Monday, December 28, 2015

Blessings of Beauty

December Sunset on Cheshire Lake                                               Wendy Krom

May the blessings of the winter sky take you by surprise
revealing scenes of beauty
that cause you to stop and notice
And may your soul be magnified
in such a way
that you too reflect a unique beauty
inviting another to stop and know the power of presence.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Africa, Part IV

Guest blog by Sister Maxyne Schneider, President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who is currently visiting missioning Sisters in Africa.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

If you look closely, you can see the donkey cart that is not an uncommon sight in the Rift Valley.

There are so many things that can be said further, even by someone who has been here just over a week. It is time to touch the surface of many things, realizing that the reality is deeper, broader, and more complex than what meets a visitor's eye. This is true of the Kenyan geography, flora and fauna, political and social interactions, the  ministries of all our sisters who have served in East Africa, and Pat's gifts that she has used here. Here are a few random observations in no special order:

Pat speaks fluent Kiswahili and is an amazing bargainer in the marketplaces, which are filled with scores of stalls and tarps laden with goods, mostly secondhand materials from the West. 
Everywhere we have gone we have seen remarkably beautiful fresh produce -- fruits, vegetables and tea from the plantations close to Kisii -- being sold from roadside stalls or in special marketplaces.
Not just the young sisters in formation, but older sisters, brothers, priests and other laypersons spoke to me of how Pat has accompanied them spiritually, sometimes through hard times.

Security measures are evident everywhere, including at the Nairobi supermarket, where security guards check car trunks and the underneath part of the car and where handbags are searched upon entry. This follows upon terrorist incidents of the past few years.

Pat has spoken often of the violence that occurred after the 2008 Presidential election and how deeply people have been effected by it. She herself needed to remain for some days at the Jesuit retreat house where she had just finished directing a retreat. The Divine Word sisters at the conference and retreat center where we were this past weekend sheltered workers and others from the region amid the violence. Effects of the violence linger.

On Sunday, as we moved back towards Nairobi, we went to the Nakuru National Park, where we saw many of East Africa's beautiful animals. On Monday during our final leg of the journey home we saw herds of zebra and Thompson's gazelles just grazing in fields that bordered the highway.
The natural beauty of the portion of Kenya that I have seen this week is stunning.

The extent of poverty and the rigors of life for the poor can weigh on the soul even from a distance. Pope Francis will visit one of Nairobi's largest slums during his upcoming visit.

Today we visited Tangaza University here in Nairobi, established with the collaboration of 22 religious congregations. We met Sr. Pat Kane's former student, Jeff, who now heads the communication department that Pat established. On the wall hangs a picture of Pat as first Director, sent by Sr. Mary Quinn in 2010 after she visited here and received a request for it from Jeff. With this visit today Pat Smith and I completed our pilgrimage to at least one site where each of our sisters has served.

It has been a remarkable privilege to be with Pat as she completes this mission that has encompassed most of her adult life and has fulfilled the early sense of God's call that she felt for the African mission. It has likewise been a gift to visit most of the places where our sisters have lived and ministered in Kenya, being reminded of what richness they have brought to our Congregation as well as to the people of Kenya. I have been aware all through this time here that, much like my predecessors in such visits, my purposes are to express congregational support for those who are here, to honor the past ministries of our sisters, and to be "eyes and ears" on behalf of the congregation in relating what I have experienced.

I leave with a sense of gratitude and admiration -- for Pat, for our sisters who have been in East Africa before her, and for the many people I have met in these past several days. There is a vibrancy in their faith that, to use Pat's words, appears to be integrated with the whole of their lives. Among the missioners, lay and religious, I feel a sense of warm community and an almost palpable sense of mission. Is it the urgency of the needs that are here in Kenya as well as in neighboring countries like South Sudan?

I have been enriched by this experience and will need time to let its effects deepen in me. We in the Community of St. Joseph are all enriched through the ministry of our sisters who have been here, knowing that where they have been, there we are. Let us welcome Pat back to her U.S. home after 42 years of mission in Africa and support her in her time of transition. Let us thank her and all those who preceded or  accompanied her in ministry here. We are blessed.

Sister Maxyne Schneider

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Africa, Part III

Guest blog by Sister Maxyne Schneider, President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who is currently visiting missioning Sisters in Africa.

October 12, 2015

During the past eight days as we visited community after community, some small part of Pat's very extensive ministry in the formation programs of both women's and men's congregations became very clear to me. Pat has been retreat director, spiritual director, presenter of programs that have been important parts in the formation of sisters, brothers and priests in many places in Kenya and other countries, as well. The novices, postulants, temporary professed and the now fully professed whom I met spoke with warm affection and great enthusiasm of her.

Pat with Sr. Mary McHale, CCVI, THE CCVI postulants
and the novices from the Franciscan Sisters and Franciscan brothers.

On Saturday, October 10, we were in Molo, Kenya at the very beautiful retreat and conference center run by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word (the same congregation whose sisters were good to our sisters in Louisiana). There Pat was feted at two farewell parties. The first was hosted by Sr. Mary McHale, CCVI, the postulants of her congregation, the novices from the Franciscan Brothers and the novices from the Franciscan Sisters. All of these young people had been together for the workshops and programs that Pat led for them over the past year. They included, not just spiritual sessions, but also a workshop on communication and craft sessions on baking, candle making, creating greeting cards and knitting hats and scarves on the circular frames that some of our sisters use.

As we were enjoying refreshments, one after another the young people left the room. They returned as a group with a song they composed for her and wearing or holding the various items that they had created with Pat. They were quite funny, and they clearly loved both honoring her and spoofing her. It was the kind of presentation that people do only for those they really love and enjoy. They presented Pat at the end with a scarf that one of them knitted for her using all the colors of the Kenyan flag.

In the evening it was the School Sisters of Notre Dame, with whom Pat has lived for many years, who honored her and their own Sr. Maris, who is also returning home to the States for good this month, too. Again it was the young congregational members, all natives of Africa, who gave tribute to and roasted both of these women who played such an important role in their formation. It was truly an African party with dancing, singing and much spontaneity. Gifts were given, hugs exchanged, and, as has been true at each place we have visited, I was asked if Pat might stay in Kenya just a little longer.

The novices of the Srs. of Loretto

Today, Monday, October 12, on our way back to Nairobi we stopped at the Sisters of Loretto, where Pat needed to return a book, say farewell to missioned friends, and fulfill a promise to the novices that she would come to say goodbye. One young novice, preparing for first vows in late  November, told me how good it was that Pat had directed her 30-day retreat earlier in her novitiate and how she had hoped that she might be her director for the shorter retreat just before her vow date. She was just one of many, many religious and lay persons who have spoken to me of Pat's impact on them in spiritual direction or retreat. Pat may physically be leaving Kenya, but her influence will clearly live on in the lives of individuals and of congregations.

Some photos will capture a tiny bit of the spirit of these farewell gatherings with some of Africa's congregations' young African members.

Sister Maxyne Schneider

Africa, Part II

Guest blog by Sister Maxyne Schneider, President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who is currently visiting missioning Sisters in Africa.

From Nairobi to the Kisii Diocese

The seven-hour trip from Nairobi to Kisii brought us on Wednesday, October 7 from mile-high Nairobi down to the floor of the Rift Valley, which runs from Israel and Jordan down to Southern Africa. The scenery of the descent was breathtaking. At one point I was surprised to see a small troop of baboons by the roadside.

As we crossed the Maasai territory of the valley, we were in the midst of herds of cattle and goats and those who tended them. Lack of rain left the area brown and dusty. As the afternoon progressed we saw saw children going home, all in the various bright uniforms that are used by both public and church-sponsored schools. The ascent into the high territory of Kisii brought us back to green vegetation and spectacular views of fertile hillsides.      

Our Sisters' First Mission in Ichuni in the Kisii Diocese

Ichuni was the site where Srs. Cecilia James and Bernadette were part of the early years of the first school for girls, a harambe, i.e., a school created by the people rather than by the government. Arriving in 1971 and living in very simple housing, they taught 300 girls in that school and taught boys in a neighboring school. Later on at various points they were joined in community living by Pat Smith, Sue Landry, and Dorothy Pilkington.

This is the house where Srs. Cecilia James and Mary Bernadette
first lived and where other sisters joined them.

As we had arrived in Ichuni we were met by a woman and her family to whom both Srs. Pat Smith and Dorothy Pilkington had been present. Beatrice was the first social worker with whom Pat worked in her ministry to women of the Diocese. Beatrice's smile and the presence of her daughters and grandchildren at the roadside as we arrived spoke of the importance of the family's relationship with our sisters. So did the fact that two of Beatrice's now adult daughters, Dorothy and Patricia, are named for them.

Fr. Thomas Matoke, another priest, and a seminarian
bring us to the old church, the one our sisters knew. 

The new church!

Sr. Bernadette's bedroom.

With Beatrice we went to the parish, meeting the current pastor, Fr. Thomas Matoke, who delayed plans to leave for another engagement to show us around. The house in which Bern, Ceil, Dorothy and Pat once lived still stands, but is used only for storage. As you look at the photos of the exterior of the house and of Bernadette's former bedroom, you may get a little sense of the simplicity with which they lived. The original church still stands, but a new church has been added to accommodate a congregation of 2000.  As I saw the young children in the schoolyards, I wondered if some might be the grandchildren of Bernadette's and Ceil's first pupils.

 After touring the church and school property, we were invited to visit with Beatrice and her daughters and three of her grandchildren in her simple home. Large posters on the walls spoke of the role of faith in their lives, as did Beatrice's request that we pray together before we left. Hospitality was extended in offering us milk from their cow tethered in the front yard. The impact on their family was further highlighted thorough Pat's receiving a few calls from Beatrice's son Nicholas, now a schoolteacher at a distance from Ichuni.

Beatrice, the first social worker with whom Pat worked in the diocesan
outreach to women, is joined by her daughters and grandchildren
in bidding farewell to Pat in Ichuni.

Our Stay at Nyabururu

On Wednesday night we arrived at Nyabururu,about a 45-minute drive from Ichuni. Now a house of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, this was a site where Pat Smith lived for several years when she was engaged in other ministries nearby. Down the road is St. Paul's Teachers College, where Sr. Mary Magdalene taught home science. One of the teachers, Elizabeth, left a meeting in order to show Pat and me around. While she didn't know Magdalene personally, having arrived just after Magdalene left, she said that she was grateful for the teaching materials that Magdalene left; these had made her first classes so much easier.

Young students preparing for teaching stand at the entrance to the campus
where Sr. Mary Magdalene taught home science. Her classroom is still in use for science studies.

When we left the College, Pat led us to the house where Magdalene lived and to the small building where Bernadette taught at the Upgrading Center, providing very basic schooling to sisters from an indigenous congregation. Bernadette taught them home science once a week. The sign on the door, "Home Ec," while faded, still remains.

The wider campus area that encompasses the college also has other schools. Education, apparently a Kenyan goal after achieving independence from Britain in the very early 1960's, is evident everywhere. Religious sisters are, it seems, everywhere, as well. We met young sisters from two different congregations on this property yesterday, all not yet born when our first sisters came here.

Friday's Visit to Our Second Mission Site in Sengera

Later this afternoon we drove to Sengera, where Pat and Sr. Kathy Gallagher were first missioned. Both began as teachers in the school.  Just before we left, I had a conversation with one of Pat's first students, Amina, who had traveled two hours from near the Tanzanian border for a farewell visit with Pat. She spoke of how education was in those days, when women in their twenties who had not had prior schooling had the opportunity to learn.  Pat and her students, she said, were age peers. The warm friendship begun then has remained through the years, and significant life moments were often shared. Pat used her tailoring skills to sew Amina's wedding dress. Pat was there in times of illness and times of celebration. Again today I saw the testimony to Pat's fruitful ministry here and I expand my thoughts to encompass the ministries of each of our other sisters who served in East Africa.

Srs. Kathy Gallagher and Pat Smith came to Sengera in 1973, two years after Srs. Ceil and Bernadette
went to Ichuni. What was a very small school when our sisters arrived now has an enrollment of 600.

Pat had not been back to Sengera in about 20 years. Some things had changed greatly, while others had not. The dirt road, probably the most rutted and rough that I had ever been on, had not changed. The boarding school for girls where Kathy Gallagher taught math and Pat taught biology and home science has grown to include a large campus and 600 secondary school girls. (Pat recalls that the enrollment earlier might have been 100 or fewer.) We were given a tour by the secretary, were surrounded by first-year students eager for their pictures to be taken, and introduced to staff from the kitchen to the library. They were so pleased to meet a teacher from the school's earliest years. Most staff we met were not yet born when Kathy and Pat came there in 1973.

We saw the exterior of the house where Pat and Kathy and later Noreen Moran lived as well as the exterior of the former church; a new large church has been built. The Catholic population and population in general appeared to have grown substantially.

As we returned to our lodging in Nyabururu, heading toward Kisii Town, we went into the campus of what is now Kisii University, now a beautiful and expansive campus. Dorothy Pilkington taught in the Education Department when the institution was Kisii College and had limited buildings. This was Dorothy's second mission in Kenya and part of the 11 years she spent in the country.

Impressions So Far and What's to Come

As I write this on Friday, October 9, I have been in Kenya just over four days. While it gives me no basis for any in-depth commentary, it does allow me to share the sharpness of first impressions. These are among them: the depth of the impact that our sisters have had on individuals and groups and the vibrancy of faith in the lives of those we have met.. As we went to the outdoor market, I was keenly aware of how hard people must work in order to support themselves and their families at the level that they do. I have found myself challenged by the contrast between my first-world living and the people's living with simple necessities

After meeting some truly beautiful and gracious people, it could be tempting to generalize the experience, but even these few days have shown that that would be a mistake. Beauty is not the whole of the reality; other human realities are surely here, too. The need for safety is apparent almost everywhere, from gates and fences around properties to refraining from taking pictures with the iPad as we are in the marketplaces. Poverty is all too evident, too, both in Nairobi and in this more rural area. It is a country both of great beauty and of great contrasts.

Tomorrow we will leave Nyabururu for a three-hour drive to Molo, where the SSND's will honor both Pat and one of their sisters as they return home from their many years of service in East Africa. This will be one leg of the journey back to Nairobi, where we plan to arrive on Monday.

We hope to visit in Nairobi the college where Sr. Pat Kane established the Communications Department and where one of her protégés now continues what she began. Perhaps this is a good theme for what this pilgrimage of remembering has been: seeds planted have borne abundant fruit. We can be proud and grateful for what our sisters have done in the course of 44 years.

Sister Maxyne Schneider

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Burkina Faso and London

Guest blog by Sister Maxyne Schneider, President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who is currently visiting missioning Sisters in Africa.

Sometimes gifts come in unexpected ways. A coup d'etat in Burkina Faso, two interlocking plane tickets with no easy or affordable rescheduling, and a network of sisters that spans the world. A week spent with the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions was both refreshment and further preparation.

Plans were for me to Join Sr. Linda Wilk and her mission colleague from Sheltering Wings in the capital of Burkina Faso on September 24, 2015. A Sheltering Wings board member from St. Louis was to go over at about the same time. We would be there together.

On September 16 a coup led by the elite military Presidential Guard overturned, at least temporarily, the interim government established in a coup a little less than one year earlier. Both air and land borders were closed. A curfew was put into effect. The U.S. Embassy issued an alert to US citizens traveling to Burkina Faso or already in the country. As the days went on it appeared that the situation might settled with the help of mediators from among other West African nations, but on the day on which I needed to make my travel decision, the situation worsened again. Once more the Embassy issued warnings. I made the decision not to go into Burkina Faso at this time. More importantly, though, Linda and Ruth were safe and in good contact with other missionaries there and had support from the Embassy.

How would I manage in London until my flight to Nairobi? Pat Smith and the remarkable network of sisters around the globe answered that. Pat emailed Sr. Margaret Doherty, RNDM, a sister with whom she had studied in Chicago, living now at her home base in London. "Yes, of course we can offer her hospitality, " was the instant response to Pat's request.

In this photo, taken in the London borough of Harrow in the backyard of the two houses of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, Pat Smith's good friend, Margaret Doherty, is on the far left. The group includes former and current missionaries and members of the provincial leadership for England and Ireland.

Being with the RNDM community was an especially good preparation for being with Pat. The  love for their many missions was apparent in animated conversation. Some among them had served in Kenya and knew Pat. One had worked in the catechetical program with former member Sue Landry.   Those who were "retired" from full-time ministry abroad let me know that it could be hard to leave a beloved mission.


In just two days in Nairobi with Pat I am experiencing, not just Pat's love for her ministries of 42 years here, but also the deep appreciation that colleagues, former retreatants, lay ministers and congregational leaders have for her. I have found myself, not at all surprised, but deeply moved by the clear affection and gratitude being expressed at every place we visit to say goodbye. I think, too, of the many, many more lives that have been affected in turn by those with whom she has worked directly.

Fr. Leo, SJ, a colleague of Pat at their retreat center in Nairobi, bids farewell.

On Tuesday the superior of the retreat center run by the Sacramentine Sisters spoke poignantly at the dinner they had for Pat. She said that while all of them felt sadness at the goodbye, they should have joy that Pat had been placed with them as part of their journey. She added that their young sisters in formation as well as their elders and those in between had been enriched by Pat's work with them. This was just one of several similar encounters of the first two days.

Farewell lunch with the Sacramentine Sisters where Pat has given many retreats.
When Pope Francis visits Kenya later this month, his immediate support staff will stay here.

Nairobi has made many first impressions on me in a short time. For one thing, there are so many religious and their "community of communities" is vibrant. Today at Mass at the small chapel of the Kiltegan Fathers, filled to capacity, religious and laity in an array of dress, Africans and those from abroad, prayed and sang with a liveliness that seemed remarkable to me. Just a week or so ago there was a celebration for the Year of Consecrated Life here. Over 1000 religious from 250 congregations across Kenya joined together for a few days of prayer, input and celebration. Those speaking of the experience had palpable enthusiasm.

At Our Lady of the Missions in Nairobi the sisters show us a statue of Mary
that Mary Southard, CSJ created for their centenary.
Walking to and from Mass today was in itself an experience, as surfaces are uneven (truth be told, traits of a mountain goat would be helpful) and traffic is heavy and unpredictably unruly. A pushcart with a load of sugarcane or bamboo was in the same lane with trucks and cars. Crossing streets is not for the faint of heart. Yesterday we saw goats in the streets. Today we visited a marketplace with surely hundreds of stalls selling every imaginable type of new or used item. All this was all quite different from any picture that I had in my mind for the capital city of Kenya! (A sister who had ministered in parts of Latin America said that the picture is very similar there.)

Pat, along with her friend and colleague, Sr. Julie, SSND,
and I enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Ngong Hills,
which overlook the Masai area seen in the background.

Today, Wednesday,  we will go to Kisii, the site where Srs. Cecilia James and Mary Bernadette became our first African missionaries. We will visit the places in that area where our other sisters followed. Pat  used the word "pilgrimage" to describe what we would be doing as we prepared for this time. And so it is.

More later when we next encounter an Internet connection and wi-fi.

Sister Maxyne

Thursday, May 21, 2015

God's Great Love: Simple and Beautiful

Dorothy Pilkington, ssj

Several months ago while reading HOPE AGAINST DARKNESS by Richard Rohr, OSF, I was awestruck by Einstein’s statement,

 “All I know is, the great truth – when we discover it – will be simple and it will be beautiful.”  

Reflecting on his insight, I began to reflect on the seven women who came to pray at the Little Kitchen in LePuy, France.  In this little village, these women saw the great poverty, horrific violence and oppression of the people.  God’s Spirit moved their hearts to pray, to reflect on the Gospel message and to go forth to meet the needs of their time.
Le Puy Kitchen by Carol Hebert, ssj 

During their kitchen gatherings, these women prayed.  

Prayer gave them the courage to go forth with loving, caring and compassionate hearts and bring Jesus’ presence to their people.  All was given in utter simplicity but with the great beauty of love.
All was not easy for them.  Certain groups reacted violently toward them – trying to suppress their good works.  But with courage, fortitude, trust and faith in their God and the Gospel message, these women simply and beautifully served their neighbors.

With time the number of women increased.  Vowed members, associates, agregrees and partners shared the same vision of uniting neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God.  Eventually we became known as the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph with a vision and never-ending charism of the Great Love of God – to be ever present to our dear neighbor as Jesus was in His time.

As years turned into centuries, the needs of the people and the violence of our day are ever present to us.  Like the seven women of 1650, we face the challenges of standing tall and walking with Jesus in and with love to all we meet.  Our ministries are simple and beautiful but also challenging.  It is the grace of God that guides us daily.

Like our first sisters, each of us in the Community of Saint Joseph is discovering as Einstein did “All I know is the great truth – when we discover it – will be simple and it will be beautiful.”  Through our charism, we try to bring love to our dear neighbor.  And as Einstein wrote, we are discovering God’s Great Love to be simple and beautiful!


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wake the World

We are surrounded with signs of a world waking up.  After a long winter, though slow in coming, Resurrection is on the move. Appearances are on the horizon.

Pope Francis urges us to wake the world with the good news that women religious are alive and well. He presents us with three aims in this Year of Consecrated life: to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope.

In the coming weeks we will share gifts of gratitude that have emerged from our reflecting on our past.

As Sisters of St. Joseph our beginnings go back to 1650. We span 5 centuries, the 17th through the 21st.

A key blessing for me emerged from the call of Vatican II to return to the fountainhead of our beginnings in order to reawaken our charism. The result has been the transformation of my life as a Sister of St. Joseph.  Recognizing our charism of unity as a call to active inclusive love in a world in which we are one with all that is, has expanded my horizons beyond anything I would have imagined when I “entered the convent”.  
The opportunities in community for spiritual growth, ministry and study have connected me with amazing people who have influenced me in a whole variety of ways. I am continually growing into a new being, alive with an energy that enables me to appreciate and welcome changing circumstances. It is clear to me that I see with new eyes, hear with an open heart and have a capacity to love in ways I once thought impossible.

On the day professing our first vows, we said in unison to the Bishop that our hearts were filled with joy. My capacity for experiencing that joy, which is indeed the joy of living the Gospel, continues to transform my way of living from the source of the charism reignited for these times.