Friday, May 29, 2015

The Wonder of Synchronicity!

One of the sisters I use to work with here at the motherhouse always talked about synchronicity--a word that was until then unknown to me. However, over the intervening years I've really come to be amazed and awed at the numerous instances of synchronicity. Some would simply brush it off as coincidence but it's something much broader, much deeper than mere coincidence. It's a coming together of idea, occurrences, ideas in such a way that, to me, it almost staggers the soul.

When I first came into work this morning, I check my email and took time to read the daily reflection I received from Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. The reflections are always based on Franciscan spirituality and for the last few days have been focused on the fact that St. Francis called everything in creation his brother and sister. In talking about this "oneness" of all creation and about prayer, Fr. Rohr said, "I must know that I am, at least in part, the very thing I am seeking. In fact, that is what makes me seek it. But most do not know this good news yet. God cannot be found 'out there' until God is first found 'in here,' within ourselves."

This, in turn, reminded me of one of my favorite poems, Francis Thompson's "The Kingdom of God." I've always loved the way he explains that nature knows how to find what is important to it, what it is to do. We, on the other hand, are not always aware that the God we seek is already with us! So...I went hunting for Thompson's poem to share with you.

The Kingdom of God
O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air--
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!--
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places--
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrang├Ęd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry--and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry--clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

And the final piece of this morning of synchronicity? I usually like to share a movie video from YouTube when I do a reflection. I had never heard this hymn before but when I found it, it pretty much took my breath away! The lyrics are not printed on the video and I wasn't able to find one that had them. However, they are very simple and I think fairly understandable. Enjoy it and be at peace!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

News from Nyumbani Children's Home

These are some of the most recent updates from Sr. Julie Mulvihill in Nyumbani Children's Home in Kenya. Sr. Julie works there with children whose parents have died from AIDS. During her years there some of the children have also died. The part about the termites pretty much freaked me out!This particular segment was just published the newsletter we send to our sisters. Then last night at dinner, I saw Sr. Julie who had just arrived from Kenya to celebrate her jubilee--50 years as a Sister of St. Francis.

 April 24, 2015
Everything at Nyumbani is beautifully green, our flowers are blooming and our avocados are growing bigger every day.  Most evenings this week we had heavy showers which sometimes bring out the flying termites that are attracted to any light they can find. I knew not to turn the lights on in my room until I had closed the curtains and stuffed something under the door.  This kept the termites outside which is usually good—unless  you are eating in an open air dining hall.  In that case, you turn off the overhead lights, place lamps near by where you are sitting but not too close to you so that the termites are drawn to the lights and not to you and your food. Keep all lids on your food except when you are putting food on your plate. Only use your flashlight to see what food you are putting on your plate and then turn it off so the termites are not drawn to your plate while you are eating!  

Our Holiday Program went well this week.  The high school students are enjoying their tutoring with the students from Kenyatta University.  Standards 7 and 8 are traveling down to Don Bosco for their program.   All seems to be going well with the computer, art and library classes. The wall painting is progressing well.  Our only problem is that the painting is going so well that Sr. Emily wants us to paint the wall in front of Paul Miki and Motinda is requesting that we paint the walls in front of each cottage.   Next week our Form 4 students will attend the 2nd part of their Self- Reliance Training.  They will be working on employment preparation, covering topics like career guidance, vocational discernment, preparing resumes, completing job applications, and sitting up job interviews.  

All the children are doing well.  We had a little boy admitted to respite care this week.  He is very frail looking but I got a beautiful smile from him when I gave him a couple of trucks to play with as well as a stuffed animal. Please pray that he responds well to the TLC he is receiving in respite. 

At our Holiday Program at Nyumbani this week we worked hard to get the paintings completed on the wall.  The kids did a pretty good job but did not get completely finished so John and Sam will put on the final touches next week.   I am so grateful to Donna, Deb, and Ben for getting us funding for this art project.  The children also enjoyed their times in the library and computer room.  We finished our program on Wednesday and then had a Dental Clinic on Thursday.  The doctors were able to see all of the children and any staff who wished to be examined.  I was down at Don Bosco on Thursday but I made sure that all the Form 4s got back for their dental checkups and then back to Don Bosco for the afternoon.   

Friday was Labor Day so the staff was off and the children at Nyumbani had a free morning to play while Form 4s and Standards 7 and 8 went down to Don Bosco for a Prayer Day.  In the afternoon the group from Don Bosco—about 80—came up to Nyumbani for community service.  They were mixed in with our children for an hour of cleaning and then they all played together. Fr. Benn from Don Bosco has tried hard to integrate our children with the neighborhood children who come in for his program each day.  I think it is good for ours to mingle with and get to know the children who live in the surrounding  area.  Hopefully, it will help to break down some of the stigma that our children face when they leave Nyumbani. 

Please pray for the college students who tutored our high school kids throughout the Holiday Program.  They really worked hard with the kids.  Also, pray that our high school students see some results from all their hard work.  Hopefully, some of those examination scores will go up.   

This week we got a new admission.  Her name is Tanya and she looks about six years old.  She is in Cottage H.  It was so nice to see the little ones in the cottage taking such good care of her.  They were leading her around the playground and showing her all the things she could play with.  When I went into Cottage H, they were so happy to introduce her to me.  They are trying to make her feel right at home.  This adjustment to a new home must be so hard for her. 

Next week all of our children will begin their second semester of school.  We will have a special blessing for all them at Mass on Sunday.  Please pray that each child will stay healthy and do their best in school this semester.   

May 8, 2015 
Last Friday I tried to cook about 280 hot dogs for the children, mums, and uncles for supper.  I had trouble with my little stove heating up such a big pot of hot dogs so Eric in the kitchen finished them for me and then I distributed them to everyone.   They were loved by all.  Thanks Donna for making this treat possible.  

On Saturday I was up early to get ready for the Nyumbani  Kenyan Olympics.  I gathered everything I needed—jump ropes, balloons, hats, balls, scooters, candy, Kenya airways medals, and Canadian pins for prizes.  I marked the basketball court for the Over/Under Ball Passing Game so each cottage could line up and for the Foul Shooting Contest. Uncle John and the high school kids helped with these  events.  I also marked the spot to kick the soccer ball and the soccer net.  Reagan was the goalie for this event.  I marked the starting and finish line for all of our track and field events.  We used the driveway behind the Noel House because the field in front of Paul Miki was recently seeded.  We has an over/under ball passing game, kick the soccer ball, track events where the kids just ran, jump rope races, a hat relay, and scooter races.  . With the encouragement of the kids, we also got the mums into a foot race. To be sure that everyone got something, there were times when I told Laura to give everyone balloons or candy.  I had to be a little stingy with the medals and pins because I did not have enough for all to get one. I'll have to go to the Dollar Store and purchase some when I'm home.  

At 10:30 AM the whistle blew and all of us, including Sister Mary, lined up around the Olympic Basketball Court to begin the Nyumbani Kenyan Olympics.  I introduced what the Olympics were all about, Sister Mary said a few words, and then we sang the Kenyan National Anthem. Next time we will have to get some type of Olympic Torch to light.  We just kept racing until the prizes ran out. An added contest for the teenagers was a Basketball Game and I refereed it.  All the kids stood and cheered.  During the game I got hit in the nose with the ball.  It cut my nose and caused a little nose bleed but it was okay. Sunday the kids all came to church in their school uniforms so Father can bless them and their new school semester.  On Monday morning I was out front  at 6:15 AM to wave goodbye as they left for school and by Thursday all the high school kids had returned to school.  At 8:30 AM the little ones were happy to go to Paul Miki for class because Teacher Margaret had returned from her leave and they were very happy to welcome her back. Please pray our kids work hard in school and keep improving in their studies. 

The first week of school has gone well.   I'll be heading down to Don Bosco for the Self-Reliance Training for our young adults.  The topic is Spiritual Care.  We want to encourage our young adults to get involved in churches after they leave Nyumbani.  This will not only help them to take care of their spirituality, but will also help them to reintegrate back into the community by getting involved in the young adult groups. It should help them to build relationships with people outside of Nyumbani and hopefully find friends who will not stigmatize them because of their status. Please pray all goes well. 

Love and prayers to all, Julie





Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ecumenical Advocacy Days: A time for renewal, of learning, of prayer, of hope, and of advocacy!

Recently I experienced another first in my life--attending the Ecumenical Advocacy Days. This yearly event is a weekend of programs and presentations for people of various religious denominations culminating in a day of lobbying at senate and congressional offices in Washington, DC. This year's theme was "Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation." I have to admit that while I looked forward to the various presentations, the idea of lobbying was a totally new experience for me--one that engendered a bit of hesitation and nerves! However, I went with three of our sisters (Srs. Marie Lucey, Maria Orlandini, and Hope Bauerlin) and one of our lay associates (Melissa Hickey)--all of whom were pretty used to the entire experience. What I'd like to do here is simply to give an overview of the various topics and presentations I was graced to attend.

We arrived at the hotel  about 3:30 Friday afternoon. The others had meetings scheduled so I simply took the time to settle into our room and to look over the rather extensive program booklet. Had I used my head, I would have checked out the orientation session that was being held--both on reviewing the schedule, the theme of mass incarceration, and a bit of background on what to expect on Capitol Hill. However, hindsight always provides ideas for "next time"!

When the others returned from their meetings, we took time to grab a sandwich and headed off to the Opening Celebration: Breaking the Chains. Music played a part in the entire weekend and this opening session was no exception. As happened throughout the weekend, all of us were frequently invited to participate in song. We were welcomed by Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.; Sr. Patricia Chapel, SNDdeN, executive director of Pax Christi USA; and Douglas G. Grace, director of Ecumenical Advocacy Days. The main speaker for the evening was Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. Her powerful presentation, based on the Acts of the Apostles, set the tone for the remainder of the weekend and addressed the issues that would become the focus of our lobbying efforts. You can capture a bit of her presentation at

A glimpse at the fabulous musicians whose gifts enhanced the various presentations.
Saturday morning's program began early--7 A.M. I quickly learned that meal times were also presentation times. We headed up to the 14th floor for breakfast and the LGBT Briefing,  "Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Incarceration" hosted by the UCC HIV & AIDS Network. Following breakfast we headed to the morning plenary session: "Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation" with presentations by Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and Dr. Bill Mefford, director for civil and human rights for the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. A video of their presentations can be found at
After a coffee break and time to visit exhibits, we had our first state breakout session. Sr. Hope, Melissa, and I headed to the Pennsylvania group where we learned more in detail about how the lobbying day would work. Pennsylvania had a rather large group--roughly 25-30 people. We learned that we would not be meeting with the senators and representatives themselves but with one of their aides. We reviewed the information about the "Ask"--precisely what we are asking of our senators and representatives. The "Ask" actually had two major components:
1. End Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
We urge Congress to support federal criminal justice reform legislation that would:
  • allow judges the discretion to fully consider the circumstances of individual cases to arrive at the most appropriate sentencing decision.
  • strike or reduce mandatory minimum sentences.
  • shrink the size of the federal prison system, particularly among people convicted of nonviolent and low-level offenses.
  • eliminate racial disparity and racial bias in sentencing.
  • prioritize alternatives to incarceration for individuals who pose little threat to public safety and ensure accountability without the use of excessive punishment.
2. Eliminate the Detention Bed Quota for Immigrants and Implement Alternatives to Detention
In the House, Representatives Ted Deutch and Bill Foster will introduce an amendment to strike the quote language in the appropriations bill. We ask you to:
  • vote in favor of the Deutch-Foster amendment
  • contact other offices to gain support for the elimination of the quota
  • express your opposition to the bed quota in public statements.
Our group leader explained that for each of the visits to the two senators, Senator Casey and Senator Toomy, we needed to designate individuals for specific roles:
  • introduce the group and explain our general purpose
  • speakers to address each of the two components of the "Ask"
  • speakers to tell personal stories related to each component of the "Ask"
  • a time keeper
  • a note taker
  • someone to write a formal thank you after we return home
We managed to get individuals to assume each of these two roles for Senator Casey's office and set about getting a second list of volunteers to perform the same tasks at Senator Toomey's office. That proved more difficult. When no one seemed to be volunteering to speak to the first part of the "Ask," I hesitantly raised my hand. Our moderator said "Great!--and just remember, you will have already been through it once." I can't say that was a great comfort but I just smiled and nodded. We finally finished getting a sufficient number of volunteers for that visit and realized it was time for lunch and another plenary session. Our director explained that in our training session the following day, we would discuss our visits to the various members of the House of Representatives.
We stopped to pick up a box lunch and headed for the lunch plenary, "The Rose of the Church in the 'War on Drugs'" Douglas Walker, M.Div., the national director for criminal justice reform for the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, moderated a four-person panel comprised of
  • Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Rev. Edwin C. Sanders, II, senior servant, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, Nashvile, Tennessee
  • Jasmine Tyler, senior policy analyst for Global Health and Drug Policy, Open Society Foundations 
A video of the panel is available at
The afternoon focused on a series of "issue workshops." We had a number of workshops from which to choose. For the first I chose "The Face of Modern Day Slavery: Identifying and Responding to Trafficking in America" because of our congregation's corporate stand against trafficking. The presenters were three young women who worked with victims of trafficking and with law enforcement agencies. Each of the presenters worked with organizations associated with various religious denominations.
My second workshop, "Returning Home after Incarceration: Breaking Down Obstacles for Successful Reintegration," was one that I particularly enjoyed. The presenters all worked with people who had been recently paroled and in two cases, had themselves been incarcerated. Deborah, who was from the Washington, DC area, spoke about her own experience of "returning home." She felt called to work with others parolees and helps them to find jobs, etc. She laughingly told us that her own parole officer, with whom she continues to keep in touch, nominated her as "Parolee of the Year." Hector, a former gang member, now works at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. He spoke about the work of Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, who worked to build relationships with gang members and who simply asked the question, "How can I help you?" Based on their responses, he got them both education and jobs. Visit their website and learn about the wonderful programs that have grown out of that simple question! Terry is a member of the Creek Nation and spoke about the program her people started for members released from prison. These individuals can apply to the Creek Nation for help with clothing, housing, referrals for treatment needs, classes, etc. Visit their website to learn about all their program offers.
Following the afternoon's workshops, we gathered in denominational groups for services. The Catholic contingent joined for the Eucharistic liturgy and then gathered for pizza and a panel on restorative justice.
Sunday was another busy day beginning with an Israel/Palestine Briefing breakfast hosted by the Presbyterian Church, the UMC General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Missions, American Friends Service Committee. The presentation, "Nonviolent Economic Resistance: From Consumer to the Corporation" forced me to admit that the presentations gave me a totally different view of the Israeli/Palestine situation and led me to realize that I'm very much lacking in knowledge of the history and the reality of the current situation. One of the presentations was by a member of the American Friends Service Committee. You might find it interesting to read their handout, "Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions.
We went from breakfast to the interdenominational worship session--an experience I thoroughly enjoyed--singing; a beautiful interpretative dance; the presentation by Bishop Jose Garcia, director of church relations for Bread for the World; and the symbolic "breaking of the chains."
This is not a particularly good photo but these gentlemen--with their beautiful voices and excellent harmony--enriched several of our sessions
This beautiful interpretive dance opened the way for our symbolic breaking of the chains.
The morning plenary session, "The Churches' Response to Systems of Exploitation" was another of my favorite presentations--one that truly touched my heart. The panel, moderated by David Schilling from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, featured individuals who ministered in four different parts of the world and who shared their stories of exploitative systems and what was being done to eradicate and improve the systems.
  • Emira Woods: Global Client Principal for Social Impact Programs at Thought Works--South Africa
  • Fr. Shay Cullen: Founder of People Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation -- Philippines
  • Joanne Blaney: Maryknoll lay missioner and Fr. Valdir Joao Silveira, Ntional Coordinator of the Prison Ministry Pastoral -- Brazil
  • Raed Jarrar: Policy Impact Coordinator for American Friends Service Committee -- Middle East
I was especially touched--and horrified--by some of the photos that Fr. Cullen and Joanne Blaney showed.
Children imprisoned in the Philippines
Example of overcrowded prisons in Brazil
During lunch we met again with our state groups. After a quick review of who was doing what in our meetings with the senators, we gathered with our various congressional districts. Sr. Hope and I quickly learned that there were only four of us going to Rep. Patrick Meehan's office. We talked about it briefly, determined what we needed, and planned to finalize it over lunch on Monday. However, since we were only four, I was fairly certain that I would be doing something!
Sunday afternoon we went to the third of our self-selected workshops. I chose to go to one on restorative justice because the topic is one in which I was particularly interested and had hoped to see how the method could be applied to capital cases. However, while interesting, the three speakers addressed the issue more from the perspective of reintegration than from that of what I knew of restorative justice. I did pick up some material on the topic both at the workshop and from the exhibits.
And then it was Monday! We woke to a day that was gray and rainy. At 7:30 we boarded buses that took us to the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, located a few LONG blocks from Capitol Hill. Our Pennsylvania group gathered for a prayer, a brief meeting, and then headed down to Senator Casey's office. Surprisingly the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. We were met by the senator's legislative aide, Sam Koshgarian, a young woman who seemed to have a good grasp of what Senator Casey did or did not support. We followed through our prescribed program while Sam took notes and listened attentively to our explanations, our issues, and our stories.
Our Pennsylvania group joined in prayer outside Sen. Casey's office before our meeting. You can see Sr. Hope against the wall (wearing a brightly colored scarf)
After our first meeting, we headed--by way of tunnels--across to another senate office building where we met with Senator Toomey's legislative correspondent, Devorah Goldman. We were a bit early but after a short wait, the office was able to work us in a little earlier than scheduled. Again we presented the main components of our "Ask" and shared both our personal stories and our concerns. I did my piece--apparently in a satisfactory way!
Our Pennsylvania contingent outside Senator Toomey's office. The young women in the dark blue dress is his legislative correspondent.
Following this meeting, a group of us walked past the front of the U.S. Capitol heading to buildings where members of the House of Representatives have their offices. We at lunch in one of the congressional cafeterias and headed to the office of Representative Patrick Meehan. We were met by his legislative assistant Jim Gray. We went through our procedure once again, this time the four of us sharing all of the various tasks. Jim took notes on our major points and our questions and explained what he knew of Representative Meehan's leanings. As we did in each of our other meetings, we left a copy of our "Ask" with its detailed explanations and list of statistics supporting our arguments.
Three of the four of us who met with Representative Meehan's aide.
As I indicated initially, this experience was a new one for me--and one I sincerely hope I can repeat. It's hard to even find words to express my admiration for the people I met--women and men from faith traditions different from my own yet filled with the dreams and hopes for justice and peace that have been part of my own journey. To each of them I can only offer a heartfelt prayer of thanks!



Friday, April 24, 2015

Learn More About Our Volunteer Program!

Don't forget to visit new page on our website to learn about our new ministry: Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain! There you can learn about the core values that our volunteers will be learning about, find info on the four ministry sites, and listen to any of our three podcasts that you might have missed!

You'll find all of this at

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Meet Sr. Mary Vandergeest!

As always, I love introducing my blogger friends to our sisters. Today I'd like to introduce you to Sr. Mary Vandergeest, the executive director of the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation. And on a personal note, Sr. Mary is one of the sisters who entered the congregation the same time I did--so that's another personal reason that I'm so pleased to introduce her!!
In 2000, after many years in education as both teacher and principal, Sr. Mary Vandergeest had just completed a term as principal of Cardinal Sheehan School in Baltimore. The school had grown and was stable in enrollment, faculty, and finances and Sr. Mary felt that it was a good time for her to move on to something new. “I had nothing definite in mind and was just considering my options—none of which was development,” she laughed. And then came an unexpected call from Sr. Madonna Marie Cunningham inviting her to meet to discuss the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation and the needs of the congregation. After further discussion and much prayer, Sr. Mary agreed to accept the position of development director. “I had been successful in school with fundraising, keeping the school budget in the black, and even establishing an endowment,” she said, “But selling M&Ms and doing pizza sales is much different from raising millions!”

Life in the foundation office is busy and varied. In addition to the usual “nitty gritty” of phone calls, emails, appointments, and meetings, Sr. Mary oversees plans for fundraisers, communicates with trustees, meets with donors who wish to partner with us in ministry, organizes plans for board meetings, and—she adds—“takes time to read and dream!”
Sr. Mary reviews an upcoming issue of “Connections” with Sr. Jean Margaret McDevitt and chats with Sr. Kathy Parisi, associate director of the foundation, about plans for scheduling tours of the motherhouse.
As in any ministry, development has both its challenges and its blessings. No two donors are alike and Sr. Mary has learned that methods of both appealing and responding must be personalized—and personalization requires both creativity and time. In addition, the needs of our ministries—including retirement—are many and the needs often outweigh the resources. “I have to remind myself,” she said, “that the goal is not money—but rather our mission.” 

Sr. Mary Vandergeest (right) chats with Sr. Kathy Dougherty and Foundation Board member, Mary Smithson, and a gathering at St. Joseph’s University.

Sr. Mary greets Jack and Elise Surgent  at a foundation appreciation gathering.

The blessings, however, definitely outweigh the challenges. Sr. Mary is quick to acknowledge that she has been blessed with both a paid staff and with volunteers—both sisters and laity, including former members—all of whom are committed to the Sisters of St. Francis and the ministry of the foundation. She adds to these a dedicated board of trustees—both past and current. “Past chairs and trustees have paved the way to grow the foundation while present trustees are keenly aware of the need for change that faces us in the world of fundraising,” she explained. Another aspect of her ministry that Sr. Mary considers a blessing lies in the people she has met and the stories they’ve shared. Many of these people are at a point in life when they’re able to say “thank you” in recalling what our sisters have given them, whether that be an education, medical care, a listening ear a smile, a prayer, an encouraging word that made someone feel valued. “I have often been brought to tears as people share their story,” Sr. Mary recalled. “They are so grateful and their stories have helped me come to a greater appreciation of our sisters and the ways in which they have affected lives too numerous to count.” 

Sr. Mary was one of a number of sisters who took part in the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Wilmington. (L-R): Srs. Margaret O’Brien, Mary Farrell, Mary Vandergeest, Stephanie Unger, Katie O’Donnell, Geralda Meskill, Agnes Bonner, Kathy Dougherty, and Frances Cassidy.
Sr. Mary’s own connection with our sisters began when she was a sophomore at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia and reflects something of this same experience. Although she was taught by women religious of various congregations, the Franciscans who taught her seemed to have a “certain something” that made a lasting impression. “They were women who showed respect and concern for us,” she recalled, “a group of happy women educating young women to take their place in society,” That impression has followed Sr. Mary through the years in education and the years in development. And it is perhaps through her experience in the foundation—as she listens to and takes to heart the stories of our sisters’ impact on the lives of others—that she has come to understand that “fundraising is a ministry that is needed to build the kingdom.”


Monday, April 13, 2015

Of This and That

Our sisters are always busy--either with their individual ministries, with representing the congregation at various gatherings, or advocating for the issues that we see as part of our Franciscan calling.

On March 15 Srs. Marguerite O’Beirne and Esther Anderson were invited to join eight other women at the Union League in Philadelphia for breakfast and dialogue with Anne Anderson, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States. The topic for discussion was “Women in Leadership.” Ambassador Anderson is Ireland’s first woman ambassador to the U.S.   Prior to her appointment, she was Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations where her particular focus there was on the development of human rights and gender equality. During the breakfast, the ambassador shared experiences in her career as a diplomat.  The women present were then invited to share their experiences of the role and development of women in their various businesses, organizations, and the boards on which they had served. The group committed to find additional ways to continue the
dialogue and to promote gender equality.
Sr. Esther is second from the left, Sr. Marguerite third from the right, and the Irish Ambassador (wearing the light green dress) is in the center.

At work at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, Sr. Bernadette Brazil learned that the maternity unit was in need of baby caps for their newborns. She was thrilled when Sr. Immaculee Burke introduced her to her cousin, Aine Lavery.  Aine is preparing for graduation from St. Philip Neri School in Lafayette Hill and—fortunately for Sr. Bernadette—she was looking for a service project. One snowy Sunday afternoon they worked together and completed one hundred caps for the babies.  The maternity nurses were thrilled with the work. Sr. Bernadette was privileged to be present at several deliveries in which the caps were used as soon as the babies were born. Having been involved in making the caps and being present as they were used was especially heartwarming.
Aine hard at work making baby caps for the newborns at St. Francis Hospital
Several of our sisters along with some of the folks who come to Anna’s Place joined Srs. Jean Rupertus, Maria Orlandini, and others in an evented focused on ending gun violence in Chester, Pennsylvania. The group gathered on March 21 at Linwood United Methodist Church. In addition to prayer and song, the program included educational information about straw purchases. Participants were invited to take the message further in a march. In addition to carrying signs calling for an end to gun violence, the group displayed t-shirts bearing the names of victims.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Update from Haiti!

Hope you enjoy our latest update from Sr. Vicky in Haiti! In addition  to sharing what she learning about the economy and life in a rural area and her work with the school children, Vicky also shared a rather frightening experience with us.

Early March
One day when I was walking to St. Rose School, I spotted a surprising and precious sight—  one brown and three black baby pigs running across the path.  I had seen their mom many times before but since pigs tend to be fat anyway, I wasn’t sure she was pregnant.  Besides the fact that they were so cute, I was also very happy to see them because they are a source of hope for the farmers here.  Up until 1978 Haiti had a huge pig population.  The pig was extremely important to the economy of the poor in Haiti.  They relied on pigs, especially in emergency situations, for sustenance.  However, in 1978 pigs in Haiti were diagnosed as having Asian flu and a decision was made to destroy all of them.  The United States had a very strong influence on this decision. Since pigs were so important to the economy of the Haitian poor, the loss caused the people great suffering. Farmers were told that a repopulation program would be put into effect but the effort wasn’t too successful. Few farmers in our area have pigs now.  Many people won’t eat them because they’re still afraid of getting sick. Ever since this tragic event, there has been a lot of discussion and criticism about whether it was really necessary and worth all the hardship it brought on the Haitian peasants. So you can better understand why seeing those baby pigs brought a moment of joy and hope to me and, I imagine, to the farmers here.
Baby pigs forage for food along the roadside.
I really have learned a lot of things in my day-to-day travels up to our little St. Rose de Lima School.  Again today I got to the top of the hill and, to my surprise, saw a whole group of farmers surrounded by a dozen cows, bulls, and calves. A veterinarian with them giving the animals a vaccine shot.  Needless to say, there was a lot of unhappy “moooooooooing” happening! When I asked the veterinarian how the farmers are able to pay for these vaccines, he explained that the minister of agriculture covers the cost.  The farmers only need to pay 35 goudes (less than a U.S. dollar) for each cow. He was also spraying them with purple flea powder.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Haiti’s government was actually doing something for its poor farmers.
Local farmers bring their cattle to receive vaccinations.
Fr. Parnell, our pastor, offered our director assistant and our two teachers at St. Rose de Lima School the opportunity to take part in a week-long education formation workshop in Jeremie. I was concerned at first about the children missing school until I learned that all schools are closed the week before Ash Wednesday to celebrate Mardi Gras. Mali and the teachers took motorcycle-taxis to Jeremie.  It’s a four-hour drive—and very, very bumpy.  When I asked for an address to tell them where they needed to go, I was told, “They don’t need things like that here because there are only a few places where something like this could be happening. They’ll just know where to go.” And they did!  This certainly is a different world.  Every day brings new learning experiences!
(l-r): St. Rose de Lima staff: Guerline, first grade teacher; Mali, assistant director; and Edlene, second grade teacher—all wearing the school uniform—were glad for the opportunity to attend an education workshop.
I love this photo! Children are children regardless of where they are and like children everywhere, Haitian children know how to perform for the camera!

Later in March 
Last Tuesday at 11:45 P.M., Sr. Jo and I had a very frightening experience. Two young  Haitian men broke into our house and robbed us.  Thank God that they didn’t hurt us. This has been going on all over Haiti the last few months.  Men have been breaking into the houses of religious sisters and robbing them.  Sadly many of those sisters have also been hurt in the process. We were truly grateful to God that we weren’t hurt. As soon as the men left, we called to the neighbors across from us. They came right over and stayed with us the rest of the night.  They were so kind.  As the sun came up, many of the villagers started coming to see us.  They were so concerned and so upset.  Some were crying.  One of them was telling me that nothing like this has ever happened in Ferye (our village) before.  We even had people coming to see us from other villages. There were people here constantly all day long—some of them just sitting outside in our chakoon (gazebo). We are really touched by all the love and support we have received and continue to receive each day since this sad event happened.
In the afternoon on Wednesday, our pastor, Fr. Parnell, arrived at our house with the mayor of Pestel, his assistant, a police officer with a rifle, and one of the teachers who is also a friend of ours.  They were very concerned and attentive, taking down all the information we gave them.   Afterward the mayor sat in the chakoon with the people and spoke about how much our mission has helped the people in this area and the importance of looking out for us.  Fr. Parnell spoke to them about  bonding together as a community to keep watch for prowlers and to agree on some type of signal such as blowing  the konch (a ram’s horn that they blow for liturgy and meetings) if anyone sees anything suspicious.
Unfortunately because of this experience, it is necessary for us to take security measures now, and the people really want us to do that. We are forming a security team who will work from sunset until sunrise each night.  They have already been keeping watch since last Wednesday night—sometimes five of them at a time.  One of them has a black belt and he is training the others in the martial arts.  Our two workers, Wilgens and Banave, will supervise these security guards and they will be professionally trained and licensed. Once they’re trained there will be two guards and a supervisor each night. One good thing  is that having security guards is giving paid employment to some of our villagers, including the father of the family across from us.
We are also having a low wall with a high chain link fence built around the property. We were  in the process of having a partial fence put up but now it will extend all the way around. The men have already started working on this, breaking up rocks for the wall foundation from the rocks in our yard. They’ve delivered piles of sand and will be delivering sacks of cement later -today. Wilgens will be going to Port-au-Prince to purchase the fence. There certainly is a lot of activity going on and in between all the work, there are still people coming to the gate to see how we are doing. 
They say that “Evil thrives when good people do nothing.”  This experience may have frightened us but we don’t intend to let it discourage us from doing  what God has called us to do with His grace and with the loving support of other good  people—our villagers, our families, our friends, and our sisters in community.
Please continue to pray for Sr. Vicky and Sr. Jo and the people with whom they minister.




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