Monday, June 27, 2016

Bidding Farewell to Our First Franciscan Volunteers

It hardly seems possible that the first year for our volunteer program—Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain—is drawing to a close! Our volunteers—Kathleen, Mikah, and Sabina—will be completing their year of service the end of June. Our Sunday morning liturgy was a Blessing Mass celebrating the gift that these young adults have been both our congregation and to the people with whom they ministered.

At the beginning of Mass, Sr. Kathy Dougherty welcomed everyone and extended a personal “Thank You” to Mikah, Sabina, and Kathleen in the name of the congregation. She explained that the development of a volunteer program had long been a dream of many in the congregation and that the directives from our 2014 Congregational Chapter provided the perfect opportunity to bring that dream to birth. Kathy also told the volunteers that they were the perfect team to be the “first” because they seemed to capture the essence of the program.

Sr. Kathy Dougherty welcomed the congregation.

Mikah, Sabina, and Kathleen presented the gifts.
 Before the closing hymn, Sara Marks, director of Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain, called the volunteers into the sanctuary and asked all those present to bless them by singing the “Blessing of St. Francis.”
Sabina, Kathleen, and Mikah being blessed by the congregation

The sisters sing the Blessing of St. Francis as they bless our volunteers.
Following the liturgy, Sabina, Kathleen, and Mikah remained in the back of chapel to receive individual greetings from they sisters.
Those who attended the Blessing Mass stopped to greet the volunteers after Mass.
 A reception followed, allowing for additional time to socialize with the volunteers.
Srs. Corda Marie, Bernadette, Pat, Dennis, and Maureen chat and enjoy refreshments.

Sabina (right) visits with Marisibel, a volunteer with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry.
Kathleen chats with her mom during the reception. Her parents came from New Hampshire for the weekend.
Sara Marks eventually initiated “story time.”  She shared her experience of working with Kathleen, Sabina, and Mikah and related a brief story about each. Both Mikah and Sabina shared examples of what attracted them to the program and what they felt the program had to offer to other young adults. Several of the sisters also shared stories about their personal experiences with the volunteers during the course of the year.
 Sabina explained how Sara's emails and the interest she showed helped her to make the decision to become part of our volunteer program.
Sr. Ann David described ways in which the volunteers became, in a sense, part of her local convent. 

Kathleen, Sabina, and Mikah, we wish you well as you move into whatever God is inviting you to do in the future. We pray that the Franciscan values and ideals that you learned during this past year will continue to be part of your lives and will be shared with all whose lives you will touch. We send you off with love and with many blessings! You have—in so many ways—been a blessing to us and to all with whom you ministered!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Franciscan Jubilarians Celebrate 50, 70, 75, and 80 Years of Religious Profession!

On June 12 Our Lady of Angels Convent in Aston, Pennsylvania, hosted the annual jubilee celebration for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The jubilarians gathered at the motherhouse along with approximately 250 congregational members, former members, and companions (associates). The highlight of the festivities was the Eucharistic liturgy held in the motherhouse chapel with Fr. Cyprian Rosen, OFM Cap, presiding. During the liturgy the jubilarians renewed their vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. The celebration continued with a luncheon for the celebrants and their guests.

2016 Golden Jubilarians
Sr. Florence Hee pins Sr. Mary Kennedy's corsage.
Golden jubilarians processed outside on their way to chapel.
Sr. Joanne Clavel proclaims the first reading.

The jubilarians renew the vows they first professed 50 years ago.
The jubilarians who live in Assisi--in addition to celebrating their individual jubilees in May with family and friends--held a celebration in Assisi House on June 5. Following the liturgy the sisters moved to the dining room for a festive luncheon--complete with music!
Ruby jubilarian Sr. Catherine Georgine Portner recalls her first profession of vows 80 years ago.

Jubilarians Srs. Kathleen Tobin, Mary Teresa Carmichael, Manetto Ruocchio, and celebrant Fr. Cyprian get ready to process into chapel.

Diamond jubilarian Sr. Elizabeth Doyle is all set to enjoy her jubilee dinner.

The 17 jubilarians celebrated 50, 70, 75, and 80 years of religious life. During their collective 1,065 years of religious, the jubilarians ministered in 26 dioceses, 14 states, and three countries—serving in education, healthcare, parish ministry, social services, congregational ministry, spiritual ministry, care of orphans, diocesan ministry senior services, and caregiving.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Intergenerational Activities: A Blessing for Both Ends of the Age Spectrum!

Mary Stover who works on various activities with our sisters in Assisi House (our retirement residence in Aston, Pennsylvania) shared the following article about the sisters interaction with students from Neumann University. I thought you'd enjoy it!

More than fifty years ago the Sisters of St. Francis opened Our Lady of Angels, a two-year college designed to further the education of young women.  Fast forward to today and after a lot hard work, their accomplishment has blossomed into a four-year coed institution--Neumann University.  Through the years the sisters have worked closely with the students not only as their teachers and mentors but also as their role models and friends.  This still remains true today for our sisters here at Assisi House.  Throughout the year many groups and student organizations from Neumann University come to visit and share their time and talents with us.

Campus Ministry, a division of the mission and ministry department, is one of these groups.  They visit with us twice a month and get to experience a wide variety of activities.  It is not unusual to see them sitting with the sisters at a fancy afternoon tea or helping out at a rousing game of Jingo.  Or the students may be found serving the sisters at a relaxing “soft pretzel” social.  These students commit their time for the entire school year which gives them the opportunity to get to know our sisters well.  Two months ago the group went down to our Clare Hall and enjoyed some one-on-one time.  Seeing the interactions and hearing the conversations might have led visitors to believe that the sisters and students were long lost friends when in fact they had only just met.  It was a wonderful experience for everyone and it will definitely be repeated.

Some of the groups join us once or twice a year.  The Praise Dancers, for example, are a group of young women who visit us at night to entertain the sisters with their interpretative, spiritual dance—a very creative way to share their lives.  During the holidays, a group of nursing students come with Christmas cards and stamps.  They sit with the sisters and help them address their cards and letters to get them into the mail in a timely fashion. 

We are also a part of the Service Learning Project which enables students from Neumann University to come to Assisi House and fulfill their required time of community service.  In this program, students are placed in different departments depending on their major and/or preferences.  They come to help where they can and through their service, they not only meet many sisters but get to know them and call them “friend.”

One of our newer programs is with the Humanities 200 A: Introduction to Arts Theory and Criticism Class.  Each semester students from the current class—under the tutelage of Professors Gail Corso and William Hamilton—come to Assisi House where we work on a project together.  Their collaborations are always exciting to watch and often bring out some hidden talents from the members of the group. 
(l-r) Sr. Jean Clare Rohe (sitting), Brandon Boyle, Brooke Nugent, Diana Caicedo, Sr. Ann Conrad Koerner (sitting), Daniel LaJudice, Kardell Pressley, Kayla Hall-Thompas, Sr. St. Joseph Brennion (sitting)

(l-r) Annie Wembi, Sr. Francis Ann Harper, Jessica Lepre, Samantha Wurst, Brianna Tyson, Brittany Naimoli, Sr. Eleanor Getz
Unfortunately we are not able to accommodate every student who comes wanting to serve because there are only so many hours in the day, and spaces to fill.  But all in all, we have a good number come through our door and each year look forward to renewing old bonds and creating new ones. 

Our sisters here at Assisi House who have forged the way bring their experience and knowledge to these students and, in return, the students bring their inquisitive minds and excitement for the future.  It is obvious that as we continue down this road of life we are in great need of both.  From our home to yours, may the beautiful renewal of God’s creation during this spring season bring you joy.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Our Sisters' Gifts--Used for Others!

 I always love sharing stories about the work that our sisters do for others. They are such gifted women--and with each of them these gifts are always used to benefit other in one way or another.  Today I'd like to share a bit about two of our sisters--Sr. Marie Lucey who, over the years, has do so much in advocating for justice and peace issues. Currently she ministers with Franciscan Action Network in Washington, DC.
Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer ministered for many years as a nurse. Currently she works with the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association and is well known at the capitol in Harrisburg where she lobbies for various healthcare issues.
Both Sr. Marie and Sr. Clare were recently honored in their respective fields of ministry.

Sr. Marie Lucey was one of the opening speakers at the 2016 Ecumenical Advocacy Days held in Washington, DC. In her opening remarks to the more than 1,000 attendees, Sr. Marie addressed the theme of this year’s gathering, “Lift Every Voice: Race, Class, and Power” and voiced the question of why she, as a white woman, was welcoming people to a gathering on racism. She  added that “the only way I can be authentic in addressing racism is to acknowledge my position of white privilege in this society.”   

Sr. Marie went on to cite examples from both her childhood where she first experienced separation of races and in her early years as an educator when she became aware of the imbalance in numbers of African American children in Catholic schools. She also cited examples when white privilege has been part of her life—even at times when she wasn’t aware of it. 

In closing her remarks, Sr. Marie looked ahead to the final day of the gathering—lobbying with members of congress. “It’s great to be here, black, brown, and white, to be with each other, to share with each other, and to act together, especially on Monday when we visit members of congress…Let’s lift our voices in song and cries for justice—together!”  

Watch the video here: 

Congratulations to Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer, who was once again the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award—this time by Central Penn Parent. The organization held its annual Healthcare Hero ceremony “to salute excellence, encourage innovation, offer examples of best practices for others to emulate, raise awareness in the community, enhance the quality of healthcare and, recognize deserving individuals and organizations within the industry.” Central Penn Parent’s magazine listed finalists in a variety of healthcare roles: Future of Healthcare, Volunteers, Allied Health and Emergency, Special Needs, Pediatrics, Senior Care, Physicians, Allied Health, Dental and Oral Care, Mental Health, and Caregiver. From the list of finalists, ‘heroes” in each category were selected and pictured in the magazine. Sr. Clare’s photo identified her as the Lifetime Achievement Winner

Citing Sr. Clare’s various positions in healthcare over the years, the summary went on to say that she has “impacted thousands of lives” and “works to protect the needs of children, the elderly, the poor, and the underserved.” The summary also included Sr. Clare’s own explanation of the works that she does in regard to healthcare public policy. In addition to describing her work with public policy, she also explained that because the presence of women religious in the capitol is rare, she and the legislators often ends up discussing more that the issue under consideration. “They often want to discuss other personal matters, seek my advice, and ask if I will say a prayer for them,” she explained. “I’m humbled to be an ambassador for faith that way.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What’s Happening on the Hill: An Assisi House Diary

The following article, which appeared in the most recent newsletter that went out to your sisters, was written by Mary Stover who plans and organizes activities for our retired sisters who live in Assisi House. I thought it provided a great look into how dedicated these sisters are in finding ways to carry out our mission! A few years ago I stayed in Assisi House when I was recuperating from surgery and had the opportunity to participate each week during Lent in making sandwiches. What a beautiful experience that was seeing these sisters sitting around a table together, chatting as they made and wrapped these sandwiches! 

“Come. You have my Father’s blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.  I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me."  Then the just will ask him: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you drink?  When did we welcome you away from home or clothe you?  When did we visit you when you were ill or in prison?"  The king will answer them: "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me."    (Matthew 25:34-40)

The sisters who reside here at Assisi House continue their mission of service with ministries that answer the call to see our Lord’s face in everyone they meet and also in those strangers who are suffering.  Our Prison Pen-Pal Ministry consists of a group of sisters who write to men in prison through the organization Mary, Mother of Captives and the Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor.  Our group currently has 11 members who write to their pen-pals at least once a month.  We also gather together to share our letters and to discuss ways on how we can be of help to these men.  The prisoners to whom we write are very appreciative.  They don’t always write back regularly but more than one sister has received a letter from her pen-pal thanking her for her faithfulness and begging her not to stop writing to him or to give up on him.  For some of these men, the letters that they receive from their sister pen-pal is the only contact that they have from the outside world.

Sr. Mary Teresa Carmichael, who coordinates the Prison Pen-Pal Project, hold a statue of Mary, Mother of Captives, that she received from the organization that connects the sisters with the prisoners.
Another ministry is the Bologna Sandwich Service Project.  Every week during Lent, the sisters gather to make bologna sandwiches which are then given to St. Francis Inn to feed those who are poor and homeless.  St. Francis Inn is located in Philadelphia.  Assisi House has been a contributor for many years now.  We make on average 200 sandwiches a week and as you can imagine “many hands make light work.”  Our sisters who reside in Clare Hall also contribute by filling treat bags with hard candy that are distributed along with the sandwiches. The sisters love doing this project every year and after every session, without fail, each of us goes away with a huge craving for bologna!
Throughout the year the sisters also work on Community Service Projects (CSP) which may benefit students, staff, or visitors.  A special CSP is cutting coupons, a project which entails cutting and sorting coupons that are then sent overseas to our Army, Navy, and Air force bases.  Soldiers and their families really appreciate the chance to save money on the essentials and for our sisters, this is just one more way to help where there is a need.
(beginning far left) Srs. Francis Madaio, Doretta Egan, Alphonsus Moran, Jean Clare Rohe, and Theresa Mary Mich clip coupons which will be eventually be sent to families of military personnel.
Well, as the saying goes, “There is no rest for the weary” which is so true here at Assisi House.  Through their prayer and continued service, the sisters will keep shining a light into the darkness to extend a helpful hand.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Meet Sr. Kathleen Groome!

Once again it's my pleasure to introduce you to one of our sisters--up close and personal!!

Many of our sisters had early connections with the congregation—connections that reach back to elementary school. Sr. Kathleen Groome’s connection, however, seemed even more defined. “Believe it or not, the Franciscans were in my life every day of my first 15 years,” she said. Sr. Kathleen grew up the youngest of eight children. The family’s backyard was actually on the grounds of St. Elizabeth Parish in Philadelphia. Her aunt was a member of the congregation who lived at that same convent and was disciplinarian at Hallahan High School where Kathleen spend her secondary school years. While many of us stayed after school to “help sister” or occasionally helped out at the convent, Kathleen’s service was more detailed.  “During the eight years in elementary school, I had a charge in the convent—community room, refectory, washing lunch dishes, sewing room, fire steps, porch, two parlors, and main hall. I guess you could say I was a young Franciscan!” This close relationship to the sisters in her early life played a major role in discerning her own vocation. To Kathleen, religious life was simply another extension of family. “A family is fun-loving, friendly, compassionate, helpful, encouraging, and prayerful,” she explained. “The Franciscans were all of these and so much more to me and my family. So…why not be a Franciscan.”

During her years in the congregation, Sr. Kathleen’s ministry experiences both utilized and further developed her many gifts. She served as both teacher and principal in elementary schools, worked in parish ministry, in healthcare, and as an administrative assistant in a middle school. In 2013 Sr. Mary Vandergeest, director of the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation, invited Sr. Kathleen to volunteer in the foundation office. She accepted and continues her service there, utilizing the organizational skills honed over the years. Currently her primary responsibilities include sending acknowledgement letters to donors and organizing the annual raffle project—a job that extends far beyond distributing tickets and counting returns. She contacts various parishes where our sisters are or have been connected and arranges dates when sisters can sell raffle tickets after Masses. Then she rounds up teams of sisters to handle sales at each parish and makes sure the teams have everything they need for the designated day: collapsible tables, posters, pens, change, pre-addressed stamped envelopes for parishioners who prefer to mail in a donation, and appropriate letters of authorization
Srs. Kathleen Groom, Kathleen Parisi, and Johanna Curran check and record raffle returns.
Sr. Kathleen packs up a supply of raffle tickets for the sisters who will be selling tickets in a parish.
Sr. Kathleen makes arrangements for sisters to sell raffle tickets at a parish in Wilmington.

Sr. Kathleen checks back files for information on a donor.

Sr. Kathleen adds information to the donor base.

As in any work there are both challenges and blessings. For Sr. Kathleen these are connected. “The only challenge is keeping up with thanking our generous donors in a timely manner,” she said. “But to be aware of the numerous donors who request our prayers, who share with us the wonderful memories they have of our sisters—that is a blessing for me.”  And for Sr.Kathleen, there is the whole reality of her vocation and the way in which she has lived out that call. “The greatest blessing is to have spent 58 years as a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia ministering and living with many saintly sisters, she explained. “I couldn’t imagine life any differently!”



Friday, April 15, 2016

Celebrating the Year of Mercy: Afternoon of Prayer

On April 10—as part of our celebration of the Year of Mercy—we held an Afternoon of Prayer here at our motherhouse in Aston, Pennsylvania. A number of our sisters, companions, and friends joined us. The afternoon began in chapel with midday prayer--and the hymn, "There's A Wideness In God's Mercy" provided the perfect opening.

Sr. Jean Ustasiewski welcomed all who attended the Afternoon of Prayer.
Sr. Andrea Likovich led us in singing the refrain of Psalm 33, “Lord, Let Your Mercy Be On Us,” as we prayed the verses. We chanted Psalm 103 which speaks so eloquently of God’s mercy and reminds us of God’s faithfulness in forgiving and healing us. The readings from our midday prayer continued to expand both on God’s mercy to us and on our call to be merciful in our dealings with others. In Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us that “God who is rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ” and that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared to be our way of life.” Similarly the readings from our Third Order Regular Franciscan Rule reminded us that “As [we] announce peace with our lips, let [us] be careful to have it even more within [our] own hearts.” The TOR Rule also calls us “to be moved to peace, goodwill, and mercy because of [our] gentleness” and reminds us to “heal the wounded…and to bind up those who are bruised.”

Sr. Andrea Likovich provided the musical accompaniment for the afternoon's program.
Sr. Margaret Xavier Romans proclaimed the reading from Ephesians.
Sr. Rose Christopher Sheridan shared the reading from the TOR Rule.
Sr. Ann David Strohminger, delegate for religious in the Diocese of Wilmington, shared a beautiful reflection. She began by referring to the reading from Ephesians and Paul’s explanation that God’s mercy and love are pure gift—given simply because God loves us. She stressed the fact that each of us has our own sacred story, a story that we need to hear from God’s perspective. “From my beginning it is God who first reverences me, praises me from the moment that I was God’s original thought,” she explained. Sr. Ann cited a quote from Zephaniah who said, “God danced over me.” She questioned what kind of dance that would have been—waltz, jive, hip hop? The reality is, of course, that the dance would simply have matched the uniqueness of the “me” that God made and continues to love! 

Sr. Ann David Strohminger's reflection provided much food for thought for all who attended to take home and ponder.
Continuing her theme of our individual sacred stories, Sr. Ann reminded us that we have all “experienced times of joy and awe, of bruises and pain.”  And in those times of brokenness, she explained, God is right there next to me—always accepting me “whether or not I believe I am acceptable…God loves me where I am and compassionately waits with me until I am ready to surrender those dark hidden shadows.” This willingness to “surrender the shadows,” Sr. Ann described as “housecleaning” and suggested that the Easter season is the perfect time for spring housecleaning.  

Sr. Ann closed her reflection by encouraging each of us to discover our own experience of mercy with our God. “Today I invite you to ask God to tell you your graced history—the story of God’s great love, mercy, and compassion in your life,” she urged. “Listen to your graced and merciful story from God perspective—not you telling God what you think it is. Hear it as lovingly told by God. It is your intimacy story. Take the time to listen. Then ask yourself these questions.:
·       What is stretching my soul?
·       Where did God grasp my attention?
·       How has my heart been touched?
·       How is God’s perspective of my life different from mine?
·       What is God teaching me about mercy in my life?
·       What is my response? 

Following Sr. Ann’s reflection, we joined in intercessory prayer. Then the altar was set up for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. After an extended period of quiet time for personal prayer, our services closed with Benediction. Once again our music highlighted the theme of mercy—“Praises of God” by Sr. Andrea Likovich and “We Belong to You” by Trevor Thomson.  

An extended period of quiet time before the Blessed Sacrament provided attendees an opportunity for personal prayer and to reflect on Sr. Ann David's questions.
Our afternoon ended with refreshments in the Blessing Room—a time to share, to celebrate, and to witness to the gift of God’s mercy that we have received.
If you are ever in the Aston, Pennsylvania area, please let me know. I'd love to have you stop by for a visit so I can show you our beautiful motherhouse and our grounds!



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