Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Visit with Old Friends in Their New House

The Sisters' home last year
One of the side benefits for me as I attended the 200th Jubilee Celebration of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery in France was that I got to visit with the sisters who welcomed me so warmly last year.  Speaking hardly any French, I enjoyed their company at meals and in the evenings and was toured around important sites to their community history during the day.  For me, it has created an enduring bond.

Bois Joli
As part of the 200th year celebration, we toured the Bellecombette campus, which contains their skilled nursing facility, assisted living and the new “Bois Joli.”  Of historic interest, on the campus is their Hall of Memories (see 10/23/2012 blog) and the grave of Mary Felicite Veyrat, the superior who sent the first five sisters from Chambery to West Hartford, at the persistent requests of Jane Sedgewick.

Antiques from old convent
2nd floor garden out bedrrom window
Needlepoint done by one of the sisters
The antiques warm the hallways

The Sisters of the French Province of chambery, facing diminishing numbers, have carefully planned for their decrease.  Both the skilled nursing and the “Bois Joli” were developed jointly with the mayor, to meet anticipated needs in the community when the buildings are no longer needed by the sisters.  Bois Joli, which means Beautiful Woods, is an airy, spacious, modern facility which will easily convert to a retirement apartments or spaces for college students in the future.  It has 26 efficiency apartments.  There is lots of light, big windows and fabulous views of meadows and mountains.

Sr. Marie Pierre

Sr. Marie Pierre Rusch, who toured me through so much of Chambery and the surrounding area, now toured a group of us from the 200th celebration through the new house.  She described how the building architect’s wife who is also an architect assisted them in planning the decorations for the facility.  She toured their old house and helped them pick out antiques and paintings that could be artistically placed throughout the new building.

Sr. Marie Pierre surrounded by Indian sisters

Sr. Marie Pierre showed us her room.  It was quite touching when the Indian sisters all gathered around her to have their picture taken with their former superior general for whom they obviously had great affection.

Sr. Agnes and me

Sr. Agnes in her huge bedroom
Sr. Agnes's porch
More office space
Sleeping area
When I last visited, I had an extremely limited French vocabulary.  Only a small number of sisters spoke any English.  One who did was Sr. Agnes Moussiere.  She toured me around the house, told me about the process of moving, and  showed me her room.  She said it was the biggest space she has ever had while living in community.  She has a computer area and a work space right in her bedroom.  She showed me her video collection and described how she weekly picks out videos that she thinks will be of interest for the sisters and residents of the nursing facility.

I got a chance to catch up with Sr. Alix who was basking in her fame after being one of the sisters who appeared in the 200th celebration play, Le Voyage en Valise.  I got the opportunity to greet several of the others.  Although my French is still very limited, I was able to share a few more interchanges than the previous year.
Sr. Rita tells Sr. Alix how much she enjoyed her performance

Dining Room

On a very personal note, it makes me very happy to know that the watercolor that the US Federation gave to celebrate this important event, will be placed at Bois Joli because it was these sisters who gave me such an appreciation for their history and a manifestation of the way they live it out today.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Hall of Memories

On the Bellecombette campus in an old farming building, the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambery is displayed, available for generations to come to share in the rich traditions and charism of the sisters and associates.

Sr. Cristina
Sr. Cristina Gavazzi, of the Italian Province explained the origins of the Hall of Memories. When the decision was made to sell the old Motherhouse where the sisters had lived in Chambery for over a century, the Italian sisters expressed their desire to have a place to remember the significant work done in the Savoy.  The General Congregation leadership created a commission to think about his project and decide what they should do.  Over a 3 year period, the commission visited the archives of Le Puy, Lyon and Annecy.  They knew they did not want to create a museum.  They wanted a place where they could touch the origins and feel the life of the Sister of St. Joseph.

This is my second trip to the Hall and I could go many times more to take it all in.  The Hall is made up of 5 rooms, each telling a different aspect of their story.

In Room 1, we learn of the origins and early history of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Le Puy through the French Revolution. 
Jean Pierre Medaille, S.J.
Sr. Delores Lahr- Chambery, West Hartford Connecticut, commented on how much she appreciated the sculpture of Jean Pierre Medaille.  She noted that we really don’t know what he looks like. As an itinerant preacher traveling the back roads of rural France, he would not have taken the time to have a portrait done.  Sr. Cristina noted that as a humble man, Medaille would have preferred to disappear, giving all credit and glory to divine providence for the founding of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Chambery Celebration- Sister Linda Pepe (red jacket) exploring Room 2

Sr. Ann Pace, Carondelet- St. Louis in Room 2

The Expansion in Savoy
Room 2 tells the story of the Sisters in Savoy. It is here that we meet Mother St. John Marcoux, (see US Federation website- history tab). After the French Revolution, Sr. St. John joined the “Black Daughters,” a group  women who share a very austere Life of poverty and prayer in service to the poorest of the dying and sick.  These sisters were reorganized as Sisters of St. Joseph under Mother St. John Fontbonne in 1808.  By 1812 Mother St. John Marcoux was dispatched by Mother St. John Fontbonne to Chambery.  From there the sisters spread throughout the Savoy to Turin, Italy, St. Jean de Maurienne, and Pinerolo and then to the world.

Reykjavik, Iceland sculture -work of a Lutheran
 artist when the sisters left Iceland in 2001

Copenhagen, Denmark statue commemorating the death of 86 children and 11 sisters killed during an air-raid in the war in 1945.  Numerous sisters saved children.  They were awarded the Gold Medal by the Carnegie Foundation for their courage. 
Room 3 shows the missionary expansion throughout the world.

Sisters tour Room 4
Room 4 provides a retrospective on the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph in France and its evolution throughout the world.  Special emphasis is given to the historical work of setting up free schools for little girls of the working class and in rural areas.

Room 5 is an audiovisual room.

Sr. Paula Vaghi
As the Sisters and Associates toured the area, I asked them about their reaction to “the Hall.”  Sr. Paula Vaghi of the US West Hartford Chambery sisters said, “It was extremely moving and so affirming of Jean Pierre Medaille’s vision to embrace all people.  I appreciate our rich history.  It is extremely clear that as we move to the future, we must be out with the people.”

Sr. Linda Pepe, also of West Hartford said, “It’s inspiring, encouraging, and life-giving to understand that we do stand on the shoulders of those who went before us.  It’s also inspiring that age was never a factor.  The needs of the people were first and foremost, and then we responded.

Sr. Benedicte
Sr. Benedicte, the keeper of Chambery’s sacred memories, takes great joy in continuing to explore our roots, and add to the collection.  She takes great pride in the 39 sisters of the Savoy who came to the United States in the 1800s to assist with our early settlement.  On this trip she let me know that five of the seven sisters who made the famous trek to set up the missions in Arizona, that later became the Los Angeles Province of the Carondelet, sisters were from the Savoy.

Sr. Jessy from India described her time in the Hall of Memories as a soul stirring experience to be part of the Josephite family.  To be present in the Hall was an unforgettable experience for her. 

Sr. Mariaelena
Sr. Mariaelena Aceti of Italy described the experience as finding strength through our roots.  Sr. Ilda from Brazil was also reflecting on our roots as she described, “In my mind, the symbol of the tree where the roots are grounded here in this land, and our branches have spread throughout the world- our home.”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Aosta Valley in the heart of the Italian Alps

In a new way and at a deeper level, I have experienced the strong connections among Sisters of St. Joseph around the world. As I traveled to Aosta, Italy Having never been to Italy before, I was not sure what to expect.  Except for feeling at a total loss for the language, I felt very much at home.  Interestingly, all of us participating at the Global Coordinating Group began referring to the place we were staying that is owned by the Aosta Congregation as “home.”  This year there was a great ease and wonderful  sense of togetherness as we discussed important issues in four languages.  Hard questions were asked and we worked towards consensus in our decision-making.  There was never a sense of anyone trying to control an outcome.  Actually, I think we were all surprised by the decisions we made.  What was obvious was our comfortable connection with each other.  We spoke different languages and came from different cultures but the connection was palpable.
Sr. Armanda from Aosta and Sr. Gabriella from Pinerolo, our Italian hosts

Sr. Armanda, the General Superior from Aosta, took the opportunity to introduce us to the sisters from Madagascar who were working in Aosta.  Some of them were learning to speak English so a little direct communication without a translator was possible. 

 Sr. Angela, Argentina, Sr. Griselda, and Sr. Odile from France
The highlight of the meeting was Sr. Griselda’s presentation on the work that she has done this year at the United Nations.  The global participation and support for this work has been very exciting and it has built stronger bonds among us.

The food was delicious with much of it grown in the Aosta Valley.  Homemade bread and local cheese were a part of every meal.  Soups and pastas were beyond description. 

Sr. Mary Lou on our hike
To make this whole trip perfect, the day before and after our meetings with tremendous weather, Mary Lou Mitchell, the other United States sister attending this meeting, and I went hiking in the Alps.  That was so much fun that we had to go hiking the day after the meetings too!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

One Year Anniversary

 As I celebrate one year as the Executive Director of the US Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, I take great joy in looking back at all the wonderful opportunities I have had this year.  I have traveled extensively and met many interesting people.  Each opportunity has expanded my horizons and exposed me to new ways of thinking and being.

My first global coordinating group meeting in Switzerland
One of the fringe benefits of this job is that I can to travel internationally.  I am writing to you from my vacation in Chamonix, France.  I have traveled here on my way to the Global Coordinating Group in Italy.  At the Global Coordinating Group we will discuss the many international efforts that the Sisters of St. Joseph engage in together.  I look forward to the discussion on the major accomplishments at the UN-NGO where Sr. Griselda has issued two major statements this year, one on human trafficking and the other on climate change.  Then it’s on to the International Center to discuss the strategic plan that we are working on.  Although communication with sisters who speak in 5 languages is a challenge and I am really challenged by trying to learn to speak French, I find the relationships that I am developing internationally to be so fulfilling. 

Susan Wilcox, Marianne Sennick and Griselda Martinez Morales at the UN
I really enjoy my connections with the Leadership Council, the regions and the Leadership Assembly.  We strive to listen together to where we are being lead.  There have been discoveries at each meeting that seems to be more than what any of us would have expected.  These powerful experiences are really amazing.

Joe Favazza
I have enjoyed working with Joe Favazza, the US Federation Administrative Assistant and the committees that have helped us develop the website.  I have learned a lot and know that we are just beginning to tap the power of this new tool to connect us and enable us to “be and act as one.”

Gathering of the Daughters

My visit to Hartford
Agregee ceremony in Concordia
I have had the opportunity to meet with many sisters, associates and agrégées and feel that I have been changed by these encounters.  From Sr. Susan Wilcox I have been exposed to a new way to pray.  I feel so much hope for the future through my discussions with younger members, associates and agrégées.  My awareness of issues of human trafficking impacts my choices on a daily basis. 

When I began this job, I was hopeful that I would have the skills required since it is so different from anything that I have ever done. I think things have gone really well.  I know that I really enjoy going to work almost every day.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Week to Remember in St. Louis- Barbara Marx Hubbard and LCWR

The Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious have a unique and valued relationship with Barbara Marx Hubbard, the renowned futurist who was the keynote speaker at the historic LCWR meeting last week in St. Louis.  Through her relationship with Sr. Judy Cauley, CSJ, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Barbara has learned lots about us and about religious life.  Barbara honored us when she stopped by at an evening gathering of the Sisters of St. Joseph attending LCWR.
Sr. Judy Cauley, CSJ and Barbara Marx Hubbard

In her presentation at LCWR, many Sisters of St. Joseph took note of her frequent use of “our catch phrases” such as the “more,” not separating ourselves from our “neighbors,” and “generous promises”.  One of her closing statements addressed to LCWR was that “I really see you as pilgrims, pioneers evolving into the more.”

In her LCWR presentation, in an emotionally powerful, upbeat mode, Barbara Marx Hubbard shared her growing understanding of the transformative power of evolving consciousness.  She told us that, "We have come together at the most critical time in the history of humanity...our systems are not sustainable as is...we face radical breakdown or through innovation, creativity and love- a breakthrough. She noted that we can no longer return to our prior pre-crisis state...we will either breakdown or break through- we will evolve or we will become extinct.  Many of us could easily see the connections to the LCWR crisis of the doctrinal assessment.

Barbara reflected back to us the characteristics and capacities that she sees in women religious that manifest the type of leadership that a breakthrough requires.  Characteristics such as deep gospel living in the model of Jesus, engaging mysticism, being faithful in seeking out and meeting unmet needs are ideals for which we strive.   Solidarity with the earth, being whole-makers and risk takers for the sake of the mission are values which we try to live.  Social entrepreneurship, being  faithful to dialogue and discernment,  speaking truth to power, and commitment to seeking the more, what Ilia Delio calls "the God ahead in an ever evolving world”, are capacities we have tried to develop and be faithful to for years.   

In speaking about women religious she said we were “the best seedbed to the evolving church and the world.”  She noted that new things always happen in unexpected places. Further quoting Ilia, she said, "Evolution opens a window to the Divine Mystery." She spoke about the power we have to choose to destroy the world or become co-creators. She gave us three points for consideration:
1) Crisis precedes transformation,
2) Problems are evolutionary drivers- they help us see what is possible, and
3) Nature takes parts and through synergy, the broken parts of systems and fragments can become more than the sum of the parts.

I was especially impressed when she shared that the type of leaders we need today are those who handle the emergencies and facilitate what is the emergent new.

Barbara shared her experience at the Democratic National Convention in 1984 when her name was placed in nomination for the Vice Presidential of the United States.  At the convention she  spoke of her wish to create  a “Peace Room” as well equipped and staffed as the current US “War Room”.  It would be able to map, track and connect what is working in the world to create emergent, loving societies.  She identifies this as the most important speech she ever gave.  She then went on to say that of the hundreds of speeches she has given, her address at LCWR was the second most important.   

She then shared with us that as we cultivate evolutionary leadership, what will emerge is new relationships, new social entrepreneurial forms of service, new centers of communication and new ways for our charisms to thrive.  She encouraged us to turn to one another, to form hubs of co-creativity, to expand our networks for a co-creative society and to trust the co-creative process.  She stated, “The future is the primary dwelling place of the God ahead.”

Throughout her talk, Barbara made frequent references to scripture, especially St. Paul, the work of Teilhard de Chardin and other Catholic theologians.  In the end, she encouraged us to see the recent doctrinal assessment as an act of grace.  “It opens up the more, the potentiality of women and this is precisely what the world needs now,” she said.  “Your deep commitments to your charisms and your generous promises are a global agenda for the evolution of the world,” she added.  She challenged us to make our cooperation and compassion more visible in the world.  We need to overcome divisiveness and move away from fragmented either/or points of view.  She expressed great interest in our processes of self- governance where leadership and direction are found by having the largest possible sharing, including everyone.   Expanding openness of communication, sharing leadership and spirituality is what the world is deeply missing.

It was a wonderfully inspiring and challenging week at LCWR.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Live from St. Louis

Update from St. Louis at the LCWR

This morning I attended the pre-meeting, “Innovative Best Practice Forum” prior to the opening of the LCWR conference.  Giving Voice led off this session by talking about the benefit and processes of peer convened and peer led groups for younger members of religious communities.  They spoke of the importance of having a “holding pen” for their struggles, noting that often sisters who are not their age-peers move too quickly to try to solve their problems, which is not always helpful.  Through their peer experience, they cultivate mutuality and explore issues over time in a deeper way.  They find these experiences together with peer led groups help them become more skilled  at seeking more non-peer group mutuality, claiming their place and voice in congregational decision-making processes.  One panel member described her experiences at Giving Voice as a way to “harvest hope with my peers.”

Two religious communities, one from the Sisters of Divine Providence and the other, our Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph, spoke about their models of restructuring governance.  Both groups emphasized involvement of sisters in “conversation circles” to advise the congregational leadership in more significant ways than past leadership models.

Sr. Sharon Casey spoke about her Dominican group’s process in moving towards covenant relationship with another community.  With consultation from Sr. Amy Hereford, CSJ- Carondelet St. Louis, they have discerned their next steps for their congregation.  She noted that they found Amy’s article, “Options for Small Aging Communities” and articles by Ted Dunn to be very helpful.  Then another community further along in the covenant process described how they are entering into a gradual process of building trust and understanding with another religious community to gradually assume responsibility for care for aging members, manage fiscal and legal affairs, and carry out their legacy through sponsored ministries and distribution of assets.  She noted that this covenant relationship allowed them to maintain their identity and international connections and plan their legacy into the future.  It is a gradual process and developing relationship.

After a brief break, attendees went to small table conversations to learn about more innovative best practices.  I attended the Rochester SSJ session on Communal Discernment.  Srs. Mary Lou Mitchell and Eileen Daly spoke about their experience with using communal discernment to make a major decision about health care for their senior sisters.  The process and involvement of all the sisters was very profound and moving.  Using an Ignatian model based on the 30 day exercises and the Sisters of St. Joseph traditions of sharing of the heart and order of the house, the community moved to a decision that felt right for them.  Sr. Eileen noted that “going forward we would probably use a process like this for all major decisions.”  It truly was an example of “Leadership of the Membership.”  Sr. Mary Lou commented that they will “continue to deepen our communal discernment skills, slowing down, not reacting, and taking the time to make the decision.”

It was a great morning.  This afternoon is rather loosely scheduled, with the opening prayer service this evening.  I’ll add pictures when I get home tonight.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thank You to Our Friends Who Made the New Website Possible

"Being and Acting as One" is really hard work under any circumstances.  The US Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph now have a tool that provides concrete ways for the sisters, associates and agregees to share their message of unioning love with all through our new website.  Visit us at .

This website would not have been possible without the voluntary assistance provided by several of our Congregations.  Two committees provided the muscle we needed to do the heavy lifting on this project.

The first committee was the one that proof read our proposal for the bidders who wanted to build our website. They provided valuable feedback and then evaluated the submissions we received from several companies.  The committee helped us evaluate whether the companies had the technical expertise we were looking for, the experience in creating the type of outcome we needed, and had a competitive pricing structure. 

Barbara Hecht
Jenny Beatrice

Our committee of 5 consisted of two public relations people, Barbara Hecht of the Baden CSJs and Jenny Beatrice from the Carondelet-St. Louis CSJs; our two technical experts, Sasha Josipovic from the Carondelet- St. Louis CSJs and Joe Favazza from the US Federation Office, and me, Sr. Patty Johnson, also from the US Federation Office. 

After reading the proposals and evaluating them, we concluded that the Hopeworks proposal was the one we recommended.  Hopeworks  provides learning opportunities for inner-city Camden, New Jersey youth, The heart of their program is technology training. They train their youth in state-of-the art computer applications: Web site design, geographic information services (GIS), computer networking and repair, and video.  Additionally, for the youth they work with they try to keep them in school and prepare them for good-paying jobs.  Many of the youth they serve are African-American and Hispanic youth between the ages of 17 and 25 who have dropped out of school.

I want to be clear; Hopeworks won the US Federation website development project totally on the merits of their proposal and experience.  They received no extra points for their mission.  They had the unanimous backing of the whole committee.  They were the right group for the job, as you will see if you visit our new website.

Sr. Joanne Gallagher
Dawn Gruba
So, then we had to develop our plan for the site.  Again, a volunteer committee really helped us make the important decisions.  This committee benefitted from the expertise of four professional communicators, Sr. Joanne Gallagher of the Boston CSJs, Stephanie Hall Cabelof from the Erie SSJs, Sr. Rosemary Noonan from Carondelet-Albany and Dawn Gruba from Rochester SSJs.  This group helped to determine the layout, color-scheme, look and feel of the website and type of content we would need.  The expertise of this group was invaluable.

Stephanie Hall Cabelof
Sr. Mary Rose Noonan

The adult/youth team from Hopeworks that worked on our project was Terran and Zjustyn.  They were easy to work with, flexible, and responsive to our suggestions.  Technology changes every day.  I was very impressed when they reworked a few pages to incorporate new and better technology that just became available.
Zjustyn and Terran

Last but surely not least is our administrative assistant at the US Federation Office and our new webmaster, Joe Favazza.  It was Joe’s expertise that helped us at every major decision point.  He researched all the tools that we are using on the website to ensure that they would achieve the goals that we set and were cost-efficient.  As my eyes would glaze over as he tried to explain a decision we had to make, he would patiently start over and try to explain it in a more basic way so that I was making informed decisions at every turn. 
Joe Favazza, Administrative Assistant and Web Master

And now on to the future.  We have several feature pages which be updated with new content on a regular basis.  Several people have volunteered to serve on the editorial boards for those sections:
  •  Justice and Peace Editorial Board: Marie Elaina Perales, Orange, and Esther Pineda, Concordia
  • Becoming a Sister: Jill Underdahl and Jean Marie Gocha, Carondelet
  • Archivists from each Congregation will be suggesting sisters to be featured on our history page.
  • We are looking for two or three people who might be willing to serve as the editorial board for the spirituality section.