Thursday, December 1, 2016

Meet Sr. John Celeste Weitzel !

When we reflect on our vocation stories, we usually recall one or more individuals who served as a deciding factor in our choice of which congregation we would ultimately enter. For Sr. John Celeste Weitzel, that decisive voice was her mother’s. In elementary school Sr. Celeste was taught by our sisters at St. Clement School in Rosedale, Maryland. During her high school years, she attended local public schools. Also during those years, Celeste became acquainted with the Good Shepherd Sisters, attended monthly retreats with them, and by graduation time felt that might be where God was calling her. When she explained this to her mother, Mrs. Weitzel, who had been taught by our sisters in both elementary and commercial school and who was actively involved at St. Clement Parish, simply said, “Go to the Franciscans!” Celeste heeded that voice and the rest is history! 

During her early years in the congregation, Sr. Celeste ministered in education but later studied to be a physical therapist. When she moved from Baltimore to the Aston area in November 2015, she came with a dream—to work with our sisters at Assisi House who were not getting PT for a specific problem. However, she learned that this would not work because of the arrangements with Mercy LIFE. Sr. Celeste, however, had other dreams as well. When she came to OLA for liturgy, she observed the sisters, noting that some seemed to be having problems with balance or displayed other indications that PT sessions might help. She spoke to Srs. Mary Farrell and Mary Smith about possibilities, conferred with Sr. Ellie Moore about space, did a little shopping and rearranging, and the dream began to take shape. Sisters who were interested in a program for balance and strength got scripts from their doctors. Sr. Celeste began by evaluating individual needs and developing individualized programs that met with each sister’s needs. Recently she opened the program to sisters not living at OLA.  

Sr, Celeste checks Sr. Teresa's blood pressure and heart rate. This check is routine before and after each day's session.
 
In an exercise to strengthen her Quadriceps, Sr. Jude--wearing weights on her ankle--kicks her leg up to reach Sr. Celeste's hand.
Sr, Jude does exercises to improve balance. (above) Standing on one foot.
Another exercise for balance: Sr. Jude balances on a large ball and "marches" with her hands. Sr. Celeste holds onto the belt that Sr. Jude wears around her waist.
 
Sr. Celeste (right) shows Sr. Teresa how to hold her head and neck straight in order to improve posture.
Asked about what challenges she encounters in this ministry, Sr. Celeste admitted that one challenge is making PT interesting in a way that makes the sisters want to keep coming back. It is obviously a challenge to keep motivating each individual to want to do “just a little more” and to move on to the next step. As in any ministry, working with different personalities necessitates finding a variety of ways to generate that motivation.

Sr. Jude and Sr. Celeste do a series of armchair push-ups and sit-ups.
Wearing an elastic band around her ankle, Sr. Teresa does a series of stretches: out to each side and front and back
 
Sr. Celeste helps Sr. Teresa with exercises to strengthen her arm and back muscles. Pretty amazing!!
And blessings? Celeste recalled her earlier work—especially with children—and the two-fold feelings of joy at seeing them overcome difficulties and of gratitude for her own health. She admits to that same sense of duality when she sees the sisters with whom she works walking just a bit straighter, standing and sitting with greater ease, and handling steps with a greater sense of security. And she added, “Because I exercise with each sister, my own balance is better and my muscles are really getting strong!” Then she added, “Earlier in my life, I was grateful to be able to study PT. Now I’m grateful that I’m able to continue to work—without the stress of a ‘job’—and grateful to the community for allowing me to pursue my dream!” 

As one of those sisters who has been fortunate enough to avail myself of Sr. Celeste’s skills, I can attest to the personal satisfaction I feel when I walk up to Communion without reaching out for a pew to steady myself or when—after a workout—I hear that enthusiastic “Good job!”

 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sr. Jean Rupertus: Champion for the City of Chester

People in Chester know Sr. Jean Rupertus. The fact that Sr. Jean was born in the Highland Gardens section of Chester and attended Resurrection Parish School is somewhat incidental to her reputation. Why people know her is that both as the director of Anna’s Place and a Sister of St. Francis, she is out and about trying to help the residents in a variety of ways. 

Anna’s Place is a Sisters of St. Francis-sponsored hospitality center—a safe haven where local residents can come for bingo, classes, and lunch. “The umbrella is one of engaging people, respecting people, and building relationships,” says Sr. Jean. 

Poverty and crime are the major factors that affect Chester residents (http://franciscanlife.blogspot.in/2016/11/chester-city-riddled-with-crime.html and http://franciscanlife.blogspot.com/2016/11/poverty-festering-boil-in-chester.html). Sr. Jean and others from Anna’s Place participate in an annual march conducted by Heeding God’s Call for an End to Gun Violence and Delco United for Sensible Gun Laws in Delaware County. In addition, she and others have picketed a local gun store with the hope of making government officials and citizens aware that gun control is necessary to stop murders and violent crimes.  

Anna’s Place, through Sr. Jean’s direction, has joined with other organizations to address other important issues caused by poverty in the city: childhood respiratory problems and lack of early childhood education, jobs, healthcare, and family unity. 

While being connected to Anna’s Place has brought Sr. Jean back to her roots, her heart has never left the city. Her love for the city’s residents helped to band together a host of volunteers to keep the classes, activities, and weekly luncheons moving. Some come from the two local universities—Neumann and Widener. Additionally, a Sister of Mercy and folks living in Delaware County put in time there weekly along with several other Sisters of St. Francis. 

There is a threat on the horizon, however. The center’s boiler went kaput in late spring. In order for Anna’s Place to remain open this winter, a new heater is imperative. This coming Tuesday—Giving Tuesday 2016—the Sisters of St. Francis are focusing their energies on gathering enough funds to pay for a new heater. To find out more about this ministry and to help, click here http://osfphila.org/support-us/giving-tuesday/.

 

 


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Chester: A City Riddled with Crime

Think about this! You have a young child or perhaps two young children who go to school every weekday and in nice weather, they like to play outside.  But say you live in an area where crime—including random shootings—happens frequently, where anyone can be the victim, where death could be lurking around any corner.  How safe would you feel walking out of your house let alone watching your children go out the door?

According to Fran Stier, cochair of the Delaware County of Heeding God’s Call, a member teacher was advised to hit the floor when popping sounds were heard outside her classroom window. Her students had already found the floor.  The teacher rightly asked how children can learn when they are listening for gun fire.

The people living in Chester, Pennsylvania, have to deal with these concerns every day.  It probably becomes second nature to some.  It’s just something they have to live with…until a loved one or friend is hurt or killed.  Victims fall into all age groups—even babies.  Then the questions and anger surface.  “Why?” is what many people ask.  But there is really no one to answer this question.

Did you know that the rate of crime in Chester is about 114% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and 59% higher than the national average.  Violent crime is 413% higher than the state and 334% higher than the rest of the nation.  Given the population in Chester, there is a one in 37 chance of being a victim of violent crime.

Chester’s population has actually grown to a little over 34,000.  All these people are jammed into 4.8 square miles.  With a jobless rate swinging between 8 and 9% (national: 4.9%), poverty at 33+%, and drugs a major problem throughout the city, murder and violent crime regularly stalk the streets.

A struggling city but with many good people who just want a safe environment—that’s Chester.  And in a small corner of the city sits Anna’s Place, a Sisters of St. Francis-sponsored hospitality center for local residents to come to a safe haven for bingo, classes, and lunch.  Along with the safe environment, the residents come because they enjoy the chance to socialize with neighbors and are given the respect due every human being.  Anna’s Place won’t solve the egregious problems in the city but it gives heart and hope to some of its residents.

For more information about Anna’s Place, click here http://osfphila.org/support-us/giving-tuesday/.




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Updates from Nyumbani Village!

I get a lengthy email from Sr. Julie Mulvihill pretty much on a weekly basis. She has worked for a number of years at Nyumbani Children's Home in Kenya--a home for aids-affected children. I picked out a few of the recent ones that I thought you'd enjoy--primarily because she included some photos but also because it seems to me that kids are kids wherever they're from!

September 23, 2016
On Saturday we had our usual Computer, Art, and Library Program. In the afternoon the children were outside playing as usual but this week we really got into sidewalk chalk art. They did some drawings and then the children lay down on the ground while we traced their body with colored chalk and wrote their name in the figure to identify the person. I thought we had finished but when the little ones got up from their naps, we had to trace every one of them also. By 5 P.M. there were bodies lying all over the driveway! When everyone was finished, they were ready to go back to the cottages for their showers.  What we did not expect was an outside shower that washed away most of our art work. But—we still had Sunday afternoon when we repainted what had been washed away on Saturday.   

Sr. Julie traces a chalk figure of one of the children while others wait their turn.
October 7, 2016
St. Francis Day was on Tuesday and I had my celebration all ready.  I had made an appointment for teacher Margaret, Sr. Emily, 17 of our Paul Miki children, and I to take a trip to Dominos Pizza to learn how to make pizza and then have a chance to make our own pizzas. The Dominos staff warmly welcomed us with songs and balloons and even the owner came to welcome us. We all put on blue hair nets so we could go behind the counter to be taught how to make pizza. They looked so cute. We started by learning how to take an order.  Nimpris put all the information in the computer and then we saw the order printed for the baker. The baker showed us how to spread and toss the pizza dough. Then we were shown the tomato sauce and all the other toppings that went on the pizza—there were lots of toppings to choose from!  He put all the toppings on and then put the pizza in the oven to bake.

Then it was our turn. John and Nimpris washed their hands and  put on aprons so they wouldn’t get corn flour all over themselves.  They spread the dough, tossed it, and put it on the circular baking sheet before they covered it with lots of toppings. Then they placed it in the bottom oven and ran to front of the oven to watch it bake. We were careful not to let anyone get too close so they did not get burned.  After they helped lift the pizza out of the oven, they placed it in a box, cut it, and closed the lid. Their name was written on the box and put on the shelf ready to be served. One by one they each went through the process of making their own pizza and I had the joy of watching all of them do it.  I wish all of you could have seen how happy and excited they were. In the end each got his or her box of pizza to take home for lunch.. It was a fantastic way to celebrate St. Francis Day and I loved every minute of it.   

All dressed up and ready to make--and eat--a delicious pizza!
November 4, 2016
On Saturday afternoon I took a group to the BA Halloween Party. As usual, they had done lots of preparations and had decorated all the walls and tables. Besides the decorations there were also Halloween costumes and Halloween candy.  They even had one of the crew who was an excellent face painter and the children were happy to stand in line and wait their turn.  Nyumbani had also put together a little entertainment for the event and that went well.  The primary school children sang and recited poetry while Grace and Victor shared their great singing voices with us.  In the end everyone got up to dance. The crew also provided lunch for everyone and in the end sent lots of goodies back to Nyumbani. They are so good to us and we really appreciate them remembering us each year at Halloween.  I think they have been celebrating with us for about 20 years.  

What's a party without some fun games?!
Any party goes better with tasty snacks!

Sr. Julie and her "scary" friends!


 









 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Poverty: The Festering Boil in Chester


A veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Anthony (not his real name) was never able to overcome the PTSD he suffered during his service in Iraq. Following his initial treatment, he returned to his home in Chester, Pennsylvania, but between his continuing mental health issues and lack of job opportunities, Anthony was unable to find work. With only his veteran’s pension, his situation quickly became dire. To escape the images of war still in his head and his inability to move forward in his life, he began to drink. Eventually he landed on the streets where he has lived for the best part of 20 years, finding shelter in abandoned homes and buildings.

Anthony falls into the more than 33% of Chester’s population who live in poverty. Jobs are scarce in the city and going outside the area is not always possible due to lack of transportation. Retail stores may not be readily available in some parts of the city and those that are may not be easily accessible for people without their own transportation. Healthcare again may not be readily available, depending on where people live and what transportation is available. 

Anna’s Place, a hospitality center sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and located in one of the poorest sections of Chester, provides a variety of free programs and a weekly free lunch to help to uplift local residents and give them a safe place to meet with their neighbors. 

For more information about Anna’s Place, click here, http://osfphila.org/support-us/giving-tuesday/.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Closing Ceremony of St. Joseph Family Center in Spokane

St. Joseph Orphanage…St. Joseph Children’s Home…Personal Growth Center…St. Joseph Family Center…126 years of service… On September 17 sisters, companions, former members, current and former staff, board committees and members all gathered to celebrate and remember the history, the life, and the Franciscan presence of those 126 years. In her welcome Sr. Patricia Millen reminded attendees of the scriptural quote, “There is an appointed for everything…a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” But she also reminded them that there is also a time of remembering…of remembering the history of our congregational presence at St. Joseph’s, of remembering the people who are a part of that history—who actually created that history and breathed it into life during those126 years.  

Sr. Patricia Millen welcomed guests and encouraged them to take time to remember the history of St. Joseph’s.
Sr. Patricia Smith had traveled to Spokane for the occasion and was invited to address the assembly. She also recalled the history of St. Joseph’s—both past and present. She recalled, too, St. Francis’ call to ongoing conversion—a call which invites each of us to be open to what God is asking of us. “This is the reality of our five sisters (Pat, Elaine, Joanne, Patty, and Florence). It is the reality of each of us who strive to live the gospel—to ever trust in God—to be about continuous conversion. So we go forth—to share the gifts God has given us generously with others in whatever way God leads us.” 
Fr. Ty Schaff presided over the celebration of the Eucharist.
Following a liturgy celebrated by Fr. Ty Schaff, attendees spent the day doing exactly what Sr. Pat Millen had suggested—remembering the stories, remembering the people, recalling the history of St. Joseph’s and all that this history meant to those involved. And in the telling and in the sharing, the reality that is our Franciscan heritage—the heritage that birthed St. Joseph’s in all of its “incarnations”—will continue to be a part of our presence in Spokane!


(l-r) Fr. Pat O’Leary, Srs. Pat Smith, Jude Connelly, Anne McNamara, and former member Catherine Ruggerio Elia share memories of St. Joseph Family Center.

 

 
 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Retreat: A Time to Reflect and to Meet the God Within!

I'll be going on retreat the last week of October and I'm s-o-o-o looking forward to it. I'll be going to our retreat center here at the motherhouse. Even though I live at the motherhouse now, I still move to the retreat center for my retreat week because I really need that sense of quiet. As I've done in recent years, I'll be attending a retreat presented by Brother Michael Laratonda, a Marist brother. Michael's retreats allow for a lot of quiet time for personal reflection; excellent input in his morning presentations; incorporation of art, poetry, music, and film which deepens the retreat for me; and lots of materials to be used for personal prayer and journaling.

One idea that Brother Michael incorporates into every retreat is comparing the heart to a cave which we must keep ready so that we can welcome God into our hearts. It always reminds me of the picture of God knocking at the door--waiting to be invited into our homes (our heart).

One year while I was on retreat, I was reflecting on these two images--the one where I a hurrying around eagerly getting my heart (my cave) ready for God to come and the other where the door is closed because I'm not so sure what it will be like if I let God come all the way into my heart (or my cave). My reflection ultimately led to this poem--where my good and loving God finds the door to my heart open--at first a little and then a little more and more. I'd like to think that my loving God and I are in the same room (or cave)--and that the initial shyness and hesitation sensed by people who don't know me well doesn't exist by this God who knows me all too well!
 
And God Comes
Your door is open
oh so slightly…
I remember when it closed,
shut tight in fear,
but now, at least,
that oh so slight opening,
a sliver really
so the light can enter,
a light that barely touches
darkened depths
but still
that glimmer whispers hope;
a nudge…
more like a gentle breath…
and the sliver widens
till I can stand
within its space,
waiting quietly,
patient
till your eyes lose their fear
and quiet breathing tells me
I am welcomed
in your
heart.
 
                                                Ann Marie Slavin, OSF
 
 
On a somewhat lighter note, sometimes during retreat I wandered down to the art room--where I'm not particularly comfortable. On two different retreats, I attempted to use clay to depict God and me in the cave of my heart. As you can see--an artist I am not!

I always say that I have the soul of an artist but it somehow never reaches my hands! Seeing these, I think I'd better stick to poetry!!

And what about you? Where do you meet God--and how does God interact with you? I'd love to hear what you have to share!!
 
 


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