Tag Archives: Sisters of St. Joseph

Gospel Reflection for October 29, 2017, 30th Sunday Ordinary time

25 Oct

Scripture Readings: Exodus 22.20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1.5-10; Matthew 22.34-40

“Teacher, which commandment of the law is greatest?”  – Matthew 22.36

Love God and neighbor without distinction. This is the distilled version of the mission of the  Sisters of St. Joseph, the religious community to which I belong. The mission calls us to act—to love and form relationships. It makes love of God inseparable from loving people in our lives—indistinguishable. The words “without distinction” also call us to reach out to people without sorting who we like best or who is worthy but with openness. All are welcome: immigrants, GBLTQ, people in poverty and in wealth, in sickness and in vigor.

Our mission originated in 17th-century France, where 90% of the people lived in poverty and famine and plague devastated the country. A Jesuit priest, Jean Pierre Medaille, worked with a small group of women who experienced God “seizing” them to respond to their neighbors’ needs. They divided the city and began doing all of which they were capable for and with their neighbors.

Actually our mission originates far earlier.  It is Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question in Sunday’s gospel, “What is the greatest commandment?” What is basic is the verb love, a call into relationships and community. In answer, Jesus quotes two commandments long on Israel’s books: Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18. Seldom have people in our country and our world needed to live these commandments more than now, to make love of neighbor our firm foundation across all that divides us.

Who have you seen exploited? For whom are you feeling compassion? To what work of justice do these experiences call you?


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Image 15 Aug

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

St.-Joseph

Lent encourages us to slow down so we can recognize what drives us and to fast from food and fashion that consumes us. As Sisters of St. Joseph we celebrate the feast of our patron on March 19 and take a break from Lent for festivities. Joseph is also the patron of the universal Church, so March 19 is a feast we can all claim. Joseph gives us an example of an ordinary husband and father who faces extraordinary challenges. Here is a prayer to him.

Joseph, most ordinary, on this your feast,
help us listen to our dreams with compassion and openness as you did.
Help us stretch, hold, and deepen our relationships.
Open our embrace of the future
as you opened your arms to a child not your own.
In these hard times may we, like you,
dream compassionately, provide wisely,
and build community that can hold us together.
We ask this through Jesus, whom you claimed and named.  Amen.

50 Years as a Sister of St. Joseph, by Joan Mitchell

20 Mar

 Joan Mitchell, CSJ celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph this week. She gave this reflection to her fellow Jubilarians on St. Joseph’s Day.

Fifty years ago when our reception walked down the aisle at St. Kate’s Chapel in wedding dresses and left in black with new names, we committed to serving a Church that cloistered its women and kept us apart, but it was also a Church awakening with John XXIII to the modern world.  In 1959 he had written his human rights manifesto Pacem in Terris to the people of the whole world, and less than a month after we entered, the Second Vatican Council began in October 1962.

Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Joan Mitchell, CSJ

The work of the liturgical movement came to fruition when the Council in its first action turned our altars around for dialogue between priest and people and gave us worship in English so we could participate fully, actively, and consciously.

The Council recognized the whole people of God as the Church and called every person to holiness, “God does not save us as individuals without any bond or link between us,” it said, “but as a people to serve God in holiness.”

In 1965, Council ended and in its final document called us into solidarity with the human family: “the joys and sorrows, griefs and anxieties of the people of this world, especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and sorrows, griefs and anxieties of the people of God.”  The theologies of Vatican II formed us irreparably as they rolled off the press.

That same miraculous year, 1965, the Civil Rights Voting Act passed.  The someday the Civil Rights Movement sang about, “We shall overcome…someday,” came at last, freedom came at last.  We were in the laundry when we heard President Kennedy had been shot.  When we heard Dr. King had been killed in April 1968, cloister was gone and we went out and joined the African American community to mourn this gifted leader.

We were still protesting the Vietnam War, but the 60s were a decade of dreams—of a modern Church and an America without racism.  It has left us perennially hopeful and ultimately at odds with the Church in retreat from the world our leaders often label secular but which we claim as our own.  Whoever thought Rome would investigate us for doing too much social justice, for speaking out and stepping up to help people who are poor have health care?  As Sisters of St. Joseph and Consociates, we are people of dreams.  Like the universal Church we have as our patron Joseph the dreamer.

Joseph is uneasy with the obvious when he finds his fiancé pregnant with a child he knows is not his own.  Joseph doesn’t want to expose Mary to the law or the stoning it could require.  He is a just man, used to doing the right thing.  So Joseph plans to send Mary away quietly—until he sleeps on his decision.

I sleep on my side, so when I hear this gospel passage and picture it in my mind, I see Joseph lying down and turning over on his side, leaving the day of his disappointment in Mary behind and turning toward a new day.

His going to sleep is a contemplative act, entrusting himself to rest in the midst of personal turmoil.  In his sleep Joseph’s relationship with Mary draws him into relationship with the child.  He dreams he will name and claim the child as his own.  His turning toward sleep results in changing his society; he disregards its laws, alters conventional expectations for marriage, and finds the living God acting not in the temple but in the young woman he cherishes—the power of relationships to transform the world.

Who would think sleep could change the future of the world?  Who would think 50 years could bring so much change?  In 1964 when we were still novices and Paul VI spoke at the United Nations before the third session of the Council, the Hubble telescope confirmed that all these galaxies and stars that light up our nights are moving away from each other—the cosmos is expanding, the big bang.

All that is bursts forth out of nothingness from a single seed of energy, A flaring forth so powerful the cosmos is still becoming more.

We live in a story that we cannot flip to the end and find the conclusion.

We live in this story among its characters.

We live in a vast pregnancy 13.7 billion years long and counting.

It turns out that Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and the magi were right to see promise in the stars and hold this promise in faith.

Right now the Large Hadron Collider is smashing protons together at nearly the speed of light, looking for traces of the god particle, what gives matter mass and joins everything together, the secret to how our unfolding story began.

In the world of the tiny, the quantum world, cause and effect go out the window.

Waves become particles when we measure to determine where they are going, and yet over time they dance into patterns, self-organizing into new wholes.

As Sisters of St. Joseph and as Consociates we find this dance deep within, this persisting desire for more, for communion, harmony, justice, this openness to God.

We live not only in an infinity of vastness and an infinity of smallness but in an infinity of relationships, the web of life.

Everything that is wants to become more.

Within our bodies we hold this story of our evolving, this drive toward greater, more complex wholes.

Our blood runs red with the iron forged in the super novas of stars.

The bacteria that first awakened to life 4 billion years ago are our ancestors.

The microbes that learned to eat oxygen 2 billions years ago live on in our mitochondrial DNA and fuel us within every cell.

We inherit our eyes from bacteria that first moved toward light, our backbones from the fish, our erect two-footed posture from the apes that left the trees for the plains.

We humans are the universe become conscious of itself, become its singers and healers.

Then in Jesus Christ Holy Wisdom finds a prophet, God becomes one of us.

We live in a fourth infinity—the horizon Jesus’ resurrection sets in our sights, a future in our hands and hearts—a dream of all that love can give life and make new.  We participate in the creative power that Jesus reveals at the heart of God: love.

All of us come here tonight suspended in mystery, challenged to do justice on earth.

How did the years pile up so fast?  What is my future and our future?  Will Pope Francis like his patron rebuild our Church to benefit the poor and heal the abused?

In this mystery that is vastly big, infinitely small, and complexly diverse, we stand together buoyed by faith and challenged to use our power to love and give life, inspired by the Spirit who breathes in our breaths and dances in our heartbeats to cocreate the future, inspired by Joseph’s small act to keep turning toward every new day.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

As Sisters of St. Joseph we celebrate the feast of our patron on March 19 and take a break from Lent for festivities. Joseph is also the patron of the universal Church, so March 19 is a feast we can all claim. Joseph also gives us an example of an ordinary husband and father who faces extraordinary challenges. Here is a prayer to him.

Joseph, most ordinary, on this your feast,
help us listen to our dreams with compassion and openness as you did.
Help us stretch, hold, and deepen our relationships.
Open our embrace of the future
as you opened your arms to a child not your own.
In these hard times may we like you
dream compassionately, provide wisely,
and build community that can hold us together.
We ask this through Jesus, whom you claimed and named.  Amen.

Welcome, Francis I

16 Mar

Here at Good Ground Press we join the Church and world in giving Francis I a warm welcome.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have Jesuit roots.  A Jesuit inspired our first sisters to form a little design, a community of women to move in among the poor, divide the city, and do the works of mercy.  From this priest, Jean Pierre Medaille, SJ, we have inherited our spirit as a religious community of doing all of which women are capable.  We were the first religious community to gain Church approval for moving out of the cloister and into work among the people, into apostolic ministries.  These roots have inspired excellence, compassion, and magnanimity among us for 363 years.

May our new leader appreciate women as partners in the mission of the gospel.  He has asked our blessing and prayers.  I join in praying for him and hold a fervent hope for dialogue with the whole Church.

By Joan Mitchell, CSJ, Editor

Gospel Reflection for October 21st, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

15 Oct

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10.45


Jesus calls his disciples together when he hears the rest complaining about James and John seeking status.  He defines himself as one who serves, who gives his life to redeem all.  Jesus challenges his disciples to see they are following a servant, who wants to gather a community of equals for whom serving the rest is the most important activity.  Jesus’ instruction to his disciples continues to challenge us to service rather than status.

Whose lives challenge you to live gospel values rather than work for social status?

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More from this week’s Sunday By Sunday:Life coaches might well promote the attitude of James and John in Sunday’s gospel. When Jesus asks if they can drink the cup he will drink, they speak a bold and brash, “We can.”These two words in Latin form the motto of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – possumus. The pioneering sisters in our community and other religious communities indeed lived bold and brash lives, building up the schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages that serve people to this day.

Read the full issue (pdf)

Sisters and the Vatican: Time for Real Dialogue

10 Aug

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is currently meeting in St. Louis, discussing how to respond to Vatican accusations. Naturally I wish I was part of the conversation. I did hear in person Sister Laurie Brink’s keynote address at the 2007 LCWR meeting that has given rise to accusation that sisters are post Christian and have left the Church behind.

Actually that was a useful presentation. Repeatedly I have reflected on the four futures she saw for religious communities, especially on the fourth. I attended the meetings because I was one of three sisters elected to our Province Leadership Team.

Laurie is a Dominican sister and theologian. She presented each of the four futures in the context of a biblical story. The four futures I think about for our community:

  • death with dignity
  • acquiescence
  • sojourning in a strange land
  • reconciliation.

Death with dignity. Religious as a life form seems in danger of extinction like whales. Some small congregations have joined larger communities. Recently seven congregations merged into one new Congregation of St. Joseph. This first option recognizes communities have to deal with their numbers. One community reported at LCWR that just 18 sisters remained when they had to evacuate New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina, two sisters died on the way to skilled care with another community, and the opportunity to choose their future was swept away with the wind.

Acquiesence. Rome has greater comfort dealing with the sisters still in the habit than with the 80% of sisters that belong to LCWR. In this future sisters return to pre-Vatican II religious life. In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Rome returned sisters to their cloisters and obligated them to monastic prayer life of the Divine Office. Ironically this was just three years before the first wave of the women’s movement finally achieved the vote for women in 1920.

Vatican II directed religious communities to rediscover our founding charisms. So we did. Many like my community worked with the poor and lift up women especially through educating them in ways to make a living. In fact my community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, was the first apostolic community approved by Rome, apostolic meaning noncloistered, out and about doing the works of mercy. The first sisters lived among the poor and taught women to make lace to support themselves. We rediscovered these first sisters and the active, prophetic pioneer sisters in America. Acquiesence seems an unlikely option for most communities.

Sojourning in a strange land. This is the part of the talk that is controversial. However, sojourning is a very biblical experience. The descendants of Joseph sojourn in Egypt and become slaves. The Hebrew slaves sojourn for 40-years in the desert and become a people. Captive Israelites sojourn in Babylon for 70 years before the Persian King Cyrus sends them home to rebuild. Some sisters are sojourning with people who have broken with Christianity in its current forms, who are post Christians seeking new forms of spirituality. Sisters may dissent on some Church positions but most haven’t given up on Christianity.

Sisters may be more comfortable in the secular world than bishops. It’s where we live and work. It’s not a strange land. We have little nostalgia for holy Roman times when church and state were one. Specifically as Sisters of St. Joseph, we are daughters of the American Revolution and survivors of the French Reign of Terror. One of our foundresses missed the guillotine by day.

Most women’s communities have thankfully shed our versions of matriarchy. We have no reverend mothers, we govern by consensus with all participating; we choose our ministries rather than be assigned. We dress in the ordinary street clothes of our day as we did in our beginnings. I suspect most sisters are feminist enough to think women and men are equal, not that women are complementary and subordinate to men.

Reconciliation. This is the future that challenged me and the future that Laurie Brink espoused. This is the future in which sisters don’t give up on the Church’s hierarchy but persist in seeking dialogue. Note that the three LCWR presidents (past, present, future) have gone to Rome for dialogue annually for the past 20 years without achieving this end. Currently Bishop Leonard Blair says the sisters must submit in order to resolve the conflict.

I have just read William O’Malley’s book What Happened at Vatican II? Over the four-year course of the council, some 2,800 bishops dialogued with each other and with theologians. The Spirit went to work. Dialogue and learning from each other can transform the future but only if participants in dialogue engage as equals.

What is so threatening about real dialogue?

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Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ is the editor of Sunday by Sunday and Spirit for Teens – weekly faith sharing magazines – and the author of Beyond Fear and Silence and Mark’s Gospel: The Whole Story.  In 2004, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, St. Paul Province, elected Sister Joan to the community’s leadership team.  During this five year commitment, Sister Joan connected with Catholics from around the country.

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