The tradition of making and exchanging Christmas sweets goes back a long time—including recipes created by 16th- and 17th-century nuns in Mexico.
After sugar arrived in the country, sisters began to make sometimes complicated holiday confections, which they used as ways to thank donors and raise money.
|CIRUELAS RELLANAS de Almendra|
During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were murdered, the Benebikira Sisters sheltered hundreds of orphans and others who sought refuge in their convents. At the Benebikira motherhouse in the village of Save, a militia stormed the convent and demanded that the sisters separate themselves by ethnic groups. The sisters said no—aware that at other convents 20 sisters had been killed for standing up to the militants. The militia then looted all their food, cut the water lines, and told the sisters they would return to kill them.
When the genocide ended, the sisters found themselves caring for about 350 orphans, most of them traumatized after witnessing the brutal murders of their parents. The children “had food and clothing,” Sister M. Juvenal Mukamurama told Kathleen L. Sullivan of the National Catholic Reporter, “but it was no life for them. Family is very important in our country. They needed a family. So we decided to build community houses and make families.” The sisters built 39 houses and grouped the orphans into “families” of six to eight children.
Benebikira means "Daughters of Mary" in Kinyarwanda, the native language of Rwanda. About 56 percent of Rwanda's population of more than 10 million is categorized as Catholic. Founded in 1919, the Benebikira Order is native to Rwanda and today has about 380 women religious whose primary mission is education. They run two preschools, eight primary schools, three vocational schools, and 13 secondary boarding schools in Rwanda and Burundi. Since the genocide they have opened four new schools.
Last September the Benebikira Sisters were honored with the Courage of Conscience Award by the Peace Abbey, a Sherborn, Massachusetts multifaith retreat and teaching center dedicated to nonviolence, peacemaking, and social justice. At the award presentation, Sister Mukamurama said: “It is nice to know people appreciate what we did and what we do. We do not do the work to be appreciated, but this appreciation does give us encouragement.”
“The sisters,” said Dot Walsh, program coordinator at the Peace Abbey, “told us it was the first time they had publicly been acknowledged for the courage and faith they displayed during the genocide, and they were very touched.”
The sisters have also established the Ministry of Hope, Healing, and Reconciliation in Rwanda to provide pastoral counseling for those affected by the genocide and to train young adults to serve as peer counselors.
“Rwanda wants to move forward,” said Sister Mukamurama, who is marking her 40th anniversary as a Benebikira sister. “We want to build our country, our relationships, a new life. We are no longer seen as Tutsi or Hutu. We live together. We are no longer separate. We are Rwandans.” A Benebikira Sisters Foundation Scholarship Video:
After returning to the U.S. from working in Papua New Guinea, Sacred Heart Missionary Sister Dorothy Fabritze was at a convention of the United States Catholic Mission Association when she heard about an opportunity to answer a pressing need—in circus ministry.
Keeping in mind the charism of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart to reach out to those who have not heard the message of God’s love or are lax in their response, she asked Sister Bernard Overkamp, another Sacred Heart Missionary with whom she had worked in New Guinea, to join her. Although both were hesitant at first, they soon fell in love with their new mission. They eventually landed jobs with the “Greatest Show on Earth,” the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Sister Dorothy is one of the circus’ schoolteachers. “We have 19 schoolchildren, and I’m responsible for nine of these, grades one, two, and three,” Sister Dorothy says. She is also available for religious education and preparing children for sacraments. Occasionally adults approach her for marriage preparation or instruction in the Catholic faith. She has led interdenominational Bible studies and taught English.
A seamstress in the ladies’ wardrobe, Sister Bernard helps to maintain and handle the women’s costumes before, during, and after the shows. With others in her department, she makes sure everyone is dressed correctly before they go out on the floor, fixing dresses and shoes if necessary. “And then my ministry is to be with the young girls,” Sister Bernard says, “listen to them, listen to their stories, listen to their heartaches.”
|SISTERS Bernard Overkamp, left, and Dorothy Fabritze
walk toward their trailer at the Ringling Bros.
and Barnum & Bailey Circus
(Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News).
The 300 members of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus come from 18 different countries. For some of the younger artists it is their first time away from home. Others have grown up in the extended circus family.
New performers soon find out they can “go to Sister” to talk about faith matters or other personal issues. In her contacts with the artists, Sister Bernard always stresses the idea of circus as family. “I see her forming this oneness in how she deals with the young women,” says Sister Dorothy, “how she deals with their relationship issues at that time in their lives, how she encourages them and directs, guides . . . . She tells them, ‘Let’s stay together, let’s work together, let’s be a family, let’s respect one another.’ ”
“Faith is alive and well, whatever faith tradition it is,” Sister Dorothy says, pointing out that religion has always played an important role among circus people. “When you have a job that is more dangerous than some, you rely on your faith.”
“This is my goal,” says Sister Dorothy, “to be a living, breathing presence of God in this society called circus. The message that God does love, God does forgive, God is continually there for us, is a very unifying, making-us-one concept.”
Adapted from the Focolare Movement’s monthly Living City magazine (October 2009) (livingcitymagazine.com).
Sister Jane Omlor, O.S.F., a Franciscan sister of Tiffin, Ohio, lived for 10 years in Mingo County, West Virginia where she saw mountaintop-removal mining leave her and her neighbors without well water. Seeing environmental destruction firsthand, she coordinated the construction of the Web of Life Ecology Center, built primarily with recycled materials. Earlier, while living in Spencer, West Virginia, she organized and assembled a “straw bale” chapel. Now, in Tiffin, she’s project manager for the building of a straw bale house she will live in.
The house, named Little Portion Green, is an effort of Project STRAW (Saving Today’s Resources In Awesome Ways), which itself is part of the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin. The home will serve as a demonstration and educational facility to show how a house does not have to “use any more energy than we can produce ourselves,” Omlor says, and save resources by using passive solar design, solar panels, straw bale insulation with earth plaster, Energy Recovery Ventilation, and other systems. It will be the first certified passive-energy structure in Ohio and the first certified passive straw-bale house in the United States.
Designed in the style of a “little Ohio farmhouse," as Omlor describes it, the 1,500-square-foot home will have two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. What it won’t have are a furnace and an air conditioning system. The house will be heated and cooled with an energy-recovery ventilation system or electric air-exchange unit. It will have electricity but rely on solar power.
Underneath the house’s concrete slab are four feet of a material called millcell, a product from Germany made from recycled glass, which prevents cold from radiating up into the house and helps keep heat inside. The roof will be made largely of recycled steel. Interior doors, railings, and other elements were salvaged for reuse from the St. Francis convent when a portion of the building was razed. Extra-large, triple-pane, high-efficiency windows will be mostly south-facing with deep-set sills. The rounded walls—and that’s where the bales come in—will be insulated with bales of locally grown straw and covered with an earth-tone clay plaster—all sustainable materials.
The house is expected to cost about $100,000, about half of which has been raised so far. Straw-bale houses cost more to build, but the savings come on utility bills. Almost 300 donors have "bought" a bale of straw for $100 each and will have their names etched into a glass "truth window." "In every straw-bale house there's a 'truth window' because there's always a skeptic that walks in and says, “This is not built of straw” because you can't see the straw," Omlor told the Toledo Blade. "So you open up this door and there's the straw."
Illustrating the continuing fascination with Hildegard is a new film, Vision (like the title!), from German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta and starring Barbara Sukowa as Hildegard. Filmed in medieval German cloisters, Vision follows Hildegard’s life from her childhood entrance into a convent to her becoming its leader 30 years later. The film is in German with English subtitles.
Watch the film’s trailer, and watch what I guess you could call a Hildegard music video:
|Award-winning DVD on Sisters Under
Sylvania Franciscan Sister Judy Zielinski, O.S.F., writer/producer for NewGroup Media in South Bend, Indiana, recently received a Gabriel Award from the Catholic Academy for Communication Art Professionals for her documentary Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism. This one-hour film tells the story of sisters in Eastern Europe imprisoned from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 for openly practicing their religious faith.
These survivors—now in their 70’s, 80‘s, and 90’s—lived through various attempts of Communist regimes to suppress religion and religious expression. Almost 60 sisters were interviewed in cities ranging from Warsaw, Poland and Budapest, Hungary to Bratislava, Slovakia, Bucharest, Romania, and L’viv, Ukraine. Additional filming was done in the Toledo, Ohio area using Sylvania Franciscan Sisters as actors.
View the film’s trailer here.
|Award-winning DVD on Sisters Under
|THE T206 from 1909
A mint-condition card sold for $2.6 million in 2007, and although the sisters’ card is not in good condition, it is expected to fetch up to $200,000 at auction.
"It just boggles your mind," said Sister Virginia Muller. "I can't remember a time when we have received anything like this."
Religious communities are recognizing the need to expand their online communications, especially in the area of social media, if they want to get the word out about themselves and attract potential new members. Helping to lead the way are the Sisters of Providence, who were recognized for their social media marketing "best practices" by the National Communicators Network for Women Religious at their annual conference last September in Denver.
The Sisters of Providence use various forms of social media to help share their community's mission and ministry. In the last year the Sisters of Providence have seen a growth of interest in vocations, as well as other activities, that they believe to be directly related to their social media and website work.
During the past 26 years Reverend Michael Pfleger, a white Catholic priest who pastors a black Chicago parish, has never been far from the spotlight. His aggressive, innovative leadership has empowered thousands, making St. Sabina church one of the largest and most active black Catholic congregations in the country. At the same time, Pfleger has been continually criticized as a trouble-making maverick, a renegade cleric, and a publicity hound.
This biography concentrates on Father Pfleger’s work at St. Sabina from his earliest days there and covers his efforts to build up the parish, his activism, his work to rejuvenate the community, his battles with church leaders, and his strong relationship with his parishioners. It provides a fascinating look at the inner workings of the Catholic Church, the traditions of the black pulpit, and what it takes to change laws in a major American city.
There are Nun Runs. These are come-and-see events where women discerning their vocation visit several women’s communities in succession (in fact there’s a Nun Run coming up November 12-13 in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky area—click on the link and scroll down).
Then there is the Run for Nuns, where people run to raise money to help prospective members of religious orders pay off their college debt. And don't forget nuns who run, like triathlete Sister Madonna Bruder and ultramarathoner Sister Mary Elizabeth Lloyd.
Now we hear about the upcoming fourth annual Run with the Nuns Motorcycle Rally and Show this Saturday, October 23, 2010 at the Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Casino & Racetrack in Bossier City, LA. The event benefits children's health through parent education, services to abused children, teen obesity prevention, and other child-welfare programs.
Born in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico and the eldest of 15 children, he has served as the Chicago archdiocese’s liaison for Hispanic ministry and is a member of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit.
The “Inspired images” and “More about the artists . . . .” articles here on the VISION website feature the work of several members of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, including Sister Mary Baird, P.H.J.C., who is involved with the MoonTree Community, a Poor Handmaid ministry devoted to art, spirituality, and ecology.
|THE SITE of MoonTree Lodge, gallery, and shop
timber-raising and wind turbine installation.
The current project consists of three separate buildings that will target Gold Level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification: a two-story heavy-timber residential lodge for the staff, a gallery with studios for clay, painting, and textiles, and a shop studio for wood and metal arts. The construction of the LEED buildings and solar water heating and wind turbine reflect the Poor Handmaids’ belief in the wise use and care of resources.
What do the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God and the Pittsburgh Pirates have in common (besides being located in the city of Pittsburgh)? A connection to the singer and actor Bing Crosby (yes, there was a “Bing” before the Microsoft search engine).
If you go to the vestibule of the Mary Immaculate Chapel at the sisters’ motherhouse, you’ll find listed in bronze among the thousands of other donors to the Chapel Fund of the 1940s and 1950s the name of Bing Crosby, writes Franciscan congregational archivist Mr. Dennis Wodzinski in the fall 2010 issue of The Whitehall Franciscan.
Bing’s name got there because of the determination of the then-motherhouse chaplain, Father Joseph Skripkus, who was so impressed with Bing’s performance in the movie The Bells of St. Mary’s, in which Crosby played a Roman Catholic priest attempting to save a New York City parish school from closure, that he wrote Bing a letter saying: “I want to say that I admire you and your work greatly. The roles you play are clean and will do much to prove to Hollywood that decency in films pays.” (Skripkus also included a copy of a short work by one Harold Bell Wright called The Uncrowned King which he thought “could become a pearl of the silver screen.” Father Joe, by the way, was not shy about letter-writing. In his personal papers is correspondence from members of the Roosevelt family, including a proclamation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.)
After Crosby acknowledged the note, Father Joe kept writing, including a letter about the motherhouse building that he concluded by saying: “Dear Friend, on account of your great charity, I . . . ask you to erect one more eternal monument, which will speak loudly of your charity as long as the St. Francis convent will exist.” Apparently the appeal succeeded.
BING CROSBY with Pirates manager
Bing was so nervous about jinxing the team that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the seventh and deciding game against the Yankees, played at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field 50 years ago on October 13, 1960. So he flew to Paris and listened to it on the radio. Some of his employees, however, filmed the game on kinescope so that he could see it in its entirety when he returned. (Kinescope recorded television programs by filming the picture from a video monitor. It was just about the only way to record TV before the widespread use of videotape. By the way, Crosby had a role in the development of videotape, when in 1951 engineers at Bing Crosby Enterprises demonstrated a black-and-white videotape recorder; Crosby backed the effort not only because of the commercial possibilities of the new medium but also supposedly so he could play golf and watch programs later.)
And watch the game when he got back we assume he did, because it ended up being one the most dramatic in World Series history: Pittsburgh second-baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run against Ralph Terry to give the Pirates a 10-9 win and a World Series victory over the mighty Yankees (who between 1947 and 1964 appeared in the World Series 15 times, winning 10 of them, including five in a row from 1949-1953).
Like most games of the era, it was thought no complete recording existed, its video documentation limited to newsreel highlights. But, as first reported in the New York Times, the entire kinescope copy of NBC’s TV broadcast of Game 7 was recently found in a wine cellar at Crosby’s old home near San Francisco. The films, which record every out of the game, are being transferred to DVD, and the game will be shown during a special on MLB Network this December.
“Maz’s” historic homer from a newsreel:
Two weeks ago many prominent Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders held what they called an emergency summit in Washington, D.C. to address the interreligious tensions in the United States. The group released a statement denouncing anti-Muslim bigotry and urging respect for this country’s tradition of religious liberty. R. Scott Appleby, professor of history and director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, was interviewed on PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly about the current situation.
While anti-minority sentiment in American history is nothing new, he’s sees something different in what’s going on now. “First of all, stories like this are immediate. They are broadcast right away, and we quickly hear not only the story itself but the echo of the story, what other people are saying about it. It takes on a life of its own. The second quality is the pervasiveness. It’s everywhere, that is to say, a story that has this kind of charge to it, by that I mean anti-Islamic feeling of whatever type, can be broadcast in a way and the media covers everything in such a way that someone who really doesn’t have a great standing or any expertise or knowledge but who wants to stir the pot, wants to get some attention wherever they may be from, can attract attention by pushing the envelope, doing something outrageous, and the cycle begins again. Another story, immediate echo, and we’re in the middle of a controversy.
“One thing that’s similar to other periods in our nation’s history of nativism, of attacks against people perceived as foreign, whether they are from another nation or another religion, what’s in common is we’re in an economic crisis. These episodes flare up when Americans are feeling displaced or threatened that their economic well-being and even their citizenship is somehow called into question by a threatening minority. And, of course, Islam in America is a tiny, tiny minority. Why pick on Islam? Because for nine years, almost a decade, the popular mentality is we’re in some kind of war with Islam, which of course is a distorted reading that’s not sufficiently shouted down by the right people. We are not in a war with Islam. We are in a conflict with a tiny minority of radicals who are denounced by the majority of Muslim leaders and Muslims around the world.
“There’s nothing about Islam itself that makes Islam stand apart from other religions. All the major world religions have texts and traditions that can be twisted, that can be interpreted to condone violence, including Christianity. Islam is not better or worse in that regard, that is, in what the sources of Islam say about violence. There are verses in the Quran and in the Hadith of the Prophet, the traditions of the Prophet, that can be read in either direction. Islam itself as a religion is in a different context today in the United States than Christianity or Hinduism in India, and so there are a lot of factors that make parts of the Islamic world and parts of the reaction in this country more vehement, more charged, and it doesn’t have a lot to do with the religion itself.
“The assumption [is] that Islam is inherently, that in its very nature Islam is violent, evil, that it’s a religion that produces murderers, liars, thieves, unpatriotic, etc. I’m a Catholic. The same thing was said about Catholics, and there are some parts of Catholic history, by the way, that can be interpreted as being anti-democratic and anti-American. The popes denounced religious freedom in the 19th century. So there are parts of a tradition, whether it’s Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, that can be lifted up, twisted, and used as a cudgel, as a weapon, against people you don’t like because you are fearing them for a variety of reasons, and that’s what’s happened to Islam today.”
On a related issue, here's Appleby commenting on President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo address to the Muslim world:
|ABBOT Barnabas Senecal, O.S.B.
with some of his photographs
“Taking photographs reminds me of the positive,” Senecal told Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (Sept. 10, 2010). “Monastic mindfulness is pursuing what [Saint] Benedict taught about being aware daily of your presence of God with you and in the world. It’s mindfulness of creation and of sharing that with others.
“I am nourished by taking pictures,” he said. “Yes, it’s a spiritual exercise in that I don’t just take a picture and store it. I will reflect on it. Entering into these moments of photography is a conviction that I’m seeing something that I didn’t make, the other person didn’t make. It’s there . . . because it’s part of God’s creation.”
Senecal is also known as the “Singing Abbot” for his fine baritone voice, which he uses not only at abbey liturgies but also at Confirmation Masses he celebrates at the request of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann throughout the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
|Sister Angela with miniature horses|
Originally a community of 20 sisters, it has dwindled to three: Sister Angela Chandler, 54, who oversees the convent and runs the place with Bill Chandler, her brother, and his wife Becky, and two sisters Chandler cares for: 95-year-old Sister Holy Spirit Aleman and 89-year-old Sister Joseph Palacios.
“It’s gotten to be a lot just to try to keep up. It’s too much for us,” Chandler told the Associated Press. “We’ve reached a burnout phase, I think, and so much of our energies have gone outward and it’s time to focus them inward before we totally die out. It feels like it’s time for us to move on without the horses and without the tourists.”
The monastery is worth nearly $2 million with the horses, $1.7 million without, and includes a gift shop, commercial kitchen, chapel, 18-bedroom residence, and several smaller buildings. Chandler has received inquiries from potential buyers interested in creating a retreat center or an assisted living facility.
Miniature horses have been bred for over a century after owners selectively mated their smallest horses. Standing at about 34 inches at the shoulder, the animals can weigh as much as 350 pounds and pull carts carrying two adults. They are not strong enough to carry a rider.
The idea to raise horses first came to Chandler’s predecessor, the late Sister Bernadette Muller (coauthor of Sister Bernadette: Cowboy Nun from Texas, a copy of which you reporter, who has also visited the monastery, is a proud owner). Muller oversaw a cat- and bird-raising business but switched to miniature horses once she discovered their earning potential. A trained mare can sell for $3,000, and gelded yearlings start at $500. In 1985 the monastery outgrew it 20-acre site in Corpus Christi and moved to Brenham.
“We were just expecting to—as with the birds—just quietly raise horses and sell them to a few people here and there,” Chandler says. Instead, tourists came from across the country and as far as Tasmania and Russia to see the horses. Chandler estimated the monastery has welcomed 20,000 tourists and earned about $250,000 each year through admissions, donations, and sales from horses and the gift shop.
She says the plans are to bring more sisters into the monastery and focus on the nuns’ spiritual life. The monastery also gets income from selling altar breads, and Chandler plans to expand her desktop publishing and design business.
“It’s been wonderful and we’ve loved meeting these people,” Chandler says. “But at the same time, all good things must come to an end. It’s time for us to change focus.”
|A car of the "Mother Express"|
Though a Roman Catholic born in Macedonia, Mother Teresa is a national hero to people of all faiths in India. "The poor were attracted to Mother because they perceived that her compassion was authentic. In her presence, they felt consoled and assured that God loves them and cares for them," said Sister Prema, the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity.
The Missionaries of Charity now have 765 houses in 137 countries with more than 5,020 sisters, 370 brothers, and 38 priests.
A few months ago discerner Jon Perrotti wrote VISION to say that at the time he was "taking part in an 'observership,' a noncommittal residential experience of monastic life, at Mount Saviour Monastery in Pine City, New York." And so," he said, "if sharing my experience can ever be of any help to other men or women considering a monastic vocation, this is the time to capture it with words. . . ." Here’s some of what he said.
"My life has afforded me a great deal of travel and adventure, and I have had much contact and rich encounters with people of other faiths, and indeed even religious experience outside of Christian tradition. I first meditated in a Zen Buddhist temple when I was a 17-year-old exchange student in Japan and practiced meditation off and on into my adulthood. I have done Hindu kirtan chanting and took part in a sweat lodge ceremony on an American Indian reservation. I have had conversations with and been impressed by the intellectual honesty and integrity of atheists, taken part in interfaith dialogue and prayer with Muslims, and danced and drummed with pagans. Yet, for me, [my] vocation would not be remotely possible if I could not bring my heart and mind into exclusive loyalty to one faith.
"I happen to have been born and raised Catholic, and something consistently drew me back to a Catholic expression of Christian faith, but the major turning point of my life that brought me to where I am today happened at the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé. There, the fragmented church, the broken Body of Christ, comes together to declare that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. I learned there that the monastic life is not lived just for the sake of the life itself and its consequences to the monk. It is a radical life of following Christ courageously focused on powerful prayer and powerful witness.
"What a gamble it is to act on the hope that I can make . . . a difference in the world with prayer . . . . Do I really believe in God enough to take such a risk with my life? I don't want to be wasted! Can I trust God to hear my prayers? Where do you start? The problems of the world are so great. Am I running away from the challenge by going off to pray? Not if I believe the words of our Lord. He promised us that we would move mountains with our prayer. By the grace of God, that is what monks are doing and are called to do—move mountains."
He has some important questions. "How about proclaiming the gospel? The Lord told us: ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house’ (Matthew 5:15). . . . The risk of failing to proclaim the gospel is the same for monks as it is for any other Christian. But the monastery has a unique and powerful opportunity for witness in the modem world, perhaps more than it has in any time in the history of Christendom, because as the world becomes more outrageous in its injustice, depravity, greed, and insane pace, the anomaly of the monastery stands out in stark relief for simply not following suit. More importantly, something happens when believers come together and dedicate their full lives to prayer and praising God. The Holy Spirit makes its presence known. An encounter with real holiness has got to be the most powerful witness to the existence of God that anyone, believer or nonbeliever, will find.
"Is all this vow-taking biblical? I was always particularly impressed with Jesus' admonishment about making oaths: ‘Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black’ (Matthew 5:36). This always rang true for me—live in the now, man! I didn't even like to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag because I thought, why should I pledge allegiance to my country? Who knows what our government will do tomorrow! Someone pointed out to me that vows are really statements of hope. A couple who make vows of marriage join in a common statement of hope that, with God's grace, their love will survive. I can conceive of taking vows because I have hope in Christ . . . and if I believe he is calling me to a particular life, I can make a vow as a statement of hope that I may be able to answer that call to the end.
"The more daunting fears are the fears of one who has made his bet with Christ. . . . If my choice to follow the Lord puts a wedge, or even a world of distance, between me and others, be they strangers whom I would have befriended or members of my own dear family, will that sacrifice have been for nothing? Would God let me make such a mistake? What if there's not a God, and my choice to live a life of prayer is a choice to waste my life? The greater fears about a monastic vocation are human ones. Surely there will be days when God seems to be absent. I think that is true for any pope or street-corner preacher, as it is for all who seek him through their lives. . . . So I will do my best on those days to sing with the psalmist, ‘O Lord . . . . why do you hide your face from me?’ (Psalm 88:14). I pray such days will be few. I believe they will be few, because so far God keeps showing up, amazingly."
Sister Joellen Tumas runs Casa Catalina, a food pantry in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. It serves more 350 households a week, but "when you minister to the hungry, it's not just about food," Tumas, a pastoral associate at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church who has led Casa Catalina since 1990, told Dawn Turner Trice in the Chicago Tribune. "Children lose their parents. People get evicted. Families get their gas cut off. We just try to help as best we can to make sure basic needs are met."
Every 15 days people come for food—the bulk of which is provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository—as well as donated clothes, toiletries and supplies for babies and children, and help with government forms.
Tumas, 67, grew up in Back of the Yards when the stench from the Chicago Stockyards inundated the neighborhood, which was then made up of Eastern European immigrants. "We grew accustomed to pulling together," said Tumas, who has spent much of her career as a teacher, child-care worker, and school spiritual director in the neighborhood. "So this is nothing new."
While the Archdiocese of Chicago was closing parishes the descendants of European immigrants had left, the community's Mexican-American congregations were outgrowing their churches. Tumas learned Spanish and began teaching the new residents English. In 2005 Casa Catalina partnered with Catholic Charities to provide more services, including counseling, rental assistance, legal clinics, blood drives, and health fairs. "Many of our brothers and sisters are diabetic, so we've assembled special diabetic bags with high-fiber spaghetti, brown rice, and sugar-free Jell-O," Tumas said. "It's important to not just feed, but teach about nutrition and living a healthier lifestyle."
Many religious communities are embracing a "green" lifestyle (see the posts on the Sisters of Providence, a group of English Benedictine sisters, and an Austrian monastery and an article in the upcoming 2011 issue of VISION Magazine). We can add another to the list: the sisters of Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisconsin, an ecumenical community in the Benedictine tradition, which received the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum rating ever: 63 out of 69 points for sustainability, energy efficiency, and choice of materials. The building has bamboo flooring, solar panels, and windows oriented to maximize sunlight and prairie views.
|The monastery and part of its prairie|