Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I'll be on vacation until next week, so you'll have some extra time to read any of those posts you haven't had a chance to read yet. See you on Wednesday, August 3!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“While I breathe I hope”: Promise in South Carolina

Bishop John England (1786-1842) must be glad we’re in his diocese. As the founder of the first Catholic newspaper in the U.S., as well as the parish-based Book Society, and as editor of a catechism plus a missal in English, the Irish-born bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, (how did he come by the name of England?) would appreciate the presence of sisters committed to bringing people to encounter Christ within the culture of modern communication. His diocese is still a mission Church, one that serves the entire state. In fact, Catholics comprise a little less than four percent of South Carolina’s population.

Jerusalem, you’ve got some competition. As signs of liturgical life, past and present, churches dominate the skyline of Charleston and so have earned it the name “The Holy City.” During the colonial period tolerance for every religion except Catholicism made it a spiritual hot spot, allowing even one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the country to thrive here.

I imagine the city’s founders have made peace with Bishop England over the vibrancy of his Church here, though in our regard, not without a little wicked glee: In 1984 they must have prayed the Daughters into the charming historical building on King St.—a Class 5, the highest rating—headaches and all. The Siegling Family of German piano builders had opened one of America’s first music stores in 1838, and their edifice became ours. We think, though, that we have one up on them all: Neither they nor the founding fathers could have known that few shops would have been more appropriate for a community that would be known in various parts of the world for evangelizing through its music!

Following our arrival we adapted the space to our community and apostolic needs. In recent years, though, it became clear that a major restoration would be needed. Although our health and safety, as well as that of our customers and guests, was the immediate motivation for the change, the community also envisioned providing a way to ensure enough for both future maintenance and mission development. Meanwhile, another factor emerged. Nationwide, our health coverage became cost prohibitive, which drove us to drop it altogether. So the sisters visualize that fund helping to provide coverage for us in Charleston, besides something for basic living expenses. This way all income from the mission would go back into it. Normally, our evangelizing work provides for our personal and communal needs, but even with the ecumenical outreach that the sisters do, income in the mission territory of South Carolina is insufficient for their support.

So in 2006, after praying and asking others to pray, the four Paulines here set to work. By June last year they, their advisory board, their friends, and the Pauline Cooperators had raised $180,000 to restore and renew the exterior. Meanwhile they began exploring ways to raise funds for the next phase, which entails first, solidifying the floor in the book and media center and the several adjoining offices and rooms and replacing the carpet with wood laminate, more practical for a humid climate. The second goal links directly to the media nature of the mission. From its early configuration as a Catholic book store, the PBM (Pauline Books & Media) Center has metamorphosed into a center of spirituality and Catholic media resources in the heart of the city, the only one of its kind for hundreds of miles around, hosting several gatherings on a weekly basis, especially for young people. Thus, that second goal is to change one of those spaces into a state-of-the-art conference room that would be utilized for hosting Pauline ministry events, including some that could generate income. Price tag for both the floor and conference room: $125,000. There are still the living quarters to think of.

As the restoration and renovation work of one phase is being done, the next is being planned and budgeted so that funds can be raised. The most gratifying aspect of it all is the spirited involvement of everyone who has invested in it and built community with the sisters. They hold golf tournaments on the Isle of Palms or Daniel Island, that draw people from all over, or designate the community as the benefitting charity at the Nationwide Tour Championship. Volunteers staff Lydia’s Corner, an upscale consignment boutique in a section of the PBM Center. “Don’t even call it a second-hand store,” chided Sister Jane R. Livingston, the superior, aghast at my unforgiveable gaffe. “This is Charleston!”

With the Charleston community and its circle of friends,
Sr. Jane cared for her 57-year-old sister, Sr. Cecilia
Paula, until she died of cancer earlier this year. Sr. Cecilia
offered her prayer and suffering for every aspect of
her community's life.
Donors and collaborators feel that they’re the ones benefitting. “You don’t understand what we get from giving to you,” they say again and again. Sr. Jane comments, “They feel a part of the mission that will carry on into the future.” That mission includes the PBM Center’s weekly Bible classes for young adults, a young women’s faith sharing group called “Spirituali-Tea,” a women’s book club, and a weekly children’s story hour during the academic year, as well as offsite initiatives in parishes and schools. Sisters Clare S. Kralovic and Deborah Marie Dunevant will continue our Pauline presence here, while Sister Marie James Hunt joins them. A few months from now, Sister Jane concludes her second term as superior and will assist her parents in southern California. She considers as foundational her role in establishing with the Charleston team an infrastructure to stabilize our presence here: “I’m setting the chessboard. Whoever comes after me just has to play the game.”

Regardless of the camaraderie and collaboration, finding enough funds for such a project among just over four million South Carolinians is daunting. They can roll up their sleeves only so far. If you feel inspired to support their efforts, you can send your donation to:
The Daughters of St. Paul Building Fund
243 King St.
Charleston, SC  29401

Questions? Call 843-577-0175.

Pray for them and with them for those they serve, especially for other young women to carry their legacy into another generation. Where there’s life there’s hope. *

* “While I breathe I hope” is one of the state’s two mottos.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Irrepressible Life

One question that we often get is, “So how are vocations?” Donors, no less than anyone else, look to the youth among us to gauge our community’s viability. While there are several reasons for a slump in any community’s numbers, understandably people want to support what they perceive as new life and a promising future.

Theresa and Laura after dinner dishes are done.
Life we’ve got. Our two novices here in Boston were joined last week by our four enthusiastic postulants from St. Louis, who are on summer break from their formal studies. These four young women had already become acquainted with us here as they began to discern their call from God before entering the congregation last year. Their postulancy is now introducing them more deeply to religious life and to our “version” of it, our charism, or our “color,” as the founder, Blessed James Alberione, sometimes described it. This two-year period assists each of them in the next step of their discernment and prepares them for their two years as novices, if that’s where their these years of formation take them.

Allow me to introduce you to:
Cheryl Galema, originally from the Philippines then from Toronto, Ontario
Jackie Gitonga originally from Nyeri, Kenya
Theresa Noble from Tulsa, Oklahoma
Laura Nolin from Newport, Vermont.

You can read up on each of them at their blog: Let Christ Be Formed in Me. Before you do, read on. I’ve got an exclusive for you! Just like the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—these four spoke about what God in Jesus is doing in their world and, as they told me about their lives, they inadvertently revealed something about themselves….

When Pad Thai isn't enough.
 What do you like best about being a postulant? Theresa: “The sense of adventure and never knowing what God has in store for you….” (Theresa says she would be up to “hiking through the Amazon” someday, but even more, “traveling by myself for a long time in India.” Adventure, all right.)
Jackie: “The combined experience of our apostolate, prayer and community life…has provided me with some pretty grace-filled moments to grow in love of God and neighbor.”
Laura: “I like the variety of people we meet and the many different ways we meet them through our apostolate.  We go out to some, and some come to us.”
Cheryl: “All the new things that I am able to do and discover about myself, like cooking. I wasn’t very comfortable in the kitchen because I was always afraid of burning myself or the house. Since I entered, I’ve helped cook a few meals and have recently learned to make Pad Thai. It was a hit!”

What’s one of the most challenging things for you?
Laura: “Living in community is probably the most challenging.  I really enjoy it most times, but sometimes it can be very difficult too.”
Cheryl: “Waking up early in the morning (and sleeping earlier than what I’ve been used to). Also, doing homework for our classes. It’s been a while since I was in school, so reading and writing papers have been challenging.”
Theresa: “There are a lot of interior struggles for me as I make these first steps of discernment in religious life. The inner wrestling with myself and with God is the most challenging.”
Jackie: “Community life, growing in love, stretching my heart to love all my sisters as well as people of God in ministry, just as Jesus does even with and through our differences.”

Our Boston community, centered as it is on the Pauline Books & Media publishing house, is dedicated primarily to the creative and technical phases of our mission. Some of us do carry out various forms of person-to-person outreach—book and media center, exhibits, and presentations—but the majority work behind the scenes. However, our branch communities, like St. Louis, serve people primarily one-on-one. A few years ago, it became possible to situate the postulancy there. Now it offers the young women in this early stage of formation a unique opportunity to share in the diffusion, or outreach, aspect of our mission. It gives them a chance to better understand what they’ll probably live for a good part of their lives, if they go on to profess chastity, poverty, and obedience among us. Maintenance, grocery shopping, scheduling, liturgy in common both with us and with the parish and archdiocese, and the countless details of life in a small community offer a more diverse experience of our Pauline religious life. Together with prayer and study, this is indispensable to them as they discern their vocations.

By the way, the novices also go for a similar stint several months during their formation. See Pauline Faithways of October 20, 2010 for Sylwia’s and Emily’s “apostolic experience.”

As Cheryl pointed out, study is a major component of the postulants’ days. In addition to theology courses at the accredited archdiocesan Paul VI Institute, they participate in other  seminars and, when offered, semester-long courses from the seminary. They receive their Pauline religious formation in house. At times, other Daughters of St. Paul are available to teach special intensive sessions, for instance, last year’s ten-day course on media literacy and the Church’s documents on media.

Most of these lively young women never imagined that they would be “on a journey to becoming a nun!” as Jackie put it, a journey that flies them to Boston each summer. The purpose for their month here is multi-faceted. They’re spending time in the motherhouse, reconnecting with our largest community in the US/ESC* province, which is home to a significant number of us. They get to spend time interacting with our elderly, senior sisters. Lastly, they’re introduced to the creative and technical phases of the mission.
Already in St. Louis, the postulants have had opportunities to sharpen their skills and acquire new ones. Instead of nursing, Laura, finds herself living “half-way across the country from the rest of my family,…occasionally doing public speaking” on vocation talks and J-Club school book fairs.
A former Web programmer and development team manager, Cheryl is amazed that she would pack “a van full of books and drive about 13 hours to Texas with a group of women who want to give their life to Jesus and talk to college students about…responding to God’s call to religious life.” (I don’t know why that should surprise someone who pictures herself climbing mountains or flying a hang glider!) Click here for the full story.
Now in Boston, Cheryl relates, “I’m working at digital [publishing]. Sister Kathryn and I are learning how to build an iPhone/Android app using a free online tool. There’s a lot of trial and error in the process, but it’s really fun. I’m also helping with getting the Web site redesign moved along. I used to build Web sites, but a lot has changed, and the tools we’re using are different. I also don’t have very much experience in layout and design, so I’m learning from the rest of the team.”
Previously a systems analyst in San Francisco, Theresa seconds that and adds:
“Before I came to the postulancy I was working for a corporation with tons of resources. It is very different here; we have really limited resources. It becomes an exercise in creativity to work on the cutting edge. But the challenge is exciting, and knowing that God is right behind us inspiring our work and our ideas makes it really rewarding.”
Laura doubles as an assistant to Sr. Patricia in the Web store, and a sales associate in the PBM center in Dedham, a town just outside Boston. She confides:
With a picking ticket in one hand
and books in the other, Laura fills
a Web store order.

“The book center is good in that it’s helping me with my people skills (I tend to be shy), but it’s also helping me be even more confident in the things I already know about the book center. The Web store will stretch me a lot. I only know the basics when it comes to computers, so it will take a lot more brain energy. The learning curve will be steep, but I’m looking forward to learning something new.”

With Sr. Rebecca behind her, Jackie
prays for the people she met at the
PBM Center that day.
 Having earned her doctorate in human resource education right before joining the congregation (You’d never know that her secret dream is to drive an 18-wheeler), Jackie also appreciates working in both the Web store and PBM center:
“Both require people skills in different ways—face-to-face in the book center and behind the scenes [with] good customer service in the Web store. In these apostolates, I am constantly being drawn to find ways that I can bring people to Jesus by reaching out to them with utmost charity. I am also growing in my technical skills of running the Web store. In the book center, I am learning about the design and ambiance—creating an even better place where people can encounter the Lord through the media we provide.”
In case you couldn’t tell, they’ve got high hopes for the future:
Jackie: “There is such depth, breadth and height to the calling we have received as Daughters of St. Paul—to bring Jesus to all peoples using the most modern means—that I think its only going to get better and I would certainly want to be a part of it!”
Laura: “The Daughters of St. Paul are always willing to change to meet the needs of the people according to the times when it comes to evangelization and at the same time they hold fast to the teachings and traditions of the Church, that are timeless and never changing.”
Theresa: “I visited a lot of different congregations and the thing I was impressed the most about the Daughters was their reliance on God amidst a busy apostolate. It is so tempting to begin to rely on your own abilities and intelligence and to forget God’s part in it all. I do not see this playing out in the Daughters. I think this is partly because their mission is so immense, not many people would make the mistake of thinking they could tackle it on their own!”
Cheryl: “Our founder, Blessed James Alberione, had one love—Jesus Christ, and one mission—to give him to souls. I can see the sisters live this with joy and passion, even with the difficulties that they have faced through the years. It is obvious that the Lord has blessed our community tremendously and continues to do so.”
Sister Rebecca Marie Hoffart, originally from Houston, has been the postulant director for the past three years. She has a full plate, not because the postulants are all that tough to work with, but because she’s continuing her own education at the same time. She recently earned a certificate in spiritual direction, and now her Master’s degree in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University is actually within reach; she hopes to finish her thesis within the next year. So the hope the postulants expressed is not only theirs. “It’s incredible to see the Pauline charism blossoming in them,” Sr. Rebecca shared, “to see them growing closer to God, getting to know the founder and his writings, resonating with the spirituality and mission. They have a lot of hope in our mission, because they see how necessary and how vast it is, how it reaches people and how important it is.” She speaks for us all.

You’ll see on the postulants’ blog the photo of a fifth young woman, Erin Nolan, who had been a postulant this past year. The discernment process is doing what it’s designed to do also for those who do not stay: Over the past few months, Erin and the formation team realized that God is calling her elsewhere. She left with deep affection for the community—and the community’s lasting affection for her.

Laura and Jackie will enter the novitiate this August, as Emily and Sylwia become second-year novices. We’re delighted to welcome three new postulants in September, young women whom we’ve known for a few years. Two of them were frequent participants in our summer discernment programs. So that means four novices and five postulants will bring their irrepressible life among us. If you would like to donate to their formation program this coming year, click here. Sr. Rebecca is hoping to raise $6,000 for projects and specialized courses for them, so that they might continue to be a sign of the life that has nurtured them here.
* United States/English-Speaking Canada

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independence, Freedom, and Same-Sex “Marriage”

Boston is a great place to celebrate the Fourth of July. Along with most of the population, we relax in the warmth of midsummer by day and revel in fireworks and the Boston Pops by night—and with good reason. It’s the birthplace of America’s experiment as a democratic republic. Without the ideology of New England forged within the crucible of the Mother Country’s reactionary policies and without the relentless prodding of Boston’s John Adams, the Declaration of Independence would never have even made it onto paper. Even so, every colony paid a heavy price in the Revolution that followed. We are the beneficiaries of their largesse.

I wonder what they would have said about New York two weeks ago when same-sex “marriage” became legal. When I was a girl I thought that freedom meant I could live the way I wanted to. Of course, that idea came from history class, as we studied a nation’s liberation from a foreign ruling power. But I personalized the notion, so that as a teen I longed to break “free” of home, to run my own life. Need I say that the reality of adult responsibility was a rude awakening?

Independence Day came early for New York’s LGBT citizens. The legalization of same-sex “marriage” may have signaled a new independence, but not necessarily a new freedom. Our nation’s founders knew and practiced enough philosophy to make a distinction between the two and between freedom and license. Philosophy, however, wasn’t a major factor in the campaign for marital equality for gays. In contrast to a reportedly disorganized religious and civic opposition, an astute political plan and extraordinary funding, plus emotions and family ties, drove the vote that ended 33 to 29. (See the June 26 issue of the New York Times.) I’m not sure that there’s a family or circle of friends among us that doesn’t feel torn on the issue because of a gay or lesbian relationship in its midst. Still, with most of the country bracing itself for a similar firestorm, it’s worth searching for some clarity that can help us all.

I wonder how many people realize that when we opened the door to contraception, this controversy was inevitable. As nothing else, contraception divides the unitive and procreative purpose of marriage, or as the U.S. bishops mercifully chose to say, its love-giving and life-giving aspects (To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life). Once marriage is cast in terms of “love” without openness to generating life, any loving union between consenting adults can then qualify as “marriage.” Just to be really clear, when the bishops said “life” they weren’t referring only to its cultural, spiritual, or social dimensions, but to children generated by that union. This doesn’t imply that there shouldn’t be any family planning or that childless couples are not living a true marriage. It does say that, to be what it’s meant to be, the couple’s relationship has to be structured and lived in such as way as to welcome the possibility of new life.

Jeff Jacoby
Advocates for same-sex marriage are now taking as their heroes Mildred and Richard Loving, whose case led the Supreme Court to legalize interracial marriage in 1967. Last Wednesday Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe, took a swipe at the way these two moments in history are being linked. In perhaps the clearest, most cogent opinion I've read on the topic, he commented that because the state of Virginia, representing the status quo, had penalized interracial marriage, it had been in fact attempting to change the meaning of marriage. Far from denying that meaning, as the New York “law” has done, the Supreme Court’s decision on interracial marriage “affirmed it”* and restored its integrity in the public sphere. The state of Virginia had skewed the purpose of marriage to “promote white supremacy, a value completely alien to marriage. Marriage is designed to bring men and women together; anti-miscegenation laws frustrated that design….”* While gay and lesbian dignity must be protected in law, skewing the truth about the human person or human society does not ensure anyone’s dignity or freedom, not even theirs.

I’ve been meditating a lot these days on the words and actions of that champion of freedom, the Apostle St. Paul. With his sometimes flaming rhetoric, he traces out a few key themes:
1. Freedom from sin through faith in Christ. This is probably the aspect he’s best known for. As a sacrament of faith, Baptism effects that freedom through the power of the Holy Spirit and inserts us into the body of Christ as sons and daughters of God. We are freed from our sins, freed for faith, hope, and love in Christ and in the Church, the liberated People of God. “For freedom Christ set us free” (Gal. 5:1).
2. Freedom to be who God made us to be, with our potential, gifts, and relationships. This launches us light years away from just what we think we want to be, especially when what we want is contrary to what the God of love desires for us. Our best plans for ourselves pale in comparison with what marvels God has in mind. “What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind…cannot visualize, all that God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor. 2:9).
3. Freedom to grow in our humanity, which is what Christianity empowers us to do when it’s really lived. We become truly human as God intends. We shed what “makes us wobble” in our humanity, as one sister put it to me this week, and grow in “maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Each of us can probably point to something that would make us better persons—a course of study, a bad habit put to rest, an improved relationship—but because we’re shackled by something else (sometimes even by what we want)—circumstances, a compulsion, our weakness—we’re not free enough to do it. Clearly, then, freedom pertains to something other than our less-than-human desires. The social implications are just as clear.
In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI offers his own insights into a freedom, not arbitrarily or subjectively determined, but a “seeing” freedom, with “our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2).

Now, that’s fine for Catholics. But society consists of people from many faith backgrounds. How does religion factor in without imposing itself?

Every social issue is a moral issue that bridges religious divides. As a recognized moral authority, even in spite of the damning events of the last decade, the Church weighs in on what undergirds political solutions, even though it may not be partial to the solutions themselves. Even-handed pastors of other persuasions do the same, because they have both a right and a responsibility to. By the way, the Church’s leaders and teachers are also voters with opinions that can be and should be legitimately expressed. I remember Cardinal O’Connor writing in the Catholic New York about thirty years ago that he didn’t mind being beaten in the ring. Just don’t tell him he has no business in the ring!

Unfortunately in New York last month—and way before last month—the Church dropped the ball. That ball may be in the bishops’ court, but we’re all there with them. Like the rest of us, they’re overwhelmed by their responsibilities in an incredibly complex society and find that they spend a large part of their time just putting out fires. As Church we are still too accustomed to leaving the Big Issues of the day for them to handle, while the rest of us content ourselves with managing our own concerns.

They need our help. First, we all need to study how our contemporaries think and to accept the fact that the strict rules of logic are not completely compatible with the postmodern way of reasoning and emoting. Once we accept that, we can set about making ourselves better understood, not by tossing logic aside, but by finding a person’s tap root, and feeding it with what makes sense to us together. For instance, you and I may agree that a compelling reason for accepting a teaching of the Church (read: “marriage”) is its tradition that is thousands of years old. To a postmodern person whose reference points do not include history or authority, but the effort to be a better person or to make this world a better place now, our starting point will have to be centered on the truth we hold in common. Then our logic can be heard. Then we can craft our witness to the Gospel accordingly, with courage, creativity, and fidelity. A readable book in this vein is Secularity and the Gospel: Being Missionaries to Our Children, edited by Ronald Rolheiser. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago contributed one of the essays.

Second, we need to be proactive in deepening our understanding of faith in its particulars, not waiting to be spoon fed, so that we will readily recognize truth when we hear it and so that our moral/spiritual discernment can be honed. Too often sound bite theology or feel-good stories suffice for our exploration of faith. Then when weightier issues elbow their way into our lives, we have nothing to fall back on (cf. Mt. 7:24ff.).

Finally, we need to learn the language of media. Without a doubt the digital revolution has had a lot to do with our contemporaries’ insistence on moral self-determination. With the advent of social media, suddenly the speaker’s podium became accessible to anyone, informed or not. Together with situations once considered taboo that have been “normalized” on TV and film, this accessibility has conditioned people to relativize authority and adhere to their own standard of truth.

Forgive me if, in the light of this, I tuck in an appeal for the Education Fund on behalf of our sisters, who are working toward both their liberal arts degrees and advanced specialization. Our studies prepare us to do just what I described (and prescribed), to help prepare our people—God’s People—for all that lies ahead. Click here to learn more and to donate. As the weeks go by, I’ll be telling you more about this year’s Afternoon Tea with the Daughters of St. Paul, our annual fundraising event to support this cause.

May our families and neighborhoods be the “home of the brave” as we gently yet boldly witness within them to the truth that sets us all free.
* © 2011, The Boston Globe