into long-established practices and cultivated expectations of what we should accomplish or achieve. This year, I wonder if it is time for me to take a fresh look at the season before Easter.

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I am caught by a line from the first reading from the Book of Joel for Ash Wednesday: “Return to Me with your whole heart.” What an extraordinary Scripture with which to begin Lent. It seems to me it is a call of profound yearning that rises deep from the heart of God. It is a call toward ardent intimacy. The first word of God with which we are to begin this 40-day journey proclaims the passion with which God desires our whole being.


When I was younger, the image I had of what I was to do during Lent was similar to the actions of a sculptor. I wanted to be my own Michelangelo. I thought through my Lenten practices I could chisel myself into a holy woman, that if I was faithful enough to prayer, penance and acts of charity, I could arrive at Easter a transformed woman. Instead I always arrived at Holy Week a little disappointed. I was never quite faithful enough to become as holy as I longed to be. It seemed I was left with the same flaws and faults I had on Ash Wednesday. It took me a long time to realize that growing into the fullness of who God created me to be is primarily the work of God, and not accomplished through my own efforts.

I once had a memorial card of an artist friend. On it there was a simple prayer: “May my clay be ever moist that I may not lose the impression of Your fingers.” It seems to me this is a better image of Lent – not of myself as sculptor with a hammer and chisel in hand but of God as a Potter with tender and knowing fingers gently shaping the clay of my being. The Lenten practices of prayer, penance, and acts of charity do not make me holy but are simply the watering that makes me moist so God can have Her way with me. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6)

adult arts and crafts clay dirty

It is good to discern what Lenten practices God is calling us to. But life is messy. There are daily frustrations, misunderstandings, irritations and annoyances. There may also be great sorrow, disappointment, pain or loss. Though I do not believe God causes any of this, the messiness provides opportunities to respond with humility, patience and love. There have been times I was so intent in being faithful to my prayer that I overlooked someone who needed a listening ear or helping hand. How do I recognize those occasions when I am presented with an opportunity to love not as I choose, but as life presents to me? As God presents to me?

Yet I think there is still a more profound perspective by which I am to walk the Lenten journey. I could live the season as I usually do – out of my “shoulds”, my desire to be holy or my yearning to yield to God. Yet with age comes wisdom, and I’ve come to realize it is not about me. It is about God.


Early on in my life, martyrs, missionaries and saints became my heroes and heroines. I wanted to imitate them, be like them. It felt to me that they knew a divine secret. A hidden mystery from which all else flows – how tenderly, deeply, fully and unconditionally God loves me. I can never fully grasp this profound reality, but it moves me to extraordinary gratitude, humility and love.

It is not by chance that we begin this sacred journey of Lent with the ardent, longing cry of God. This year, may we hear more deeply this divine secret silently pleading in our hearts: “Return to Me…I want nothing less than all of you.”

About the Author

Marcella Clancy.LoRes

Sister 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.


Home is Where Love Lives

By Sister Judith Minear, CSJ

Sisters of Saint Joseph are amazing. I don’t say that to toot my own horn, even though I am a sister.


I first discovered how remarkable sisters are when I entered religious life in 1997 in Wheeling, WV. I was in my mid-forties, so I was a late vocation (very late. Tardy, even). Once my entrance ceremony was over, and moving day neared, I was both excited and nervous. I had asked to live at our Motherhouse in Wheeling (aka “the Mount”) where most of the retired sisters I knew lived because this was my chance to get to know them more deeply.FrenchFriendlyGreatwhiteshark-size_restricted

Thankfully my request was accepted, and then panic set in. I remember thinking, “I am completely disrupting the flow of life for these sisters, most of whom are in their late 70s to 90+. Adding even 1 more woman changes everything!”

And it did change everything, for them and for me…and the change was generous and wonderful. I was welcomed with open arms, and the shifts made to welcome me into prayer circles, laundry schedules, conversations, think tanks and more seemed effortless on their parts. When I exclaimed to my sisters how grateful and astonished I was at how easily they created space for me in their lives, one sister remarked, “This is who we are. This is what we do.” I felt so loved and welcomed. I felt at home.

AreasOfPresenceThen, beginning in 2001, merely four years after I entered, conversations began to occur among seven independent congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph about joining together and becoming one congregation. A merger of sorts. We began to consider what we could do together to move our mission forward that we could not do alone. What were we willing to sacrifice in order to do that? How would we share our resources?

Hands.WEBOnce again, I watched sisters ranging in age from late 30s to 90+ dive deeply into their lives and hearts to make a decision that would launch changes in nearly every aspect of life and ministry. But I knew by then that sisters were pioneers. Regardless of age and despite the aches and pains of saying goodbye to life as they had known it, sisters from more than seven different areas of the country affirmed the decision to move forward together as one, and in 2007, the Congregation of St. Joseph was born. From the very first moment, our eyes were shining – some with tears as we let go of the familiar – but also with love and hope as we began this new adventure together.

Since then, the congregation continues to make bold decisions regarding the best use of our land and resources both for our sisters and the communities we serve. Many of our founding congregations have built new buildings to house our “retired” sisters (fact: sisters never really retire). These buildings were built to high assisted living and environmental standards.

C:UsersagafnerDesktopIMI_BAK14934-ARCH-15 Cleveland_acgafneOne such new building is in Cleveland, where I now live and work. Our sisters moved just this month, and I offered my help on moving day. How can I describe the excitement, joy, deep gratitude and enthusiasm of these women as they were uprooted and replanted into another building? Sure, there were also moments of frustration, exhaustion, grumbling and confusion. But the grace and gratitude I saw that day moved me to tears and reminded me again of what I’ve experienced so many times with our sisters. “This is who we are. This is what we do.”

What a gift to have entered this Congregation almost 22 years ago! So much has changed, but one thing has not – home is wherever love lives. Love for our God, love for each other and every dear neighbor, love for all of creation, and love for our mission of unity, “that all may be one.”

Love is our home…and all are welcome in this place!

About the Author


Sister Judith Minear currently serves as part of a 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration. CSJ Ministries is the umbrella organization that works with our 25 sponsored ministries. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.




Seeing the World Through God’s Eyes

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ

Diane Arbus, an American photographer (1923-1971), is best known for her photographs of “outsiders” or “fringe people” such as strippers, carnival performers, dwarves, and transgender people. While some critics see her work as outrageous, freakish, even hideous, I (and others) see an awareness of the deep inner beauty of often forgotten and neglected people. What did Diane see when she looked at them? How did she learn to see with her heart?

arbus620When I see photographs taken by Diane Arbus (above in 1939), I am moved by the dignity of her subjects, who look straight at the camera (and the world) with a steadiness, an acceptance they may not feel much of the time. How did she persuade them to let her into their world, so that in her photographs their souls are visible for all to see?

Sometimes, when I pray, I try to see the world through God’s eyes. I see the beauty around me and take comfort in the thought that God‘s joy in creating this world and all that is in it, is magnified by the number of eyes who feast on it. I’m good with sunsets, waves on Lake Erie, wildflowers in the spring and colorful leaves in the fall. I can share God’s delight in children at play, in deer nibbling our flowers and shrubs here at the Cleveland Center, and even with raccoons and skunks roaming the neighborhood in the early morning (as long as they keep their distance).


“You are a holy place. Here is a holy place. Everyone, everywhere is a holy place,” Kathy Sherman, CSJ, writes in one of her songs. Such noble, godly thoughts! How often I struggle to see that inner beauty in people—to see as God sees!


Some years ago, I participated in a workshop given by Jean Houston, an American author involved in the “human potential movement.” I remember that she told us that each person has a spark of the divine within, and that we should regard each one as “God-in-hiding.” That idea of “God-in-hiding” has stayed with me, and when I am truly mindful of life around me, I consider that reality in my daily interactions.

There is a somewhat disagreeable clerk—or I used to think of her that way— at a grocery store I frequent. I always avoided her checkout line if possible. One day just before Thanksgiving, I was waiting in a long line to pay for my items. This clerk had just closed her station, and instead of heading to the front of the store, she came toward me.


“Why aren’t you in the express lane?” she demanded, surveying my cart (which had, as I recall, 14 items—2 beyond the 12 item limit.) When I explained, she motioned me over to the station she had just closed down.

As she rang up my items, I expressed my deep gratitude. “” Wow! This is so very kind of you. I’m going to put you in my gratitude journal,” I gushed. When I said this, she looked me in the eye, and with great dignity said, “My name is Sonja: S-O-N-J-A.” What I heard under this was, “If you’re going to write about me, get it right!”

As I walked out of the store, I realized that for once I DID get it right—a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes.

Cmolik.Jeanne.web.jpgAbout The Author

Sister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ, has served in various leadership positions including being a member of the Congregation Leadership Team from 2008-2013. She has also ministered in elementary schools, high schools, and parishes in the Cleveland area, and served in vocations working with new members. She enjoys reading, travel, music and writing blog posts!


Drink Coffee For Peace

By Sister Jacqueline Goodin, CSJ

It’s amazing what two cups of coffee (or tea) can do for us in the morning. It’s like turning a light on in your head. But can coffee’s near magical powers extend to larger areas, say, world peace? I practice peace-making whenever I am aware of the potential for relationship-building, and choose to take the time to share time with another person.

backlit beach clouds dark

Some of us may be familiar with the spiritual practice of mindfulness—that is, being aware of everything around us in creation, of our physical self, and of every movement-by-movement action that we make. When we practice mindfulness—even during a busy work day while taking care of the children or shopping for groceries—we slow our inside and outside self. Mindfulness ultimately helps us to appreciate the reality that we are in, to honor what needs honoring, and to consider thoughtfully our next steps.

two happy women sitting beside each other

So where does coffee come in? It’s a metaphor for taking time, as we would when we savor a good cup of coffee or tea. Mindfulness can be applied to how we are with each other. I admit, many times I miss the potential. But more and more I am becoming aware of the possibility of taking time to be with another person fully. This requires that I set aside my own desires, expectations, or agenda for that person. I choose to empty myself so that I can truly hear the story of the one across from me. I choose to give the other the gift of my time, without rush. People have such interesting stories about themselves. As I listen with full attention, I can hear the connections between the other’s life and my own.

teal ceramic mug filled with coffee near baked bread

During moments when we share, we become one human family. Sometimes it feels easier to take time to connect with others when we do so over steaming cups of coffee and a lovely bit of pastry. It’s also the perfect invitation: “Let’s meet for coffee!”

But coffee and pastry aren’t essential. You can practice mindfulness at the grocery store when you look a busy cashier in the eye and ask, “How’s it going today?” and then really listen to their answer. This helps that person feel appreciated for how hard she/he is working, and like a human being again. Every person I encounter is important and worthy of my attention.

Sometimes it’s harder to be attentive to those we are most close with, and sometimes it’s easier. But, it’s really challenging to pay attention, with true respect and openness, when we are with a stranger (from the Gospel perspective can anyone really be a stranger?) or with someone we know thinks very differently from us.

Perhaps if we knew that world peace would be the ultimate reward, would we not invite someone to share pastry and cup of coffee with us?

jackiegoodin.portrait.webAbout the Author

Sister Jacqueline Goodin, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team, and an avid coffee lover. She reminds us that our time spent over coffee with another will have even greater impact if the coffee or tea is grown and harvested in an ecologically sustainable and just manner.


Where Do You Stand on the Post-Christmas Debate?

By Sister Jean McGrath

The post-Christmas debate goes on:

. . . If your Christmas tree is up on the weekend after Thanksgiving, it is only appropriate that it comes down on the day after Christmas.

. . .Family tradition demands that the tree be up until at least January 6…we used to call that “Little Christmas”…

. . . Keeping the tree up wards off the post-Christmas blues when it is so cold and dark outside. If up to me, I think we should keep until Valentine’s Day.

Where do you stand on the debate?

I have always been on the keep it up for as long as you can side of the question. On January 6, the feast of the Epiphany (Little Christmas), I finally took down my Christmas tree. It was a bittersweet experience.


In the last few years I have created a mini-ritual for taking down the tree. While much is written about the traditions related to putting up the Christmas tree, I think it is equally important to celebrate taking down the tree. Whether you have a “live” tree from the local American Legion lot, a tree that you and your family cut down yourselves, or a pre-lit “looks almost real” tree from Home Depot, it is a memory holder that can prompt wonderful reflections on all that was and all that is to be. I offer the following:

The tree holds an eyewitness account of Christmas memories and new traditions created each year. If you have children, what could possibly top the vision of watching them discover all that Santa left for them after his late night visit? One quickly realizes that the time spent searching for the most desired toy of the year was well worth the effort. The new tradition of “family pajamas” creates a family portrait to be treasured for years to come when you wonder who ever thought of that idea.


The tree is the constant in the flurry of holiday celebrations and gatherings with family and friends where the circle of love between and among all present reminds us of the treasure each is in our life.

In the rush to put the tree up, we might lose sight of the memory so many of the ornaments hold. Construction paper snowflakes, popsicle stick stables, glitter sparkled angels crafted so carefully by pre-school artisans now home from college for Christmas. (“I cannot believe you saved that” as the now sophisticated sophomore scholar revels in the magic and memory of time that passes so quickly.)

Be very careful to wrap the tiny silver framed picture ornament with:”Baby’s First Christmas” a gift that announced the adoption of a grand-niece who at ten years of age continues to bring so much joy to her family as she grows each year.

A special box is here for the lovely Waterford crystal globe sent from cousins in Ireland so many years ago…Three generations have ensured it be part of family legacy and tradition.

I am careful to wrap the light strings with a prayer that they will last for another year. The old “bubble lights” are almost impossible to find now. I hold my breath each year for the aha moment of plugging everything in for the first time, hoping these vintage bulbs will light not only the tree but the faces of all who gather around the tree during the beautiful season of Christmas.

Today is a damp and cold January day. Most of us are back to work or school. Christmas aisles at Target have been replaced with Valentines and yes, even bathing suits for Spring break, but I am enjoying one of the best days of the New Year. The tree is in a big green bag, the ornaments are carefully boxed, and my heart is grateful for memories of another wonderful Christmas and the promise held in that tree bag and ornament box.


This Christmas like those in the past will light the way for a new year filled with hopes and dreams, worries and wonders, surprises and disappointments which will enrich the tree when it is put up again next December.

Happy New Year!

About the Author

After years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!