Friday, August 10, 2018

Continuing to Refine the Process of Contemplative Dialogue at LCWR

Sr. Liz Sweeney, SSJ
This year Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) expanded on a process of contemplative dialogue that they have been using for several years.  Led by Sr. Liz Sweeney, SSJ, (Philadelphia) the participants began each of three presentations in a contemplative mode.  

The presenters Sr. Gloria Schaab, SSJ (Philadelphia) began with her presentation entitled, “In the Image of the Trinity: To Be is To Be in Relation.” Click here to read her address.  The new twist was that the other keynote speakers, Heidi Russell and Simon Pedro Arnold, OSB, responded to what they heard.  They were followed by a panel of LCWR members who also responded and then engaged in dialogue about what the presentation might mean to
Sr. Gloria Schaab
them as leaders.  This powerful new dynamic seemed to really help the process go deeper.

After a short break, LCWR participants went to contemplative dialogue groups as has been done in the last few LCWR Assemblies.  In these groups, gatherings of six engaged in contemplative silence and then followed a contemplative dialogue process to hear what was emerging.  There were four to six groups of six in each room.  After two listening processes, the groups of six shared what was emerging with the other groups in the room.  In my group there was a powerful convergence of energy as each group shared their reflections. 

Sr. Judy Donovan

 In each room was a listener who led the process.  When the whole body reconvened 4 listeners shared what they heard emerging so that the body began to get a sense of the communal dialogue of the whole.  Three Sisters of St Joseph, Srs. Judy Donovan, Joan Gallagher, and Janet Lander served as listeners.
Sr. Janet Lander

Sr. Joan Gallagher
LCWR committed to a several year process to use communal dialogue as a mode of hearing God’s voice in their seeking direction for the Conference.  Each year it does seem that the process has allowed them to go deeper into understanding their movement together.
Heidi Russell

Click here to hear Heidi Russell’s presentation.
Sr. Teresa Maya, LCWR President

Sr. Jayne Helmlinger

A highlight of every LCWR is the Presidential Address.  Click here to read this year’s address.

We congratulate Sr. Jayne Helmlinger (Orange) who is the new President Elect of LCWR

Monday, August 6, 2018

Closing Ritual for the Orientation for the 2018-2019 Novices

The novices, their novice directors and Federation representatives
 gather in the chapel for the closing of the orientation

Here is a portion of the closing ritual for the orientation of the novices.

We are each descendants of weavers, the lace makers of France, each of us women who from the core of our very beings bring to life our mission and charism. We are women called to dream a future that all may be one. We are women of unioining love…of relationship…of unity…reconciliation…hospitality of heart…we are sister to, with, and for each other and the world…

This night we light three candles…first the candle of the past. We remember the dreams of Fr. Medaille and the first six sisters, Mother Saint John Fontbonne, the founders of each of our congregations, and all of those other courageous women who have gone before us. May we honor those women of the past on whose shoulders we stand – those women who have made a difference in our lives and in the life of the world…those women who inspire us to be faithful and dedicated Sisters of Saint Joseph…

Sr. Michelle Lesher lights the
three candles
We light a candle for the present. This is where we are together…our passion…our energy…our love of God and the Dear neighbor are gathered into this time and space weaving a network of relationships reflecting who we are called to be: women of unioning love….We honor those women who at this time in history are living their lives that all may be one. We pray for each other and for all those women from our home congregations who send us here to this experience wrapped in life and love. We know that we are better because we walk this journey together…

We light a candle for the future…because we have touched the past and the present and we know that there is a creative energy moving us on – toward the more…we pray for each of us as we continue on this journey – open to the promptings of God discerning how we might be called to live this mission and charism into the future…we pray for sisters of St. Joseph throughout the world, in particular those in formation, and we pray for any women who might be considering life as a Sister of St. Joseph…among us may they find a place where they can live the love they are called to live…

Sr. Chrstine presents Sr. Jennifer
with her candle

And we light a candle for each one of you this night…as you continue on in this call to tend the flame of our mission and charism and to share it with our world so desperately longing for deeper relationships with God, self, and others…(Home directors give the candles to the novices)
Sr. Jane presents Sr. Tram with her candle

May we be the light…
Srs. Chizuru, Sarah, and Sally pray with their candles

Graces on the cloth – This community of faith has gathered here this week and now we have hopes 
Srs. Sally and Tram write their graces on the cloth
Srs. Joann and Michelle share the sign of peace
 and dreams for this Novitiate time, for our growth, for our call to new and deeper life…and we will need grace in order to do this well…and so we pause to consider the graces we’d like to ask for From our loving God – graces for ourselves – for those we accompany near and far – take a few moments to consider the grace you most want to pray for this community  - speak the grace aloud and then write it on the cloth…

Calling upon these graces, we offer a blessing for a new beginning… and share a sign of peace.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Circle the City with Love- Its a Movement

On the night of the feast of St Joseph, March 19, 2016 a few friends were sitting around chatting, commiserating about the state of our country… all the terrible stuff going on with the nominees for the presidential elections. The words Circle the City with Love just came out of my mouth.  This is the title of a Song composed, recorded and sold since early 2000’s by Kathy Sherman CSJ who resides in Chicago. 

Why don’t we Circle the City during the RNC and gather in some fashion/somewhere putting positive energy into the memory fields, the morphogenic fields as they are called by scientists.  Morphogenic fields is a spiritual concept that has been proven through science

This action would call for an extended period of standing/sitting in silence, breathing love, compassion, peace into the energy fields    Each participant one by one and the collective energy of the many would make it a very powerful experience.   We would make a difference!

As we stood 3000 strong for one half  in silence  on the Lorain/Carnegie Bridge in Cleveland Ohio on July 16, 2018  we knew were making a difference!   This was the beginning of a movement!

Please join the Movement this year on July 29, 2018 by going to 

Rita Petruziello CSJ
Cleveland, Ohio

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Border Experience

Three Federation novices and four Sisters of St. Joseph embark on a life-changing journey

FROM LEFT: Sisters Kristine Fernandez, Judy Stephens, Jean McKinney, Mary Alice Collar,
Betty Suther, Ann Ashwood and Christina Brodie drove from Concordia, Kansas to El Paso, Texas
to learn about life, ministries, and charities along the border.

This April, four Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and three Federation novices left Concordia to go to El Paso, Texas, to visit our house at Grandview and experience the border and immigration issues first hand. We asked them to tell us how that trip impacted their views. You can find the novices’ stories on this page.

The Border Experience is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia as a part of their commitment to Gospel living and nonviolence, which includes standing in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.

Participants stayed at the Sisters’ Grandview Convent in El Paso, Texas. Sisters Missy Ljungdahl and Donna Otter live there and help organize the experience while in El Paso. Sisters Christina Brodie, Judy Stephens, Ann Ashwood and Betty Suther staffed the experience. 

The trip offers a wide variety of experiences, depending on each visit. On this current expedition, participants spent time with Father Peter Hindes, 95, a Carmelite, and Sister Betty Campbell RSM in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Both have ministered extensively south of the border and were able to share their insights on immigration, poverty and injustice in the area.

The novices and Sisters also were able to speak with Sister Rita, a Sister of the Holy Spirit in San Antonio, who taught them about the Catalina Sewing Cooperative in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. The co-op has been around for 29 years and helps the local women have a ‘micro business’ to support their kids.

Catalina also has a school to help the children with homework and has received 20 computers to help the children with computer skills.

The program has evolved over many years and is ministered through some Dominican and Adrian Dominicans, Franciscan Sisters among many others.

This is a wonderful ministry which helps the women become independent in taking care of their families.
Other stops included both religion-based and secular organizations that provide relief, legal advice, housing and other services on the border.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have been offering some sort of Border Experience since 1996.

Novices' Experience

Jean McKinney (Boston)

Federation novice Jean McKinney (Boston):

For my reflection on our border experience I will reflect on EL PASO.

EASTER: What an appropriate day to start! Throughout the trip there were many Easter moments.
LAND:  The Land where you stand makes a difference in how you live your life: long lines every day! You must face the unknown to go to work or visit family or friends. These simple tasks could take minutes or hours depending on what is happening at the border crossing into the USA.
POVERTY: Poverty exists on both sides of the border; in Colonias, people live on land where they have no utilities and no access to water. But as poor as they are, the people there have PRIDE in their homes.  And in the little space they have, they have carved out space for PRAYER to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
ABUNDANCE:  What amazed me was the abundance of love all around, shown by all who serve and all being served! Although I could not understand what was being said, I could feel the love.
SADNESS: Seeing all the suffering that people must live with every day, and recognizing the  sinfulness of the United States in sealing the borders — this sadness has moved me deeply! I will, however, SAVOR every moment spent at the border.
OPENNESS: The beauty of the open country now offers a very different perspective:A somber image of migrants on foot, walking hopefully, desperately — trying to reach the safety of the United States.

Federation novice Kristine Fernandez (Toronto): 
Kristine Fernandez (Toronto)

El Paso was an emotional roller coaster. I went from heartbreak to hope and joy all on the same day. It was heartbreaking to see and learn about how we treat migrant workers, refugees, people detained at the border. Amidst all this heartbreak we also encountered beacons of hope.  People who are working tirelessly and for no economic gain to stand up for and stand up with those who are being ill-treated.

Why is an abused woman who arrives at the U.S. border asking for asylum transported like a criminal in handcuffs and leg shackles to a federal  jail?

Why does a migrant worker get paid only 70 cents to fill a big tub of chili peppers?

Why does my heart break when I think of these people?
Mary Alice Collar (St. Louis)

Why does your heart not break when you hear about these people?

Federation novice Mary Alice Collar (St. Louis):

I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity to go to El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, to witness the tragedies happening at the border as well as meet so many dedicated people ministering to the many needs of the migrants/refugees fleeing horrific violence.

Each day I was filled with a multitude of emotions from deep sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness to hopefulness.

I would look into the eyes of frightened 4 and 5 year olds taken from their parents to a strange place (detention center.) Then I saw many volunteers at RICO ministries trying to infuse as much love as humanly possible into the children’s eyes.

I am proud of the southern border Bishops’ statement .

[This story originally appeared in The Messenger, a publication of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia]

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

International News via Our Rochester Sisters

SSJ Brazil Associates Forming
The spirit and mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Rochester is growing in Brazil. The first SSJ Associate commitment ceremony is expected to take place on Sunday, April 29 at Jesus of Nazareth in Jardim Curitiba, Goiania. Leadership Team members Sisters Marilyn Pray and Mary Ann Mayer will attend the ceremony as they will be in Brazil for their annual visit.  

Over the past year, Sisters Jean Bellini, Joana Dalva Alves Mendes, Maria José Monteiro de Oliveira and Maureen Finn have met regularly with a group of 18 lay men and women for prayer and
Our Potential Associates in Goiania
sharing of the SSJ spirit, spirituality and mission. The men and women have also spent time with the other Sisters missioned in Brazil. Most recently, the group took part in a day-long retreat to reflect on discerning their call to becoming Associates. The gathering was held in February on the Tuesday of Carnival, a national holiday in Brazil, and included a festive celebration.

It is not yet known how many of the 18 will decide to officially make the two-year commitment as an Associate. The Sisters in Brazil ask that you please keep these men and women in your prayers.

A Visit to Peru

From February 19-21, Sister Joana Dalva Alves Mendes had the opportunity to represent the Congregation (our Sisters from the Brazilian region) at the meeting of the leaders of SSJs who serve in Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting took place in Chincha, Peru and 15 sisters from 12 different congregations were present. As a result of their reflection they came up with the following possibilities or proposals:
  • To have common space/opportunity for initial and on-going formation: common novitiate, final vow preparation, sabbatical time (20-30 years of vows)
  • Intercongregational initiatives: common mission in places at the margins (in situations or places where others are not serving) for short or prolonged times
  • To open ourselves to the possibility of integrating with lay people who share our charism so that they can be protagonists also in our quest to incarnate the Gospel in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • To improve communication among ourselves making use of the means of communication available
  • To hold periodic meetings (every two years) with the leaders of the congregations present in Latin America
Aside from the meeting proposals, Sister Joana also wanted to share some of the personal reaction she had to the trip.

Reflection by Sister Joana Dalva Alves Mendes
My first opportunity to go to Chincha, Peru was in 2007 when the city, along with its surrounding areas, was devastated by an earthquake. I offered to help there, but discovered that my passport had expired. It was then that Sister Anne Marvin and our dear Suzana (Sister Sue Wills) went to Chincha and spent a year with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Pembroke.
Now, 11 years later, I had the opportunity to go there with another goal, but with the possibility of being in the place where Anne and Suzana lived such remarkable experiences. The opportunity for socializing and sharing experiences with Sisters of Saint Joseph from six countries was remarkable, but above all, I was moved by what remained of the marks of reality, still very precarious. Certainly Anne would have been better able to notice what improved, having been there in the time of chaos. But the appearance that remains, for someone, like me, who had the first contact more than a decade after the earthquake, is that very little has been done and there is much to rebuild.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Sacred Conversations on Race and Action Sister Phyllis Tierney, SSJ , Rochester Justice and Peace Coordinator

How does race define who we are and what aspirations can we achieve? This question was one of many that 14 Sisters and three SSJ Associates were invited to ponder during a workshop held on February 24 at the Motherhouse. The purpose of the workshop was to explore the deep divides that are present in our society. Wilma Campbell and Bob Insull, members of Roc/ACTS (Rochester Alliance of Communities Transforming Society), facilitated the conversation, which ultimately led to a call for action. 
Among the discussions was how racism includes prejudice and power, which are both at the root of discrimination. This can lead to a culture that accepts the creation of policies that block a person of color from buying a home, moving into a particular neighborhood, or being hired for a job despite being qualified. The term is known as “otherism.”
To illustrate this practice, we were shown a map of the City of Rochester highlighting districts that are “redlined.” These areas have high poverty rates and are primarily home to black residents who have difficulty receiving bank loans either for home improvement or purchase of a home. However, as some of these areas open up for improvement, persons of means who move into areas with high-end development are able to get affordable loans. As a result, the tax levels on the property increases, meaning those who have lived there can no longer afford to stay. 
As part of the workshop, we were challenged to create a response that addresses this issue. The strategies included ways we could influence local decision-makers, banks, real estate developers, and policymakers to enact new equitable policies that consider the needs of low-income people and people of color. These suggestions will be presented to our Mapping Committee that is focusing on social services in hopes of following up with action.
Overall, the workshop moved us from a personal level to an institutional level. We came away with a deeper understanding of racism and how it operates in both our conscious and unconscious levels.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

When I Was in Prison You Visited Me

By Cecilia Rupell

We are all more than our worst deed.

These words are spoken daily, by Sisters Kathy Claflin SSJ and Kathleen Rooney SSJ—both prison chaplains. As Sisters of Saint Joseph, they bring the charism and mission of the Congregation—unity and reconciliation and love of the dear neighbor without distinction, to places of great hopelessness and despair—prisons.

Sister Kathy is missioned to the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center. This facility houses women who have been arrested, but not yet convicted and sentenced. Today, 163 women are divided between two dormitories. Approximately 160 miles northeast of Baltimore, Maryland, Sister Kathleen spends her days in Clinton, New Jersey, at the maximum security prison, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (EMCFW). It is the only women’s prison in New Jersey and it houses 613 women, from all backgrounds, between the ages of 20 and 70.

Cold and foreboding, prison is an unattractive place. Upon entering the building, everyone, be they staff, volunteer or visitor, must first empty their pockets, walk through the metal detector and be
Sr. Kathleen Rooney, SSJ
physically frisked. For Sister Kathleen, the greatest challenge of her ministry is the environment. “When you minister in a prison, YOU are in prison,” Sister Kathleen explains. “The rules and protocols that must be followed, especially in maximum security where I spend most of my time, can be very disturbing and disruptive. I need to keep my focus on why I am there and that God is with me. I can’t put my eyes on the darker side of the system.”

Both sisters credit their years as teachers as the perfect foundation for prison ministry. “I spent 30 years living and teaching in the Western and Northern sections of inner-city Philadelphia,” says Sister Kathy. During summers, she volunteered at a rural Catholic Home for Delinquent Girls. “I feel these ministries with the marginalized were good training grounds for the role prison chaplain.”

Sister Kathleen shares, “My years in secondary education as a religion teacher prepared me so well! At times I have to laugh at myself—teaching high school teenagers religion prepared me for prison ministry,” Sister Kathleen shared. “Many of the women at Edna Mahan are like teenagers emotionally, psychologically and socially.”

The SSJ mission: “We live and work so that all people may be united with God and with one another,” could not be more needed than by the imprisoned,” says Sister Kathleen. “Many of the women feel alienated from God because of their crimes. They are in need of reconciliation with those they have harmed—be it their victims or their own family members. They are in dire need of self-forgiveness. My ministry is focused on that unioning—with themselves, with God and with others. That is my aim in everything I do, be it one-on-one spiritual counseling, facilitating a weekly prayer group, or giving a homily at a Communion Service.” The majority of her meetings, groups and classes are in maximum security, comprised of seven housing units across the compound. “On the days I am at the prison, I facilitate two Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) Interfaith Services two times a week (RHU is for women who have broken a prison rule or are charged with an action against another inmate or officer). I also see women individually in RHU. As this is a restricted area, I am always with an officer and can speak to individual women only through her cell door.”

The most rewarding part of being a prison chaplain is her relationship with the women. Sister Kathleen shares, “We talk about things that matter—their hopes, their fears, their struggles in the facility, their families, their joys. There is no time or desire for superficial conversations. I like these women—I do not fear them or judge them. By my presence as a sister chaplain, I hope the women will know that they are not forgotten, they have value and importance and that God loves them unconditionally. We are all more than our worst deed.”

Sister Kathy believes the Congregation’s Generous Promise (initiated at Chapter 2014) to work for
Sr. Kathy Claflin, SSJ - Photo by Cristina Diaz
the poor, marginalized and vulnerable is lived daily in prison ministry. Many of the women she meets with are dealing with domestic violence, anger management, prostitution, unemployment and lack of education. The message she gives is that this doesn’t have to be their only story. Sister Kathy explains, “When someone comes in and it is her first offense I tell her, ‘Don’t let this one thing define your whole life.’ For one in prostitution, I tell her, ‘You are more beautiful and precious to God than this.’ ”

Women must ask to see the prison chaplain. Sister Kathy says, “They want to see me because I provide hygiene items (donated by churches, SSJs and the Archdiocese of Baltimore). They also come for prayer and spiritual counsel, which is heart to heart. Many women want me to pray with them, especially on days they are going to court. Each meeting with Sister Kathy is an opportunity to be one on one. “When they are in the dorm, they have the tough appearance, but with me, they can let down their guard, cry and say where they truly are.” For initial meetings, Sister Kathy does a personal inventory to learn who they are, where they come from and with what crime they have been charged. “I have a 25-page resource packet of Baltimore City services for shelter, medical assistance and for substance abuse, so they don’t end up back on the streets.”  

Sister Kathy shares,“ When I hear their stories, it rips my heart out.” With her index finger and thumb separated by an inch, she says, “As Pope Francis said when he visited prisoners in Philadelphia: I am only this far from the person on the street. It is only through God’s graces and the advantages that God has provided in my life that I am where I am—I could be that person. Sometimes, I come home to the sisters and I tell them there are a couple of women I saw that day that I wished I could bring home so they could start a new life. They just didn’t have opportunities. Part of the program is to be able to help them, to be able to make a difference and it’s a day at a time. For most of these women from the inner city, the environment in which they live remains the same from generation to generation.” She is optimistic about the State and City Police Department working together, especially to help the homeless find housing and to meet other needs. The goal is to prevent them from returning to the same place, situation and mindset before prison.

“We are always trying to provide something that can renew their inner spirit,” says Sister Kathy. “I always tell them, ‘It’s important that you become healthier in mind, body and spirit and invite God in with you on your journey.’ A scripture passage I use with them all of the time is from the Gospel of John, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’ I try to explain how they can be interiorly free even though there is a lot of chaos around them. When these women invite God in, they can speak the truth of their heart. When they meet with the public defender/attorney or the judge, they know that they are speaking God’s truth from their heart and they can have that sense of peace. Whatever the legal system decides—that’s another piece. Always be right with God.”

Our sisters, ministering as prison chaplains, have met with hundreds of inmates. Some of those meetings leave lasting impressions. In Sister Kathy’s early days at the Baltimore City Detention Center, she met periodically with a woman whose mother was sick. “I was able to make contact by phone with her sister who said the mother was doing a lot better. Two weeks later I learned that her mother had died,” shared Sister Kathy. Prison chaplains inform prisoners of family members’ deaths. “Because she was in lockdown (prisoners committing a violation are placed in lockdown), she arrived in my office with her arms behind her in handcuffs. When I started telling her about her mother, she was crying, naturally. Because of the handcuffs, she was unable to wipe the tears running down her face. It broke my heart. I took tissues and wiped the tears from her face. This moment made me think of the Stations of the Cross when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. As I was wiping her tears away, I felt as if she were the face of Jesus for me.”

Another story Sister Kathy shared reminded her of the scripture passage of Jesus healing the blind man. “One of the things included in the hygiene items is Dollar Store reading glasses,” says Sister Kathy. “I was touched by a woman who came in and said she needed glasses. I gave her a pair of reading glasses and said, ‘See if these work.’ I turned my back to her to reach for more hygiene items and all of a sudden I hear this sobbing, and she said, ‘Oh! Thank you, thank you. You don’t know what this means to me. People think that I’m stupid—it’s just that I can’t see. Now, people will know that I’m not stupid.’ This woman had been homeless, living on the streets and couldn’t afford glasses. I think of her every time I hand out glasses. They cost $1, but they changed her whole life.”

Sister Kathleen shares one of many stories, “For the first time in years, the Bishop of Metuchen, Bishop Checchio, (recently installed as the new bishop in the Diocese) came to the prison to celebrate Mass. The women were awed! The bishop spoke to and greeted each woman individually. His homily was pastoral and loving. When the Mass was over, one of the women, crying, with tears streaming down her face, said to me, ‘I thought we had been forgotten.’ Those words broke my heart and have not left me. When I was in prison you
visited me. (Mt. 25:36)
I know now, more acutely, why Jesus included this action in his words on the final judgment.”