A reflection for the 2018 Senior Jubilee Celebration
Happy Feast and, more importantly, Happy Jubilee!
As usual, we are honored and humbled by the presence of these 24 Sisters of Providence, whose years of service to God and to the people of God, add up to a collective total of 1,630 years.
And though Abraham Lincoln told us — it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years — I do think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the years in the life of one of our jubilarians.
Sister Marceline Mattingly, celebrating her 85th jubilee this year, has been a Sister of Providence longer than anyone before her.
But those of us who know Marceline, and for that matter, those of us who know any of these sisters celebrating 75, 70 and 60 years of consecrated life — know that Lincoln is right — it is not the years in their lives as Sisters of Providence that really count but the life in those years.
Which brings me to Mary and the Gospel for today. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson talks about Mary’s life as offering “lessons of encouragement.” For me, that is no truer than in the encounter we find reported in today’s Gospel — the Annunciation, the memory of Mary’s great yes to God.
And so I asked our jubilarians to offer some lessons of encouragement for us, to let the story of their lives provide inspiration for those celebrating with them today. I asked them to look back over their years as Sisters of Providence and to remember a specific time when they felt like Mary as described in this passage from Luke. I asked them to name a word or phrase from the passage that resonated with the experiences of their lives.
Now let me mention at the outset that there was one jubilarian for whom the whole passage has great meaning and that is Sister Regina Ann Lynch, who was born on the Feast of the Annunciation and named Mary Regina at Baptism.
One of the first things the angel Gabriel says to Mary in today’s Gospel is “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
This is the passage Sister Helen Therese Conway found most meaningful.
This notion of finding favor with God was the beginning of Sister Marceline’s call to religious life. Marceline said, “Before I started school, I would go into the church and listen to the Sister teaching catechism to the children. I felt a strong desire to imitate her. Teaching children about God seemed so wonderful to me. When I shared this with my mother, she encouraged me. Today is not the first time I have reflected on this incident, and always there has been a calm assurance that, like Mary, I was in some small way pleasing to God.”
Sister Adrian Marie Conrad confessed that she was afraid at the time she made the decision to become a Sister of Providence, “wondering if I could really become a nun — not ‘should,’ but ‘could.’ Was I good enough?” Her should I or could I turned out to be “I did, thanks be to God and Mary!”
Sister Dorothy Gartland had a “could I” moment as well as she discerned ministry in 1974. “Many different sisters encouraged me to be the Sister of Providence on the new justice venture — the founding of 8th Day Center for Justice in 1974. They said, ‘Dorothy, I think you’re the one.’ I definitely felt called to be a part of the “birthing” of 8th Day Center.”
Sister Linda Kaliker is experiencing this call to trust in God’s love for her in her current circumstances: “When I was placed in East (Mother Theodore Hall) a short time ago with a roommate — oh so hard! Maybe not like Mary but as Linda who found adjustment so difficult. My roommate was so helpful!!! I kept asking my God to give me courage. I did pray and pray…. ‘Linda, do not be afraid. I love you… I’m with you all the time, you know this — as in years past.’”
Sister Rosemary Ward reflected on some of her own “Do not be afraid” moments: “There were times of growth, trust and letting go; times of wonder and awe, and failure;” and the “The Most High is with you!” moments: “There were times of joy, celebration, and friendship; times to serve, obey, forgive and ask forgiveness; time for God and God’s work.”
And if Sister Regis McNulty could speak of her life, I think this is what she would say — that the Most High was with her enabling her to overcome her own demons, favoring her in her efforts to bring others to find new life.
For others of the jubilarians, God’s help was experienced in another of the angel’s assurances: “The spirit of God will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
That’s how Sister Patty Fillenwarth described what happened to her in January of 1994 as she waited for the opening of Providence Family Services. “The night before, I thought. ‘What in the world are you doing? What do you know about opening a counseling center?’ But open we did and we never looked back. … Every time I accompanied a client up the stairs I thought, ‘the spirit of God will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’ …. probably not those precise words, but the sentiment was there each time.”
Sister Rita Wade expressed a similar sentiment, “When I reflect on my life it’s so apparent that God has been with me to “overshadow” me. He/She has sent so many beautiful persons to be with me — at just the right time. I think of this as being the Providence of God in my life.”
Sister Kay Manley lifted up the way the Spirit of God has been with her in children, special needs children, teachers, parents and even high school boys. “the Spirit of God came upon me in a special way as administrator of SPs in the autumn of their lives.”
And Sister Rosemary Schmalz is looking to the power of the Most High to help her at this particular moment in her life: “As I moved from one ministry to another, I always felt I had the wherewithal to make a successful transition. But with this new segment of the journey called aging, I am more and more aware that my next set of skills and talents aren’t of great use. It is an adventure into a totally different approach to living, an invitation to experience ‘the power of the Most High’ rather than my own power. Let me say ‘Yes.’”
Luke’s Gospel not only recounts Mary’s yes, but also shares the news of Elizabeth’s impossible pregnancy — another sign to Mary that she should cooperate with the designs of Providence — for with God nothing is impossible.
Sister Ann Marie Boyce’s message echoes many of the thoughts expressed by the jubilarians: “’… with God nothing is impossible’ for God has helped me all the days of my life as a Sister of Providence. I have been happy and enjoyed life since I entered the juniorate in 1944 and then the novitiate in 1948.”
This line was foundational in Sister Louise Schroeder’s life. “Through my grade school and high school years, I admired the patience, kindness, and loving care of the sisters — never dreamed of the vocation for me! Until I read or heard, ‘Do not be afraid — all things are possible with God.’”
Similarly, Sister Brigid Ann Bonner recounted: “What and how long does it take to transform a typical 18-year-old teenager into a Woman of Providence? Sixty years of love and support from women I call my “sisters.” Sixty years of leaning with all my might on Providence, which has never failed me. … As I write these words my heart swells with love and pride. Nothing is impossible with God!”
Sister James Michael Kesterson’s reflection on these words brought to mind the obedience she received to become the principal of Our Lady of Greenwood Catholic School. “Just as Mary had her doubts, I, too, could not imagine being called to serve in a leadership role at a Catholic school. I soon realized that as the angel said ….. ‘For with God nothing is impossible.’ Forty-two years later, I look back on the privilege of serving as principal in two Catholic schools. In this service, I was able to reach more lives in various capacities not only as educator but as mentor, advisor, and role model for our community. I have been so blessed.” Sister Grace Marie Meehan’s reflection took a similar direction: “Seventy years ago, I entered the Congregation thinking I would be teaching children for the rest of my life. I did that for more than 20 years, then God’s Providence had other things in store for me — the renewal team, administrator of the Infirmary, nursing in various positions, retirement, volunteer work. Truly with God nothing is impossible.”
And I can’t help but think how many times Sister Eileen Dede has overcome the impossible as she has rallied from near death. Her response to this invitation to share her thoughts perhaps reveals her secret, “I have an ongoing devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary. Mary has granted many favors.”
And perhaps Mary’s greatest favor to all of us was her powerful fiat: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Here is how Sister Jane Michael Dwyer described the impact of these words on her journey: “These words of Mary have been said many times a day… Mary’s faith, hope and love expressed in these words have been an inspiration to me. They are my “lighthouse” that signals me to stay on the straight and narrow path as I continue my life’s journey as an S.P.
Sister Joan Mary Schaefer remembered a time when after 20 years of being “sent” on Mission she was asked to be the principal at Our Lady of Providence School in St. Louis. Her response? “Let it be done according to your Word.”
And the first time I met Sister Michaela Galvin she had the unhappy task of being the principal asked to close the Immaculata High School in Washington, DC. “Thy will be done.”
Donna Butler related a time when she struggled with intense anxiety and fear that she would not be accepted for final vows. Finally one day she went to the chapel to pray: “I offered my life without reservation to do whatever it was God desired of me,” Donna recalled. “That moment was probably the most foundational ‘yes’ of my life even as Mary’s “yes” was in her life.”
The Annunciation account does not end with Mary’s yes. Luke goes on to say: “And the angel departed from her.”
And though many of us might be thinking — “and yes, this is when all the trouble started” — not so for Jubilarian Sister Laurette Bellamy. For Laurette, this is when the joy began—the joy of being right there every day with Jesus. When seen with the eyes of faith, the challenge presented to Mary became an opportunity, a gift given by God that changed the world. This optimism has guided Laurette’s life.
And Sister Gloria Memering, well, she has had her own visit from an angel: “For 40 years I’ve treasured in my heart a “child-angel’s” revelation of how our Incarnate Jesus acts in communion with us. This child, seated on the carpet in the front row in music class, tugged on my skirt saying ‘please stoop down so I can kiss you.’” Gloria continued, “Yes, that’s what Jesus does: stoops down to lift us into the intimacy of God’s love.”
God’s love is so evident in the lives of these women we celebrate today. We thank you, Jubilarians, for your lessons of encouragement. We thank you for your lives of consecrated service. We thank you for the way your yes helps to lift us into the intimacy of God’s love.
It is toward Love incarnate that we move during this Advent Season. May we like Mary and our Jubilarians welcome Love with a resounding YES.