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.”