August 19, 2015

A Day to say "Yes"

On August 14, 2015 ten of our Sisters made the next step in religious life.  We are grateful for Sister M. Antonia, Sister M. Karolyn and Sister M. Eucharia who made their perpetual profession of vows.  Sister Maria Christi, Sister M. Xavier, Sister M. Veritas and Sister M. Annuntiata made their first profession of vows.  We welcome Sister John Mary, Sister M. Philomena and Sister Mary Joseph into the Novitiate.














Our Sisters, families and friends filled St. Mary's Church in Alton, Il to witness the consecration and reception of our Sisters.  Joining us in prayer and celebrating Mass for us was Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, Bishop Carl Kemme and about 55 priests.  It was certainly a day filled with much joy and gratitude!  Please keep us and these Sisters in your prayers.

See more pictures from August 14th. 

July 24, 2015

Forever

     In less than a month our three “Probandinnen,” or Sisters who will make Final Vows, will pronounce “forever” to the Lord. Since June, Sister M. Antonia, Sister M. Eucharia, and Sister M. Karolyn have been in Alton preparing more intensely to take perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience on August 14th. During these three months they follow a special schedule of prayer, spiritual reading, classes, and work to help them focus on making this important step in Religious Life. Various Sisters have been aiding them by teaching classes on our Constitutions, and the Probandinnen pray a Holy Hour each day to deepen their relationship with our Divine Bridegroom. Our Provincial, Mother M. Maximilia is, in Sister M. Antonia’s words, “challenging [them] to live and love deeply.”

     These months are a graced time during which the Sister is challenged to deepen her Religious commitment and consecration to Christ. Sister M. Antonia describes her preparation for Final Vows as a “saying ‘yes’ to both the known and unknown.” “Forever,” she continues, “means ‘yes’ to the present and the future (the unknown – its joys and difficulties).” Sister has been meditating on the Scripture verses, “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own” (Jn. 10, 17-18). Sister M. Eucharia writes that this is her time to “make ready for the Bridegroom.” She has centered on the verse, “Love never fails” (I Cor. 13, 8) and enjoys getting to know her fellow Probandinnen on a deeper level. Sister M. Karolyn also finds joy in deep conversations with the other probandinnen and summarizes her personal preparation as “meeting Christ in the wounds and learning deeper freedom by risking love.” She has been pondering this quote from Ephesians: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2, 4-5).

     The families of our Probandinnen also have a special role in the nuptial preparations. Aside from prayer and support, many parents or relatives show their support by donating or buying the ring for their Sister. Often there is a story or a special significance behind each Sister’s ring. Sister M. Antonia’s was fused from the wedding rings of her maternal grandparents, who reared her. Her grandfather has since passed away, but her grandmother has been wearing hers for over 50 years. Sister is touched deeply by this “gift symbolizing such love and fidelity.” Sister M. Eucharia received her paternal grandmother’s wedding ring, and her grandparents’ names and wedding date are engraved on the inside of the band. Sister M. Karolyn’s parents bought her ring.

     Soon our probandinnen will be kneeling before the altar, placing their hands into Mother’s to make their final profession. After pronouncing her perpetual vows, each Sister will sign her name on a vow card on the altar and receive from the Bishop her wedding ring, blessed with an invocation to the Holy Spirit. Please pray for them, that they receive every grace and blessing during these last weeks of preparation.

~ Sister M. Christiana, F.S.G.M.

July 21, 2015

Death in the Family: A Tribute to the Cardinal McCarrick High School Family

            When a former student of Cardinal McCarrick High School and friend of our community told me about the closure, I felt a sense of death, was very saddened, and started grieving.  You see Cardinal McCarrick High School was like a family.  I grew up as a teacher there and was blessed to get to know both staff and students, people I will never forget.  The building has closed, but the family does not end.  130 years is a legacy and I was blessed to be part of the last decade and our congregation part of the last 30.  First I must say Thank you for the beautiful memories and lessons learned that I will cherish for a lifetime.
            I remember when I visited my grandma the last time.  She was 95 and had lived a good life; traveled the world, enjoyed golfing, watching tennis, and every once in a while a good game of backgammon with her granddaughter.  She was not Catholic like me but she said she was the proud grandma of a nun.  It was not an easy visit, partly because she was constantly in pain and this is not how I had ever experienced her, but mostly because I knew this would be the last time I would see her and be able to speak to her.  The most agonizing moment actually was having a delayed flight and realizing I could have spent at least another hour with her.  Time is precious and sometimes we do not realize what we have until it is gone.
            But in this case, I had realized the gift I had at CMHS as I left.  The people were wonderful, a true family, working together, supporting each other, listening, loving, learning and laughing.  There were tough times of course but that is what makes a family even better – sticking together, helping each other out.
            Sometimes mementos or souvenirs help us remember special times or people.  When I was stuck in the airport I found a sea otter and cub that now remind me of my grandma, and since I have animals in my science classroom, I can even talk about her when I share the significance of the sea otter and why I want it to be treated with respect (less roughness on the part of the guys).  I have an eagle, the mascot of CMHS, that can remind me but I think the greatest reminders are of the people and adventurers had are written on my heart.
A photograph helps us remember those who are important to us but old time photos are put in a box or an album that we rarely open, and now phones (which I do not have or need) have these collections but only small digital captures of time.  I remember our German Reverend Mother, while visiting the U.S. years ago, took time and slowly looked at everything.  She was taking pictures with her mind.  I have learned since that she takes pictures (as I do) but that action of hers back then really impressed me.  Let not time pass us by, take in the moments, enjoy and savor, like prayer which is taking time to listen, to soak in the graces, to be open to what is offered and not to be too quick as to miss the opportunity given.  So I will remember the people who have gone before me and the school family I was blessed to be part of.  I am happy to have some pictures of precious moments, like the March for Life trips with all the students who were passionate about life, the adventures of Science Club, and my Canada wall (a collection of animals and scenery that captured by beloved home near the Rocky Mountains so thank you Angela for painting the masterpiece and Carlie for photographing the wall so that I could bring it to Illinois), but I am thankful most for the impressions these and many blessed times made on my mind and heart.
            It was said to me more than once that teaching in New Jersey is tough but I never received anything but respect, acceptance, and love.  I think I prefer students who are a little rough on the edges and challenge is good for the soul.  I do not wear a badge that says I can teach anywhere now; I have a heart that says hold nothing back!
            The day I found out about the school closure, I asked each of my classes at Alleman High School in Rock Island to pray for the school I came from.  They had heard many stories as I had talked about Jersey a lot when I first moved to Illinois.  In one class after our prayer, a student said “You are part of our family now.”  What a beautiful thing to say.  I know he meant it and sensed the grief I was experiencing.  Teaching in a Catholic school is a privilege and a blessing.  Parents entrust their children to you and I have experienced nothing but generosity from these people who already sacrifice so much to have their children in a Catholic school.
            I had to write this, like unfinished business, not a eulogy but a tribute to all the people that made an impression on me and to all whom we had an impact on each other.  Praise God for the opportunity!  Grief takes time.  It has been six years since my grandma died, and I remember her and other loved ones as if they were still here with me.  My beloved Cardinal McCarrick family keeps surfacing in my mind and will always remain in my heart and prayers.

- Sister M. Benedicta, FSGM

July 14, 2015

GO WITH HIM

                In his “Treatise on the Love of God,” St. Francis de Sales recounts a memorable story about a queen boarding a ship with a king. When asked where she was going, the queen replied, “I do not know. It is enough for me that I go with him.”  Twenty-four years ago, I said “yes” to the invitation to follow Jesus into religious life. It is good that I did not know where I was going, because I might have objected that it was beyond me. He never gave “stockpiles” of grace for months or years at a time, but always enough for each successive present moment. In this way I began to learn to trust Him more. This is a grateful reflection on my journey with Him.
                Growing up in an intensely Catholic and Polish family on Milwaukee’s south side, Jesus and Mary were a very real and important part of my life. Grandpa Francis had a truly contemplative spirit. We used to sit on the porch steps in the evening, gazing at the stars and speaking about eternity. These moments planted a deep sensitivity to the Lord in my young heart. My great aunt, Sister Stella, radiated the great joy of a soul espoused to Christ in religious life. When I became aware of that a Sister was “the bride of Christ,” I felt certain that Jesus was calling me to religious life.
                My teen years held many distractions. At one point, I was sure that I would eventually marry my boyfriend and have at least ten beautiful children besides a career as a violinist. At the end of high school, life was externally successful but inwardly desolate. Despite numerous academic and musical awards, bright career prospects, good friends and romance, a gnawing emptiness grew inside. I tried to avoid being alone or in silence, because those made me more aware of the emptiness that I failed to admit.
                During a retreat after freshman year of college, the idea returned to me forcefully that I could never be completely happy unless I surrendered my life completely to Jesus and followed Him into religious life. I fought the idea vehemently and clung to the plans I had for my future. The more I resisted, the more intense the idea became. During all night Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, I fought the Lord and offered many objections. Each one was answered by a response from Scripture or other readings. When I protested that I had wandered too far and was not “good enough” to be a religious, someone read the passage, “Come to me with your imperfections.” When I told the Lord that I absolutely could not give up my boyfriend, the reading was, “Greater is He than any other lover.” Sometime around 2 or 3AM that night, I finally surrendered and said, “Yes, Lord. Whatever you want, I will do.” An indescribable peace followed. I have never regretted that “Yes.” 
                Religious life has held many adventures that could never have been anticipated. From door to door evangelization in St. Louis to a mountain top outside of Assisi, I often found myself in places or situations that I could never have imagined. It seemed a manifestation of God’s sense of humor that I was assigned after first profession to teach K-8 music at a school in Alton, since as a violin performance major in college that was the last thing I ever wanted to do. After about 19 years of teaching there, I loved it so much that I cried buckets when I was transferred to teach violin at a local community college. There have been many challenges- health difficulties, the sudden loss of my father to cancer, spiritual struggles, leaving the school and children I deeply loved. Through all of it, He was with me though He often hid Himself. There are days when the morning bell rings at 4:35, that I say, “Jesus, I wouldn’t do this for any other man!” Even though change was very painful, there have been new gifts such as the beautiful families and students I have come to know in my new apostolate.
               When I was younger, there seemed to be many spiritual lights and ideas that I wanted to share with others. As I grew older, I found that many of the joys and sorrows of life were beyond words, and I had less profound thoughts to share. However, it was always a joy to share the story of my vocation. If anyone who is reading this who has experienced God’s gentle but persistent call, I urge you to “go with Him” wherever He leads you. You will never be disappointed!

- Sister Marie-Therese, FSGM

July 10, 2015

To Imagine Eternity

I love to read.  As a child, I spent many golden hours lost in the stacks of our neighborhood library.  The endless rows of books gave me the dizzying sense that the possibilities of this life were infinite.

While I was in high school, I would often sacrifice a night's sleep to read just one more page of the most thrilling story ever.  I vividly remember being spellbound by Betty Smith's, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - so much so that I couldn't bear to put it down even when I could barely make out the words through my tears.

In his book, The Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy reflects that man's search for meaning is bound up with mystery.  In other words, man's desire is to discover the deepest things this life has to offer.  This life bears the promise of a life that does not end.

The mission of a good book is to give flesh and blood to this promise through a story that inflames the imagination with beauty.  A good book does not moralize.  It points to something beyond itself - it has a sacramental function, introducing the reader to the mystery of eternity in and through the things of this world.

At this point, I would like to mention a few of my favorite books in no particular order.  Instead of describing the plot or critiquing the composition, I simply express here what they have taught me:

Our Town (Thornton Wilder) - The apparently mundane events of daily life are charged with glory.  Cooking dinner, celebrating birthdays, walking home from school - there is nothing we do here in this life whose maning does not extend into eternity.  Every moment bears within itself an infinite depth, an infinite weight.

The Odyssey (Homer) - The journey home is the longest journey.  This is true not only in terms of actual distance, but because of how the encounter with danger and novelty changes us.  To return home means to remember the truth about ourselves, in other words, that we are expected by someone who loves us.

The Portal of the Mystery of Hope (Charles Peguy) - Trust.  The sorrows of today are not the final word.  Our own expectations lead to disappointment, but hope in God leads to glory.

Happy summer and happy reading!

- Mother M. Maximilia, FSGM

July 6, 2015

Made for Communion

   I was transferred to our Day Care Center two weeks ago and am now personally experiencing the deep wisdom of toddlers.  Within their Kool-Aid stained grins, freshly-sucked-on thumbs, and precious chubby cheeks lies an innate knowledge of the world around them that simply cannot be taught except by their Maker Himself.  Not only "out of the mouths" of babes come the most basic and true lessons about life, but simply out of their own actions and way of living can we adults learn a thing or two about why we're here.
   Last week I was playing with several toddlers in the exciting world of large plastic structures, wide open spaces, and outside voices in the Day Care Center known as the gym.  Watching little ones enter the space is telling in itself as some of them are so overtaken with joy to be in such a wonderful place that their whole bodies shake with excitement, their arms flail and stiffen in enthusiasm, and their soft little shoe-laden feet scamper across the floor in double time.
    After a few thrilling rounds of Ring-Around-the-Rosy, several of the toddlers wanted to play on a small wooden teeter-totter shaped like a boat.  So, their imaginations brought them to an ocean of pretend, and they set sail in the midst of the loud din of several other games in full-swing around them. I was enjoying witnessing how free the children were and how much they naturally seemed to desire being with one another.  Besides the occasional dispute, in general, they welcomed one another immediately and found great happiness in giggling and carrying on with more and more of their peers.  It only took about forty-five seconds for the fact that the small toy could only hold five children to be a problem.  After being ousted off-board, one of the young girls who thought she had a right to a much longer time on the toy, threw herself onto the plastic gym mat in a fit of anger.
      Immediately her playmates froze with a fear that seemed to arrest their freedom.  Their faces searched their surroundings for an explanation as to why their unity had been so violently interrupted.  Within each of them the Lord had obviously rooted a deep call for communion with one another.  They desired that bond with their friends, or even mere acquaintances, to continue and were stilled with confusion when it was disturbed.  Thankfully another gift of toddlers is their often short memory span.  After a few minutes, the others let the distressed little girl back on-board for another trip, and unity was restored.  
      How often do we, seemingly so much more "complex" than our youngest generation, desire unity and communion to prevail in our lives?  Unlike these playful little ones, we have the reason, intellect, and so the responsibility to make choices to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3)

- Sister Marysia, FSGM


July 1, 2015

It is in giving of ourselves that we receive.

Summer is a busy time in the convent. Between retreats, vacations, homevisit, feast day preparations, the Community is very active. As a student Sister I am available during the summertime to cover for Sisters who are on retreat etc. This is a great gift as I am able to get to know my Sisters and get to experience how my Sisters make the merciful love of Christ visible. By the time I head back to my convent in Ohio, I will have served in seven different convents!

My current location is in Lincoln, Nebraska. Here our Sisters serve at Bonacum House which is a home for retired priests. During my time here one of the priests celebrated his 70th anniversary of ordination. Wow! Seventy years is an impressive witness of fidelity. This is a record for the Diocese of Lincoln. While Father's memory is showing signs of his age (95), his love of God and his vocation continue to shine. When I asked him how he would describe his priesthood, he responded with one word – fulfillment. Later he added that it is a gift from God. As we continued talking he began encouraging me in my own vocation. Father said that through my service as a Sister, my own hands will participate in the work of God. If I do that, he said I will do great things for Him. As I felt tears come to my eyes I knew that I was not sent to Lincoln just to serve the priests. I was sent here to receive.

During a homily that another priest gave to the Sisters he told us to ask ourselves what animates our lives. Immediately the answer “love of God” came to my mind. Regardless of where our summer schedules lead us, we will encounter the love of God. This summer has been filled with many reminders of His love for me. In particular, my time in Lincoln has reminded me of the beauty of my vocation. Christ's love for me as His Bride is what animates my life. I gave my yes almost five years ago, and I have learned that it is in 'giving of ourselves that we receive.'

- Sister Teresa Maria, FSGM