Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Time in Chambery

Words will not adequately convey my emotions of the time I spent in Chambery.  As most people who know me will tell you, I am not an overly sentimental or sappy person.  However, the number of times I had tears in my eyes during this part of my trip surprised and shocked me.

Following my discussion with Sr. Marie Pierre about the difference between global and international, I had a dream.  I was awake for several hours after that dream where I was filled with the sense of how much I belong as a sister of St. Joseph, and gratitude and love for the global community of Joseph.

I toured Chambery in the rain, visited the Hall of Memories and had a tour of the places in the French Alps from which many sisters who went to the United States came.

The Hall of Memories has been developed to be a lasting historical place for the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery.  As an aging province of the Chambery sisters, many are now retired from “active” ministry.  This place chronicles their founding, expansion, missionary efforts and continuation of the work world-wide.  (See pictures of the hall and one with Sr. Benedicte.)

I had the opportunity to visit a piece of the history with Sr. Marie Pierre when I went to the grave of Mother St. John Marcoux, the founder and first superior general of the Chambery sisters.  After many years of service and visionary leadership, Mother St. John went to a rural parish where she worked among the people.  I have attached a picture of her grave and the church where she was a member of the parish.

For my final day in Chambery, Srs. Benedicte and Jona took me through the many towns from which our sisters left to travel world-wide.

First we went to Moutiers.  I visited the church and the second house of the sisters in Moutiers.  There are many interesting things about the church, which I will write to you about on my way home.  What was most significant to me was to stand in the chapel where our sisters took their vows and from which they were sent to our missions.  By now, I feel very at home speaking of “our sisters.”  In a new way, I emotionally embrace our global family and feel very strongly about our history. The town has purchased our second home and it is now used for community events.  In the chapel is an exhibit that shows how the town looked in 1970.  (See picture of the church with the tour guide, Sr. Benedicte, me, Sr. Jona and the parish priest, the house with the statute of St. Joseph in the alcove and chapel).

The Sisters in Chambery are in the midst of a major change where they are moving from the building that has been their motherhouse for 55 years and from their mission at Aime.  On our trip into the mountains we stopped at Aime and had a wonderful mid-day meal with the Sisters.  They have a wonderful view of the mountains .

From there we headed up to Bourg St. Maurice.  The beauty on the way up is incredible.  When we got to the town I knew that a group of parishioners were going to meet with us for afternoon prayer.  The sisters no longer reside there but their history in the parish is a long one.  It is from this town that Mother St. John Facemaz came. 39 sisters from Moutiers, following Mother St. John Facemaz left Savoy in 1854 to strengthen the American Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.   I brought along a picture of Mother St. John and three of her family who she convinced to join her in the United States to show to the parish community (thank you Carondelet archives.)  Much to my surprise, we were met by the family decedents of Mother St. John who still reside in Bourg St. Maurice.  Srs. Jona, Bernadette and I sang a song as part of the prayer service and then we had a little gathering at the priest’s house.   The picture has the parish priest, me, the wife and her husband who is the decendent of Mother St. John. 

The ride back was beautiful (see pictures).  What a full day and a rich history.  I cannot adequately convey what this pilgrimage through this historic area meant to me.

My First Day in Chambery

What an exciting time I had.  First I took the train from Annecy to Chambery and was able to get on the right train and get off at the right place.  I kind of understood the public service announcements and with the help of knowing when my train was to leave and arrive, I made sure I did it right.

I had lunch with the Sisters in Chambery.  For my first meal I am sitting at a table that has two sisters who speak English.  Additionally, one of the other sisters is a cousin of Sister St. John Facemaz, one of the sisters who came from France to the United States.  I used my French as pitiful as it is and then the sisters would translate anything that was more complicated.

Late in the afternoon Sr. Marie Pierre and I went to Aix Les Bains.  This was the first place that the sisters served in the diocese of Chambery.  It is said that Cardinal Fesch was so struck by the physical and moral misery of the children and young girls of the town, that he invited the Sisters of St. Joseph to go there to remedy the situation. Somehow, he forgot to mention this to the  local bishop so when they arrived, no one was expecting them.  However, it worked out.  Shortly after that, the Archbishop of Solle asked for the Sisters from Lyon to come to Chambery in the same diocese. 

Interestingly, once the sisters were authorized to proceed with their work in Aix Les Bains, it appears they may have been neglected for a while.  When the Cardinal came to see them he sat on a broken bench and used his knees for a table.  He sent someone immediately to buy furnishings and shortly after that others help provide for their work.

I have attached a picture of a hotel which was once a school that the sisters operated and the church at which they worshipped.  I have also attached some pictures of the town hall.  Also, I have attached a photo of an arch built by the Romans while they were in this area.

Another interesting fact about Aix Les Bains is that it has a hot springs which was long used to treat rheumatism.  The sisters, some of whom were nurses, would meet with the visitors, assist them at the baths and generally just talk and comfort the visitors hoping for a cure.

I enjoyed the tour of the town but have to say that I was far more interested in my conversation with Sr. Marie Pierre.  She speaks English very well and was explaining the difficulties of getting people to agree about translations since it is not just translating words but conveying meaning.  So, knowing how a group speaking the same language can often have different understandings of the same meeting, it is easy to understand how complex international communications can be.  Then she explained, in a way I had never understood before why we have changed our language from talking about the “International Family of St. Joseph” to the “Global Family of St. Joseph.”  International seems to imply people of nations and now our global emphasis is meant to take in all that occupies our globe, the people, the trees, the animals, and all parts of our globe.  I am sure many people have heard this before but for me, it was the way she said it that was so profound and simple.

Sr. Marie Pierre is also helping me by correcting my French pronunciation so she has quite a task.  I’ll keep you posted about my further adventures in Chambery.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Visit in Annecy

I want to divide my writing about Annecy into three parts.  The first is my experience of the town and the sisters; the second is my learnings about the history of the Annecy Congregation; the third will describe what I have learned about St. Frances DeSalles and the intersection of the Visitation Sisters with the Annecy sisters.   I will post the first part now and the other parts when I have a little more time to tell the story.
After the Global Coordinating Group meeting, the Sisters at Annecy welcomed me to their Generalate and Motherhouse.  It is a beautiful place right on Lake Annecy.
I stayed in an apartment at the top of the hill.  I now have an experience of what it means to throw open the shutters.  In many homes in France the windows have shutters on them and a window but no screens.  So in the morning you open the window and then the shutters to let the light in.  This was a new experience for me that I had only heard of in fairy tales I read as a child.
Meals in Europe are very different also.  It seems like the heartier meals are breakfast and lunch with a very light supper.  My experience of the food served is that it is mostly healthy with an emphasis on vegetables and starches with small portions of meat.  All the salad dressings and sauces are home-made, very little processed food is served.  I had several apples which they described as natural, I think maybe that means they are organic but I am not sure.  Anyhow, they tasted like spiced apples and they were so good.  Wine is served at lunch but it doesn’t seem to affect me.  I was worried would make me sleepy for the afternoon. 
I had my main meal with the Generalate staff where English is the primary language.  Three of them are from various parts of Great Britain and although I could understand most of what they said, it is interesting how many phrases and words are distinctly different.  One sister was from Switzerland and two were from India.  It was fascinating to be part of their discussions related to their missions in Africa.  I learned how the most pragmatic approach to issues in Africa is to do it small and to do it locally.  The complexities of negotiating the political system, importing items and sustaining big projects are monumental.  If you can buy what you need locally to make something happen in the country you are serving, the likelihood of successfully getting going are much higher. 
The sisters seem to navigate the cultural differences of being from 3 heritages among themselves quite well but they have been living together for 4 years and are more used to international living.
It seems that Annecy was a poor town when the first sisters came to work there.  However, due to tourism for skiing and visiting the lake in the summer, it is now quite an economic engine for the area.
I had a delightful time walking around the lake and the town.  I hope you enjoy my pictures.  Future installments for Annecy will probably have to wait until I get to Le Puy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Global Coordinating Group Meeting in Switzerland

For four days I participated in the Global Coordinating Group meeting in a little town outside of Geneva, Switzerland called Tour de Peilz.  It was a fascinating experience to attend a meeting with Sisters of St. Joseph from across the globe. 

During the meeting we spoke in four languages, French, English, Italian and Spanish.  We had two translators and a few of the sisters assisted.  If the Italian sister spoke, she either spoke in Spanish which was translated into English or in Italian which was translated into French.  Then it would get translated again into the other languages. 

I have been studying French in the evenings and on weekends for about two months which essentially means I can say good morning, please, thank you and “I don’t understand what you said.”  However, my Spanish which was never good has been coming back.  One day I got really bold and said something to a group of Spanish speaking sisters.  Griselda Martinez Morales, the Sisters of St. Joseph representative at the United Nations understood what I said even though no one else did so she translated my Spanish into Spanish.  Although motivated before, I am now very committed to trying to become conversational in French and Spanish.

This is the fourth meeting of the Global Coordinating Group (GCG).  Their vision statement is:  In the spirit of our Founder and Co-Foundresses, we leaders of the four Federations: Italian, United States, Canadian, and French, and of the Congregations of Lyon, Annecy, Chambery, and Argentina, in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, wholeheartedly agree to accompany the unfolding and emerging global relationships as we coordinate new and diverse expressions of our CSSJ mission and charism.  Essentially we companion, facilitate and accompany the works that we try to accomplish at a global level.  This includes our Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) delegation at the United Nations, our global work for peace and justice, our international center and our global communications.

As a group we struggle with the language and cultural issues that challenge us as we try to build these bonds to work together.  This year we have come to some decisions that will strengthen our work together. We will work for further clarification among the Federations regarding how we can support and engage with our UN representatives. 

We have developed a new process for publishing our “Together in Mission” publication so that we can more quickly and frequently get the news out about what sisters are doing around the globe and do it in at least 6 languages, adding Portuguese and Scandinavian  to the ones I mentioned earlier.  We affirmed the plan of the Justice and Peace International Commission to conduct their work in language groups with a coordinating committee to integrate the work of each language group.  We await the results of the work of the International Center Board as it continues to try to support the work of the center.

So that is a synopsis of the meeting…on to the fun part.  We stayed in a beautiful hotel owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy right on Lake Geneva.  As you will see in the pictures below, it is lovely. The hotel is property that they previously owned and used but when significant renovations were needed, a non-profit that works with the sisters recommended this renovation and conversion to a hotel. The non-profit manages the hotel. They grow many of their own vegetables right on the property and have an arrangement with a local vintner to produce their own label wines.  We had excellent three course meals for lunch and dinner.  Each meal lasted about two hours as we really dined and got to know one another better- always a challenge in so many languages.  We did have time for walks along the lake and part of one afternoon for site-seeing in nearby towns. 
It was an honor to represent the US Federation and describe our wonderful event this summer.  I am grateful for the opportunity presented by this trip.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vist at the UN

I recently had the opportunity to travel to New York City to meet with Sr. Griselda Martinez Morales, CSJ, the representative at our non-governmental organization, ( NGO) at the UN.  This unique and exciting UN ministry provides the global community of the Sisters of St. Joseph with a voice at the global table where policies and priorities are developed.  However, Sr. Griselda envisions the potential for our NGO to play a far more significant and transformative role for the Congregations of St. Joseph, by increasing our sense of unity and global consciousness.
I saw Sr. Griselda networking first hand with other NGOs on important policy discussions regarding sustainable development.  These discussions included top-notch leaders who have a finger on the pulse of the UN dynamic.  Sr. Griselda represents our vision in a challenging, politically charged climate.  She knows that our goals can only be achieved by building relationships with diplomats, their staff, and other NGOs.  At the UN, showing up and participating greatly enhances credibility.
I learned about the opportunities the Sisters of St. Joseph have to participate in UN Commissions, by submitting information and recommendations on policies. Our highest priorities have related to issues of social development, sustainable development and women’s issues.  Sr. Griselda talked about how important it is to understand that fundamentally all of these issues are connected.  Making progress on any one issue essentially impacts vulnerable populations.  NGOs continue to emphasize the importance of addressing issues in an integrated and holistic manor, trying to help diplomats see the connections and relationships among issues and government policies.
Sr. Griselda clearly articulates that this NGO office is not her ministry; it is our ministry.  This office provides a vehicle for the sisters, associates and partners to be and act as one on important peace and justice issues.  We need to surface the issues that emerge in our home countries to provide that grassroots input that is so essential for policy. Here at this UN table, we can participate with other advocates and policy makers to improve the lives of people who are poor.  As a global community, we have direct experience of the devastating effects of poverty and of programs that effectively impact poverty, both globally and locally.  We can share that knowledge with each other and our UN-NGO office, so that the stands that we take and the resolutions we endorse, reflect our understandings of the needs and hopes of our most vulnerable neighbors.  We can ensure that Griselda knows our story so she can speak with authority about the realities we see every day.  As we share with her and with each other, we will continue to develop and expand our global consciousness.  We can find ways to make the statements and resolutions that we endorse to this global body, real in the places where we minister.  We can come to the UN, perhaps with our dear neighbor to tell our story of how programs that respect the dignity of the person and involve them in all phases of program development, make a difference. 
 But, in the telling of our corporate story, we will face the biggest challenge.  Sr. Griselda reminds us that forming a global consciousness is hard, transformative work for an individual.  For a multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-lingual group, it is a major commitment and a labor of love.  As a corporate body, we are just at the beginning of trying to figure out how we do this, how we listen to each other, how we respect cultural ways of thinking and acting. In this struggle to find our deeper unity, we will share our lives and our hearts.  In the tradition of our early sisters, our reflection and sharing will lead us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a global CSSJ family.
Sr. Griselda Martinez Morales, CSJ at her office near the UN.

Srs. Marianne Sennick and  Griselda (pictured above)
along with Sr. Susan Wilcox represent us at the UN.  Sr. Mary Legge is our UN Reporter.

Greetings from St. Louis

On September 1, 2011, I began my duties as the new Executive Director for the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the United States.  I am thrilled to have such an exciting position at such an important time for the Federation.  As we ride the wave of our incredible 2011 event, “Zeal for Healing the Neighborhood of God’s Sacred Universe,” I find my own zeal heightened as I embark on this important and challenging new position.
As a Federation, we continue to seek ways that we can be and act as one.  We are at a point in history where new technological tools increase the possibilities for us to communicate with each other.  I am starting this blog where I will share a brief description of some interesting persons, programs or facts that I learn. 
I travel quite a bit for the Federation and already I notice that I stumble upon interesting facts that I hope you will find interesting too.  I do not believe that I can adequately convey the character or important works that I see at each Congregation on this blog but I think I can share something that caught my attention that may be of interest to you.
One of my first duties will be to travel to Switzerland for the Global Coordinating Group and then on to France to meet some of our French sisters and then attend the International Center Board in LePuy.  I will keep you updated on my travels through the blog so stay-tuned for what I hope will be a great picture tour of Geneva and western France.