Journals and Letters week 46: God’s flowers
“Our Lord has again plucked a flower from his garden at St. Mary’s.”
Our reading begins with Mother Theodore informing the community, via a Letter Circular, that Sister Josephine (Hannah Monaghan) has died. The original recipients of this news, as well as all who have read it since, experience this poignant image of God claiming a treasure from a very special place that is dear to God’s heart. The elegance of this metaphor struck me. It seems to invite a sharing of the range of emotions experienced with the death of a loved one.
The young sister
Mother Theodore followed the death announcement with a telling of this young (aged 21) sister’s story. We learn that she lived her faith and her vocation in a most holy and virtuous way. And she approached her death with serenity. At the same time, Mother Theodore acknowledged an aspect of Sister Josephine’s life that caused her some disappointment. She lamented that sister “did not take sufficient care of her health” and that this neglect is “the only cause of pain she ever gave me.”
From another source (“History of the Sisters of Providence, Volume I,” p. 737) we learn that Mother Theodore added the admonition that “ … the health of a Sister of Providence belongs not to herself but to God.” In the midst of her grief, she used the circumstances of Sister Josephine’s death to advocate that her daughters practice self-care. She counseled that doing so honors God who bestows the gift of life. God wants those to whom it is given to use it wisely.
The outpouring of grief continued as the community shared their experiences of loss. Sister St. Francis Xavier recorded that “grief-stricken Father Corbe could hardly finish the prayers at her grave.” (“History, Volume I,” p. 736) And, like many who grieve, there was a need for a wider sharing of the loss. Sister St. Francis sent a long account of the death to the community in France. Another more public sharing occurred when an account, probably written by Dr. Read, was published in the “Wabash Courier.” It included a reference to the effect her death had on the community: “Of all that stricken sisterhood, she [Sister Josephine] alone is calm.”
We can see that Josephine’s death touched the Providence Community deeply. I found myself understanding their responses. They mirrored my personal reaction to the death of loved ones and friends. It seems that we have an innate need to share our sorrow with others. We have a need to acknowledge the tension we may hold between giving voice to painful loss and also hoping and trusting in the promise of resurrection.
Missing Mother Theodore
Our “Journals and Letters” editor immediately followed with another Letter Circular that also holds poignant meaning for us. This call of the sisters to their annual retreat is noteworthy for being rather brief and for being the last one Mother Theodore would ever send. Her continuing illness prevented her from participating in the retreat. Her longed for “consolation of seeing [them] all, fervent and united, which is the greatest happiness that I can have in this world” was not to be experienced. Equally sad is that the sisters, who were departing for their missions at the retreat’s end, were not able to bid farewell to their Mother. Certainly, this was a painful time for them all.
The final portion of this week’s readings includes three letters Mother Theodore wrote to several Sisters (Gabriella, Veronica and Basilide). In each one, she showed her maternal concern specific to that sister’s unique gifts and challenges. She counseled, mentored, cajoled and loved them for who they were and for what they could accomplish in their ministries as Sisters of Providence. Mother Theodore’s words that we continue to read, her stories that we still retell and the prayers and love that she has for all in the Providence Community up to this day and into the future call us to live the legacy of our Providence namesake.
For your reflection
Volume I (pages 735-737) of the “History of the Sisters of Providence” contains additional information about Sister Josephine. Dr. Read’s tribute, that was printed in the “Wabash Courier,” is on page 737. Perhaps you might want to spend some time reading and reflecting on it.
Was there anything in any of the Letters Circular or in the individual letters to Sisters Gabriela, Veronica or Basilide that lead to an insight that you would like to share?