First Vows!

Today was a big day in the life of our Congregation ... the first profession of vows by Sister Dorothy. Dorothy was a 1st year novice when I was a 2nd year novice. She has such a generous heart and really lives out of a love for God and God's people and a desire to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus. In fact, she's an experienced nurse and has begun her new ministry providing home health care to the poor in an inner city neighborhood. That's one of the first ministries of our Congregation back to our founding, so it's so neat that she's decided to share her wealth of experience as a nurse in this way!

I was honored to be asked to share a reflection on the readings at Dorothy's vows liturgy. It was a blessing to spend time with the readings and theme she chose, which spoke of our Church's rich tradition of women discipleship. It's so amazing when someone says "YES" joyfully and fully. And how lucky are we that she answered this call with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace?

In any case, I thought I'd share my reflection below.
Mary Derby had never thought of religious life. Not until, that is, a chance meeting with none other than Mother Evangelista in Hartford, Connecticut. Mary was 40 years old when she entered the infant Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in 1887.

A few years later, in 1890, now known as Sister Mary Catherine, she was one of the brave and fearless contingent of CSJPs who went where no one else would go – to care for victims of the smallpox epidemic in Passaic, New Jersey. Eventually, she ventured even farther afield, joining the latest endeavor of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in the Pacific Northwest.

Bridget Pender worked as a lay seamstress in the sewing room here at St. Michael’s Villa. She was a prayerful and devout woman, as well as a hard worker, and eventually the Sister in charge of the sewing room suggested she have an interview with the Reverend Mother to discuss the possibility of a vocation.

Bridget was astounded at the suggestion. She drew back and told the Sister she was over 50! The Sister was surprised, as a “youthful poise” reportedly gave Bridget a much younger appearance. Nevertheless, the interview apparently took place despite her age, as Bridget travelled west to enter at Bellingham in 1920. She was 51.

Margaret Barran was an experienced teacher, having taught for 20 years before she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace at the age of 42 in 1950. As Sr. Frances Therese, she taught in the Congregation’s schools in the United Kingdom for another 17 years. She also served as Junior mistress and later as a Province Councilor.

As we heard proclaimed in our Second Reading:

Today, as Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace,
we build upon a rich heritage.
Our founding spirit call us
to further the work of peace.
Responding to this call
we experience our own need
for conversion
to Gospel values which engender peace.

Each of these women … Mary, Bridget, Margaret, and Dorothy, did just that. They responded to a call. A call which may have seemed a little crazy. Certainly it seemed unlikely. Here they were, experienced women of a certain age. Called by Jesus to further the work of peace as Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Such vocations may indeed be an exception in our history, but they are also part of our rich heritage. A rich heritage which Dorothy by her vows today and her life as a vowed member of this Congregation in the years to come, will build upon in ways we can only imagine.

In our Gospel, we hear the story of another unlikely follower of Jesus … Mary Magdalene. She from whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. She who was at his side as he preached and healed. The Gospels all vary as to which women were at the foot of the cross, but most agree that Mary Magdalene, faithful disciple, was there. And as we heard proclaimed today, she was there at the tomb as well. Again, accounts vary as to who was with her, but we know that she was there, in this account with “the other Mary.”

The Angel tells them some amazing news. He is not there. He has been raised! “Do not be afraid,” he tells them. But how could they not be afraid. The holy man they have been following is gone. Things will never be the same. What are they to do?

But then, the Angel gives them a commission. “Go quickly. Tell the disciples.” Faithful to the end, they swallow their sorrow, put aside their wonderings, grasp onto this hopeful news and go quickly away from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, ready to announce the resurrection to the other disciples.

It strikes me as interesting –and telling – that it is only AFTER they leave the angel to go tell the disciples that they feel“fearful yet overjoyed.” And, it’s not until after they’ve got this mixture of butterflies in their stomach and are missioned that they meet the Risen Christ.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells them. “Go tell the brothers.” And they do, becoming apostles to the apostles.

In her seminal 1874 book Women’s Work in Modern Society, Margaret Anna Cusack, known as Mother Francis Clare, founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, writes:

“In apostolic times we find women gratefully recognized as the faithful and active helpers of the apostles. They laboured much, and they laboured wisely, not with many words but with great self-sacrificing deeds. … Women worked not only for the apostles but with them; they were co-workers, they were fellow-helpers.”

No doubt, they used their gifts in service of God and God’s people. Prophesy, ministry, teaching, exhortation--all the gifts we heart enumerated by St. Paul in the first reading. Just as the women who followed Jesus after them … including for the past 125 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace … used their gifts. Labouring much. Labouring wisely. With generous and cheerful hearts. Filled with Joy.

For God’s love is better than life, the Psalmist tells us. God is our help, and in the shadow of God’s wings we shout for joy.

Today, by her vows which she makes according to the Constitutions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, Dorothy promises to continue in this long tradition of women disciples.

She commits herself to promote peace in family life, in church and in society. To act justly, love tenderly and walk in the way of peace.

Confident of God’s faithful love,
and collaborating with others who work for justice and peace
(and we)
faces the future with gratitude and hope.


Susan Dewitt said...

Beautiful! Thank you, Susan - and thank you, Dorothy! As one who entered the community at 50, I'm glad to know I was following all these great sisters...as Dorothy now will fruitfully and joyfully do!

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Susan - It was a great day! I'm sure you'll hear all about it from MJ when she gets back.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful homily, Susan! I wish I could have been there. And I have never heard a homily at any CSJP gathering that integrated Margaret Anna and our history so well. Congratulations!

Joanne, csj said...

It's inspiring to read this. We have a sister professing final vows this coming Saturday. She's close in age to the women you speak of in your reflections. You're right it is inspiring and exciting when these women respond to God's call. Watch my blog druing the week ahead at:
http://asisterofstjoseph.blogspot.com/ for more on the Final Vow celebration of another Sister of St. Joseph -- in this case "of Boston."

Terry said...

Thanks for the post. It is indeed wonderful to find that one can repond to God regardless of age. Your post has provided me with much encouragement as I just started novitiate and am close to the ages of the women you mentioned. Guess God knew that I badly needed some encouragement at this point. Praise our good Lord indeed.