Wednesday, August 29, 2012

That'll Be Two Cents, Please

I need some advice. Yes, yours. Next month, Pauline Faithways will have been on the Web for two solid years. It’s time to assess where we’ve been, how we’ve been communicating with you, and what you and I can plan for regarding the Pauline mission. There’s a fair amount of re-dimensioning in our community and in my own life these days, as well as changes in the development office. So I’ve come up with a few questions, which I hope you’ll answer, after you finish reading the following news.

I understand how “crotchety Carl” felt whenever he looked out his window in the animated flick Up. With the mega-construction going on around him, his little home was the last bastion of bygone years. Our Pauline Books & Media publishing house here in Boston is being redesigned to streamline operations. Every day, existing work areas are outfitted for PBM’s central administration and new spaces spring up. Sisters and employees have been relocated, at least temporarily; old carpets and wall coverings have taken up new quarters in the dumpster. That makes for lots of power toys—sorry, tools—all outside my office. (Good thing the door closes.) My own cubby hole will also be included in the project, but because I’m leaving Sept. 13, I’m holding out for as long as I can, dedicating myself to tying up loose ends.

So where am I going? Rome…for nine months! I’ll be taking the course on the Pauline charism—our Family identity—along with seventeen other Pauline women and men. More on that in a minute. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since 2004, but couldn’t, because my sister and I were helping our parents. Then I began working to get the grant seeking part of our development office up and running, which as development people know, is a fulltime job.

If you’ve read Pauline Faithways on a fairly regular basis, you know my parents both died in 2009. That leaves the grant office. How can I walk away from that? Well, it didn’t exactly die, but I’m not exactly walking away either. After three years of growth, it had reached a point of needing personnel who are better trained than I am. I had hoped that we could bring someone on board, but apparently since we can’t afford to hire anyone, (and some are not sure we want to), and since no one else among us is adequately prepared in the field either, it was decided to close the office until workable alternatives surface.

My office: Right of the new one John is constructing
I knew that was an option, but I was still surprised by the decision and wondered what that might spell for the future of development within the community. I was encouraged when I learned that we would keep other aspects of the department operating at full tilt. Sr. Anne Eileen Heffernan still efficiently coordinates the direct mail fundraising department. She also occasionally writes for grants, as some others are doing when possible. God knows we need it: building maintenance, education of our sisters, the infirmary…not to mention the media element of our mission.

In addition, our Web site ( contains information, updated periodically, about projects to give to and ways to donate

Our provincial government has been supportive of funding projects wherever these have emerged, like the striking renovation of our PBM Center in Metairie, outside New Orleans,* or the outfitting of modest, but beautiful, assisted living quarters above the infirmary for some of our sisters. They’ve also strengthened existing initiatives, like the documentary film on our founder, or annual events, like the Afternoon Tea for our Education Fund in Boston (Sept. 16 this year), the Benefit Dinner in St. Louis, and the Staten Island Christmas concert at the Hilton—all of which double as evangelizing moments for our guests, a central feature of all real development. The “grace-full” way in which this takes place makes me confident that we will continue the work of structuring development to meet our own aims and those of our donors more effectively.

By the way, the Education Fund is going to support my charism studies in Rome. As you may remember, a charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to individuals for building the Church, the body of Christ. The Pauline charism is shared by members of all ten branches of our Family, with distinguishing features (some would say, additional charisms) for each branch: Society of St. Paul, Daughters, Holy Family Institute, and so on. Eighteen of us from five branches and thirteen nations will participate in an intense course of study, writing, prayer, and sharing—all in Italian. You can start praying for us anytime!

Christin Jezak (L) made her Cooperator promise Sunday.
I’ve now been assigned as a member of the formation team of the Pauline Cooperators. These are laity who live the charism in their own circumstances and who carry out the Pauline mission and its apostolic spirituality into areas of society that we would never be able to reach. I’m thrilled; I love working with the laity. In fact, that was the aspect of development work I enjoyed the most: coming to know you and seeing how God was able to do wonderful things through that relationship. My specific aim in taking the course is to explore our identity and history in relation to laity in the Church today and especially Pauline laity. My prayer is that it will serve you as you live Christ in the Church and the world today.

The friendships we Daughters have with many of you will continue through the other aspects of our development outreach. I’ll be able to keep in touch, too, in my own way. Fr. Alberione viewed the donor and benefactor as a kind of Cooperator, including those who may not extend the mission financially, but who pray, or place their time and skills at the service of sharing the Gospel.

So Sr. Leonora, our provincial superior, has asked me to continue connecting with you through Pauline Faithways. That brings us to the survey. I’d like to know what has been especially helpful to you in the blog and what you could do without, what you would like to see more of and how often. Even if you haven’t read it very often, please fill it out anyway. It’s useful for me to understand what would draw you back to the blog and share it with others. The whole process will probably take you five minutes, but your two cents will be worth millions to me. Click here to complete it and even pass it on if you want to.

I’m sure that you’ve had the experience of putting your whole self into a project, a role, or a relationship, only to see it dissolve. That can be heartbreaking, the closer to the heart it is. Faith tells us that when it’s placed in the heart of God, it’s never lost. Our time, effort, expense, worry, and love are all there, eternally. How often the disappointment and even disillusionment, like a pruning, make way for unexpected growth and discovery. We catch glimpses of it here and now if we pay attention, but as with every mystery, its secrets will be unveiled only in eternity, and we will spend forever marveling at the goodness and love of our God for us.
* Two days ago the sisters evacuated due to then-Hurricane Isaac, so please pray for them and the PBM center they’ve left behind.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jubilee 2012

In Boston on Saturday, August 18, we celebrated the silver, golden, and diamond jubilees of ten of our sisters: 270 sisters, relatives, and friends honored them and their 395 years of consecrated Pauline life!

Here they are in name and photo from left to right in the first picture, along with their home of origin and place of assignment:
Sister Majorina Zanatta—Brazil, now Boston
Sister Irene Mary Martineau—Vermont, now Boston
Sister Mary Peter Martin—Ohio, now Alexandria (Virginia) 
Sister Mary Joan Baldino—Sardinia (Italy), now St. Louis
Sister Mary Domenica Sabia—Naples (Italy), now Boston
Sister Maria Noel Macabulos—Philippines, now Boston
Sister Lusia Yvonne Ielonimo—Samoa, now Chicago
Sister Marie Paul—Massachusetts, now Toronto (Ontario)
Sister Ancilla Christine Hirsch—Wisconsin, now Germany
Sister Irene Regina Hoernschemeyer—Missouri, now Honolulu

Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland, our Boston chaplain for nearly ten years, came back as principal celebrant and homilist. He said he’s known us long enough to almost qualify as a jubilarian himself! Sr. Linda Salvatore and Phivan Ngoc Nguyen from L.A. arranged all the flowers. All the blooms were donated by our friends at the flower market! Among our friends that day, we counted seven concelebrants, some of whom we haven’t seen for awhile. The novices, too, outdid themselves. They learn liturgy by serving at it and carried this celebration off with love, efficiency, and a flourish. Credit goes also to their director, Sr. Carmen Christi, who was in a thousand places at once—with a smile, no less. Music, décor, food(!), dining service, conversation, gifts—all made it a memorable occasion.

So when you receive your invitation to a Pauline party, RSVP with an enthusiastic “yes”! If you really can’t make it, know that you’re with us in spirit. The next one just might be your lucky day.
Photos: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mary Assumed….

Gherarducci: The Assumption of the Virgin
Every religious culture has its own jargon. Some expressions have pulled loose from their religious moorings and entered our common lexicon. I think of “mecca,” “nirvana,” and “kosher.” Catholicism is no exception. You don’t have to be a believer to call someone “Mother Teresa” or to know that a “Hail Mary pass” is one of the riskiest throws in football.

Other terms, though, form part of the language of faith and can be daunting for the uninitiated. Try on “transubstantiation” for size, or “Incarnation.” My most recent favorite crossed my path last Dec. 8 on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (there’s one for you): “prevenient grace.” The poor elderly priest who was offering Mass was as startled by that revision in the Roman Missal as we were, and from what I read on Facebook, he wasn’t the only celebrant to slip and slide all over it.

Today’s solemnity of Mary’s Assumption into heaven is yet another. We think of assumptions as “givens” in a person’s thought processes or structures. The word actually comes from the Latin, “to take to or into.” So the mystery we recall today is the day that Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul.

No, you’re right, it’s not in Scripture. So what possessed the Pope to declare it a dogma of faith nearly 2,000 years after the event? The Church’s call from many quarters to see it proclaimed as such—the sensus fidelium, or sense of the faithful that held it to be true regardless of dogma—ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It wasn’t that Pope Pius XII woke up one morning in 1950 and decided to add it to his to-do list. Some mainline Protestants include it in their traditions and liturgies; certainly all the Churches of the East do, in the feast of the Dormition, or falling asleep, of the Mother of God.

Cretan School: The Dormition of the Mother of God
In 1998 while I was in Toronto, a woman almost singlehandedly finagled to get a Vatican art exhibit, “Angels From the Vatican: The Invisible Made Visible,” to come to town. It had toured five U.S. cities, and for several weeks was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario. While Sr. Julia Mary and I meandered through the exhibition, people here and there, seeing our habits, asked us to explain what they and we were looking at. Long story short, I ended up volunteering on five Sunday afternoons as an official “Ask Me” person, helping visitors, without proselytizing, to make spiritual and religious sense of what was on display.

What impressed me about my stint there was that two themes in particular evoked the most bewilderment in visitors: Christ’s Descent into Hell and Mary’s Dormition or Assumption. I had the opportunity in my broken Italian to tell the two Vatican coordinators of the exhibit afterward how people approached the pieces with questions of one kind and left with clearer understanding, respect, and questions of the deeper kind. They were elated. One, a curator at the Vatican Museums, exclaimed, “This is exactly what John Paul had in mind—evangelization through an intersection of faith and culture!”

The details are immaterial: where and how the Assumption took place, whether Mary died first or not, and so on. What does take center stage is its meaning, its historical basis, and a movement in theology that had been growing and that found a catalyst in the proclamation of the dogma: the rebirth of eschatology, the study of the final destiny of humankind and the world, centered as it is in the Resurrection and Second Coming of Christ.

Mary’s Assumption was possible only because Jesus rose from death and ascended to the right hand of the Father, and so, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was made the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Cor. 15:20). Mary was taken into heaven body and soul, because it was “right” as St. John Damascene put it, that she who had surrendered to the Spirit and had given birth to Life would never succumb to the ravages of death. In other words, if Mary hadn’t been the mother of Christ, there’s a really good chance she would have died and gone the way of us all until the final coming of Jesus in glory. We can celebrate this day and this mystery only because of her Son.

There’s a beautiful medieval hymn that we sang this morning, which highlights this. We don’t ever sing “Mary the Dawn” as professionally in community as we do right here on our CD, Stella Maris (“Star of the sea”), but if you listen, maybe you’ll love it for what it says, just as I do.

Mary the dawn, Christ the perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the heav’nly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat-sheaf, Christ the living Bread;
Mary the rose-tree, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the cleansing Flood;
Mary the chalice, Christ the saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.
The legendary Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens, a prominent figure at Vatican II, pointed out in his book, A New Pentecost?,* that some non-Catholic Christians and some Orthodox Christians take issue with Roman Catholic Christians over how we seem to attribute to Mary not what belongs to Jesus, but “what, in their eyes, is proper to the Holy Spirit….
“They point out as particularly shocking such expressions as:
—To Jesus through Mary.
—Mary forms Christ in us….
     “Our Protestant brethren object that it is precisely the Holy Spirit who is to bring us to Jesus, to form Christ in us, to unite us to him and to cooperate in a unique way in the work of redemption….”
Suenens hastens to reiterate this truth of the Spirit’s role in our redemption and sanctification. At the same time he reminds us that Mary now participates in the Spirit’s work because she was uniquely open to his action in her life: It was through her “yes” that the Spirit could effect the Incarnation and begin to inaugurate the final age of salvation history.

The best part is that the two of them don’t keep that collaboration to themselves, but share it with us—along with the promise that comes with it. In her humanness, Mary then becomes not only intercessor, but a sign of our future, individually and as a human family, if we say “yes” as she did—the meaning of today’s solemnity of the Assumption. Fr. Joseph Benson, who wrote for Pauline Faithways last year, wrote several years ago that
“Mary made a momentous decision when she said “yes.” Her life became intricately bound to the destiny of her Son from that moment onwards, and as a result, intimately bound to our destiny.
     “Our Good News is not that Mary was somehow especially blessed by God in ways that we cannot be blessed because she became the Mother of the Redeemer. That would be to miss the focus of God’s work. In her “yes,” she becomes the Mother of God precisely to enable us to be blessed in God.
     “The deepest aspect of the woman Mary was her constant preparedness to trust, even in the uncertainty of events; to trust that her God would not fail her, would not play with her life haphazardly or use her in any way disrespectfully just to achieve his own ends. She held fast to his Word and discovered in so doing the immensity of his love, that she was indeed the mother of his Word-made-flesh. This was more than what she could have dreamed of or imagined. The end of her trust was a transformation greater than what she could ever have possibly been aware of.
     “We too are specially chosen, we too are specifically graced. We are destined to become co-heirs with Christ.”
But it’s not over till it’s over. The Pauline Family reveres Mary especially as Queen of Apostles. She assumed this role “especially after her Assumption into heaven,” writes our founder, Blessed James Alberione. “It was then that she began a new phase of her apostolic mission. From then on, she raised up every kind of apostle: apostles of action and of word, of example and of the pen, of charity and of truth. All times and all needs, physical and spiritual, had to have their apostles. Mary….wants all those who dedicate themselves to the apostolate close to her in heaven.”

At the “intersection” of faith and our own particular world, that “assumption” can easily involve you and me.
* pp. 184ff.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Blessed Fest

Sr. Jerome, Br. Peter, and I welcome you!
Had it been a weekday, August 5 would have been the memorial of Our Lady of the Snows. You would have never known it, though, in Staten Island, with temperatures in the 90’s and the threat of severe thunderstorms hanging over the day. Still, this was no problem for the second annual St. Paul Friends & Family Fest, held on the grounds of the Society of St. Paul, as long as the downpour held out until our guests were home safe and we all had finished cleaning up. God was very considerate that way, even giving us a little time for a very modest after-party around a picnic table. Work done, many of the crew and planning team chatted about the Fest over a glass of whatever before the wild winds and sheets of rain drove us home. Like last August’s event, this year’s Fest was blessed.

The blessings weren’t limited to the weather, though. Despite the dramatic drop in attendance—half of last year’s (due to heat and storms?)—those who came enjoyed themselves. Of course, their chances at the raffle baskets increased! Rolling Thunder Chapter 2 New York, Staten Island, bikers in a humanitarian organization that mainly supports U.S. vets, couldn’t have been more kind or more skilled with the barbecue tongs. Manhattan Fruit Exchange had lavished produce on us, so nothing was lacking. Thanks to the generosity of the United Staten Island Veterans Association, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and 28 other businesses and organizations, expenses were pared down, raffle baskets overflowed, games and crafts entertained the kids, and music kept things lively. Even “New York’s Bravest” rolled into the parking lot and offered tours of one of their fire engines.

All told, the Pauline Family—priests, brothers, sisters, and Pauline laity—hosted about a hundred people, including a number of our own members. The purpose of the event is to re-introduce Staten Islanders to the Pauline communities and their mission of evangelization within and through the media, help people to consider a vocation in this Family, whether as religious or laity, to share faith and hope in joy with our guests regardless of religious affiliation, and if possible raise some funds for a common project—all while having a good time with family and friends. So it makes sense we would
begin with Mass together with those who want to pray with us, and then turn the celebration outdoors.
Fest Team and Rolling Thunder serve it up.

Proceeds last year went toward the production of the film on Blessed James Alberione, our founder. This year and next, we’re using funds for a joint crossmedia vocation project that all branches of the Pauline Family will be included in crafting and will be able to use in raising awareness about themselves and their mission in the Church. Next year, since the film will be ready, we intend to show it throughout the afternoon and set up hands-on exhibits about Fr. Alberione and the branches of the Family he founded. With her background in project management, local team member Patricia Reilly will coordinate the team’s preparation, formulating a plan, following up on details, and serving as a local (and ready) point of reference for questions and concerns. I’m grateful; It’s almost impossible to do that effectively from 200 miles away!

The morning of the Fest, as I was preparing for the day at the Society of St. Paul’s grounds, a woman, a lifelong Buddhist who often visits the adoration chapel at the SSP, dropped by. We fell to talking, and she said that her husband had died fourteen years ago. Four years later, she discovered the chapel. She confided, “I feel my body being drawn here.” That sounded like God to me. So I ventured, “Take this as an invitation: If you ever feel like learning more about the Catholic Church, you’d be welcome.” She had attended Catholic school as a child and lamented that her girls had never met a sister. “Well,” I answered, “you can take care of that this afternoon.” I invited her to the Fest, and she did come with her daughters and her 17-year-old’s friend. Who knows where this will go?

Kate, who’s probably no more than six, didn’t initially understand the raffle concept. But she was a woman who knew her own mind. She wanted the eight English teacups and saucers with puppies on them. She didn’t care that they came with a coffee and tea basket and she didn’t grasp that just putting her ticket in the bag in front of it didn’t automatically entitle her to the goods. Once she got it, though, she returned again and again to find out when her name would be called. I wondered what would happen to her if someone else had lucked out instead. I didn’t have to worry. When her ticket was pulled (fair and square), she almost somersaulted to claim her prize. I imagine we haven’t seen the last of Kate.

To beat the heat, we’ve changed the date for future Fests to late September or early October. This way we can do more to involve the Catholic schools, too. Seven terrific seniors from St. Peter’s High School spent a few service hours on Sunday working with the Fest Team. There’s potential there either for ministry or total vocational commitment.

Don't miss the slideshow at right!

If you would like to be invited to next year’s event you can e-mail me at If you would like to donate toward the vocation project, you can make a check to the Society of St. Paul and send it to my attention:
Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP
50 St. Paul’s Ave. Boston, MA  02130.

See you next year!

Photo credits: James Haynes III, John Nappi, Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Dark Night Rises—Then the Dawn

Today at Mass we heard the Gospel of the margarets. You know the one—about the merchant with a high tolerance for risk, hunting for fine margarets. One day when a really valuable margaret catches his expert eye, he takes the gamble of his life, sells everything he owns, and buys it.

But that’s about pearls, right? Right. That’s what “Margaret” means. From the time I was a girl I had heard that my name comes from the Greek word for “pearl”—margaritári. From the time I was a girl I had also heard that Jesus compared love for the kingdom of God to the relentless search for the best pearl around. It had never been as personal to me, though, until one day about twenty years ago when I was making my daily Eucharistic hour of adoration. I was looking at the crucifix and thanking Jesus for giving his life for me. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, this Gospel passage came to mind. Oh my gosh, I thought, I’m the pearl, and that’s the price!

The only reason I can give my all for the kingdom is that Jesus Christ did it first. Frankly, that’s the only way he could urge us to sacrifice what is dear to us for something dearer. He knew that loving the Father would eventually entail loving us to death. By the outpouring of the Spirit through the outpouring of his life on the cross, he would buy us back for the Father, and in the process, begin to shape us together into the kingdom that’s worth giving our lives for.

This is “the essential point by which Christianity differs from all the other religions,” John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter preparing the Church for the new millennium. “Here, it is not simply a case of man seeking God, but of God who comes in Person to speak to man of himself and to show him the path by which he may be reached” (Tertio millennio adveniente, 6). This is what, more than anything else, keeps my faith and trust going in dark or difficult times. Jesus cared enough about me to seek me out and to give all he had and was for me: “…the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

I don’t know anyone directly affected by the violence upon moviegoers last week in Aurora,* Colorado, but I couldn’t help thinking of them as I meditated on this Gospel. Do you feel as personally attacked as I do? Only happenstance kept my sister, my cousin, my friend…or me from being counted among the night’s casualties. In fact, more than happenstance connects me to them all: our common citizenship, our common humanity, and in some cases, our common faith. Our common redemption certainly does.

Comforting a young adult after Mass

Some who read Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s column the week afterward probably gasped as they recognized yet another apparent twist of fate. I know I did. He recounted how joyfully his first week as Ordinary (head bishop) of Denver began, then how “stunned” he was only two days later as his “great joy turned to sorrow” for the people of this city in his archdiocese. Two short days before a horrifying rite of initiation. Two short days before he was called upon to strengthen his brothers and sisters (cf. Lk. 22:32). What could he tell them that would ease the pain or make sense of tragedy? Nothing. But he could and did “stand in solidarity” with them and recall the One who gave his all for them. It was this proclaimed faith that gave meaning to his decision to place the counseling services of Catholic Charities within reach of those who need them in these weeks:
“Tragedy breeds uncertainty because it undercuts the things we implicitly believe to be true—that we can go to school, or to work or to the movies safely. When those certainties are shaken, we question a lot.

“I imagine there were many questions after the Crucifixion. In the upper room, the Apostles asked themselves the same questions we ask ourselves. The Blessed Mother, too, who lost a child, was faced with the question of why such a tragedy had ever occurred….

“The questions ceased when they encountered the Resurrection.…[I]n the Risen Christ, they encountered victory over death and evil. They learned that unspeakable sin, like the unspeakable sin we have encountered, is defeated by the love of God. The love of the Father is stronger than the sting of death. The Resurrection proves that to be true.”
Those who lost loved ones or still watch other loved ones suffer may find words, even faith-filled words, cold comfort. After all, nothing will ever undo what a few minutes did. Survivors in Afghanistan, Darfur, Syria, and every violence-scarred spot on earth know this well. Faith in the Crucified and Risen One doesn’t offer an explanation for the inexplicable, but hope beyond it, even here and now. Who else offers as much? This is what Peter sensed when he answered Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Do you want to leave me, too?” “Lord,” Peter replied, “to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).

It’s not a platitude to say that God took them to himself. God didn’t take their lives; somebody else did that. God just didn’t let him keep them. “Like a shepherd he will gather the lambs in his arms” (Is. 40:11). This is what moved Archbishop Aquila, Auxiliary Bishop Conley, and Pope Benedict XVI to give of themselves in word and deed for the pearls, the living stones, the kingdom of God entrusted to them. God seeks us out through those who share words of eternal life with us. Are we ready to let him do the same through us?
* “Aurora” means “dawn.”

Photo of Archbishop Aquila by James Baca/Denver Catholic Register