Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Franciscan Volunteers: A New Year Begins!

Well, here we are beginning our second year of our volunteer program, Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain! This year's volunteers, Rachel Dunlap and Mandee DeMarco, arrived in August. Mandee came from Buffalo, New York, and is a graduate of Canisius College. Rachel is from Iowa and graduated from St. Ambrose University. Their program began with a week of orientation which focused on both the program itself and on various elements of the Franciscan tradition and spirit. The orientation program culminated with a commitment service held during the Sunday liturgy at our motherhouse. During the liturgy both Mandee and Rachel were invited into the sanctuary where each made her commitment to serve as a Franciscan volunteer for the coming year. The sisters who were present for the liturgy blessed the two young women by singing the "Blessing of St. Francis." Following the liturgy, the sisters and every one present greeted and welcomed Rachel and Mandee.

Rachel Dunlap, Mandee DeMarco, and volunteer director Sara Marks waited for liturgy to begin.
Mandee and Rachel made a public commitment to a year of volunteer service.

The sisters blessed the volunteers by singing the Blessing of St. Francis.

Before leaving chapel the sisters welcomed Mandee and Rachel.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Who Are You, O Lord, and Who Am I?

Who am You, O Lord, and who am I? That question seemed to both dominate and guide St. Francis during his lifetime. And strangely enough--at least to me--the more he became aware of the vast difference between himself and the God he loved and served, the more his life seemed to reflect the goodness and the love of God.

I remember learning and memorizing catechism questions and answers in grade school. While I might have forgotten the majority of the answers (word for word), there are two of the most basic that are still clear in my mind. Who made you? God made me. Why did God make you? God made me to know him, to live him, and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next.

That was always crystal clear in my mind--there was and is a personal relationship between my God and me. And anytime I might begin to doubt my worth, my abilities, I can simply think back to those early days and those seemingly simple catechism questions. Then I remember who I am. I can smile at my God and say, "You told me who I am...I am yours!"

I tried to capture in poetry the differences implied in the questions "Who are you, O God? and Who am I." The result obviously doesn't capture the reality but then who of us can totally capture the reality of God! The video below also deals with the same question. How would you answer it? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

Who Are You, O God?
Who are you, oh God?
And who am I?
Now you, oh God,
I have no trouble claiming
Who and What you are!
Ruler of all that is,
All Powerful,
All Knowing,
All Loving. 

But who am I?
Not much
By standards that this world proclaims?
Not ruler—
Nor do I care to be!
Power is—
By all accounts—
A burden hard to bear,
A weight that wearies hearts
And worries minds
All knowing?
Ah, Love,
If I already knew,
Where would spring the joy
As I discover—
Bit by bit—
The wonder of the world
That is your gift!
All loving?
Now that is gift
That I might crave—
To love as you love,
To love who you love,
To love what you love,
To see your love in all that is,
To share your love with all that is
To be your love with all my being! 

                                                                 Ann Marie Slavin, OSF

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain---Summer Immersion Program A Success!

The following article was written by Sara Marks, the director of our congregation's volunteer program--Franciscan Volunteers--No Risk, No Gain. Although the regular volunteer program runs from September through June, Sara initiated a summer immersion which was based on the west coast.
As part of the Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain Program, we implemented a summer immersion experience that invites anyone over the age of 18 to participate in a weeklong service/immersion program.  This experience is one that grounds a person in the Franciscan charism of caring for creation and calls us to remember Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si.  Our reflections throughout the week were based on readings from Chapter 4 of the encyclical on an integral ecology. 

I cannot help but recall this quote from The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd when I think of our experience in Tacoma working with the L’Honey Project—a collaborative program between L’Arche Farm and St. Leo Parish—a parish where many of the sisters are active. “The world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.” 

Sara Marks (center) and members of the summer immersion program
This passage is packed with truth like the comb with honey at harvest time.  I learned each of these life lessons from beekeeper Rick Samyn during our week with the L’Honey Project.  Rick’s gentleness with his “girls” was endearing and spoke a deep truth that Pope Francis shares in Laudato Si about the interconnectedness of all creation.  Rick so passionately shares that creation is the first book of Scripture!  We have forgotten how to read it and so we must begin again to become literate in the language of nature! 

Did You Know? 

·       You can feel the heat of the hive when you gently place your hand above the fanning of the bees’ wings? 

·       Honeybees do not live long enough to indulge in the fruit of their labor—yet they still produce honey!

·       Honeybees don’t want to sting you because they die in the act of stinging. If they sting it is to protect the hive for which they give their life!

·       When food is scarce, the hive continues to share food until there is enough for all or the hive dies—together in solidarity.

·       When the winter is cold, the bees create a ball around each other to keep warm. They take shifts being the outer layer where it is coldest so that no single group has to bear it for too long.

·       Fifty to 90 thousand bees share a hive and all do their part to sustain the life of the hive.

·       Drones (male bees) don’t have stingers and the females are the worker bees!

Getting to know the bees
We built community around the buzz of the hives.  We learned to work together—gently, carefully, slowly.  Great patience is required when working in the hive so as not to agitate or squish them—especially not the queen!  When the queen is weak or if a hive is queenless, the bees become distraught and frantic.  We learned to listen to the bees.  We learned how to hear their message and, by the end of the week when we would open a hive and just listen, we could understand with near certainty whether the queen was alive and well or in distress.

Our week of education, service, and reflection was a sacred time shared with a sacred bee-ing.  We are grateful to L’Honey and especially to Rick Samyn.  We are grateful for the sisters at St. Ann’s who hosted us, blessed us, and broke pizza with us!  We are grateful for the Franciscan charism that carries so much reverence for creation and passes on that reverence in tangible ways!  We are grateful for the bees, who teach us something of community—if only we would listen.

We look forward to planning future summer immersion experiences in places where the Sisters of St. Francis live and minister.  It is our hope that this program will attract long-term volunteers to our program, offer a volunteer experience for those who are unable to give a year of time, and attract new people to be engaged in ongoing relationship with the Sisters of St Francis of Philadelphia. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reflection: Looking at the Lion King Through the Eyes of Francis of Assisi

Over the weekend I watched--once again--the DVD of The Lion King. As I watched the film, I recalled the many times I had shown it to my 9th grade English class as part of a study of the epic and also of the time I had the privilege of seeing it performed on Broadway. That was a particularly heart-touching experience--one that evoked the writing of the following article. I think I may have posted the article at the time but I'd like to share it once again.

Finding St. Francis on Broadway
St. Francis? Broadway? Finding the little poor man of Assisi amid the glamour and glitter of the “great white way”?  I had an opportunity to enjoy Broadway’s production of The Lion King. I was already quite familiar with the movie, having used it as a wonderful teaching resource for my ninth-grade English classes. So when the opportunity arose to join a bus tour going to see the stage production, I collected the money I had set aside for vacation, boarded the bus, and headed for Broadway. And there I found Francis.

The play, superb in staging, choreography, and musical grandeur, had reached the point where the old King Mufasa was dead, killed by the treachery of his brother Scar. The Pride Lands had become a wasteland under the rule of the nefarious Scar. The hero, Simba, self-exiled as a young cub because he was convinced he had caused his father’s death, was now a young adult lion. Together with his new-found friends, Timon and Pumbaa, Simba enjoyed a life of carefree abandon—no worries, no responsibilities, just “Hakuna Matata,” the “worry-free philosophy.” Left behind was the horror of his father’s death. Unfaced and unanswered were the questions of what was happening to those left behind in the Pride Lands. Beginning to sound familiar? Echoes of the carefree young Francis who partied and sang, seeking to erase the horrors of war and the cry of the beggars in the streets of Assisi? Yes, here again I found Francis.  

Simba’s “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle is eventually put to the test when he is reunited with Nala, his childhood playmate. Forced by the stark devastation of the Pride Lands, Nala went to seek help. However, her attempt to convince Simba that he is that help, that he should return as rightful King of the Pride Lands, is met with fierce resistance. Additional encouragement by Rafiki, the ancient baboon-cum-medicine woman/man of the Pride Lands, appears equally futile. Simba is, however, forced to face the cause of his reluctance. In dream-like sequences, he relives one of his last conversations with his father. Mufasa had used the stars to teach his young son about the great leaders of the past and had promised that he would always be with the young Simba. Now, reaching into the depths of his anguish, Simba calls on his father in anger and accuses him of breaking that promise. 

What happened next, as I sat in that theater, was somehow a blend of ingenious staging and heart-touching mysticism, creating one of those “Ah Ha!” moments that can only be ascribed to the goodness of a gift-giving God. Dancers swirled and swayed across the stage behind a filmy, backdrop and somehow the rhythmic gestures and swaying images appeared to take on the face of Mufasa. And to the young Simba—and to the old me—the vision spoke: “You have forgotten who you are. You have forgotten me!”  

Although I knew the story, in the presence of the live motion on the stage and the magic of theatrical lighting, the message carried new meaning and impact. I actually felt tears welling up in my eyes and streaming down my face as I realized the implications of that statement, implications for me, implications for the Franciscan charism that I have tried to live, implications for the world and the society of which I am a part.  

“You have forgotten who you are. You have forgotten me.” And there I found St. Francis!  

“You have forgotten who you are. You have forgotten me.” And there I found my God!  

If St. Francis knew and believed and lived only one thing, that was it. He knew who he was—the beloved child of a loving God! How often had he asked the question, “Who are You, O God, and who am I?” How often had he reaffirmed—to himself and to his followers—the belief that “what a person is before God, that he is and no more”?  

Following Francis’ conversion, it was the living realization of that truth that lay beneath his loving care of beggars and lepers—that they, too, were the beloved children of a loving God. And by extension, they were also his sisters and brothers. It was that same lived awareness of who he was in relation to his God that allowed Francis to stand with ease before the nobles of Assisi, before a Sultan, before bishops, before cardinals, and before the pope and explain what it was that God was calling him to do—to live the Gospel. And it was this awareness and self-knowledge that allowed him to roam from town to town, through the Umbrian hills and valleys, proclaiming “I am the herald of the great King.” You can do that if you really remember—and believe in—who you are and who God is!  

And what about Francis’ manner of addressing natural creation as “sister” and “brother”? Was this simply the poetic utterance of a true romantic? Indeed, St. Francis was by nature both poet and romantic. But he was more. He was a man who knew God, who was ever in process of discovering more about and being surprised by that God. And he was a man who knew who he was in relation to his God. It was the overwhelming depth of this realization that enabled him to see Jesus as “brother” and as “first-born of all creation” and to embrace all of creation as “sister” and “brother”—not just “Brother Bishop” or “Brother Leo” or “Sister Clare” but also “Brother Sun” and “Our Sister Mother Earth” and “Sister Water."

What about us today, here, now, in the 21st century? We’re pretty far removed from both the fictional world of the Pride Lands and from the thirteenth century world of Francis of Assisi. Our society has ways of dealing with individuals who might dance through the street singing “Hakuna Matata” or proclaiming “I am the Herald of the Great King.” Most of us don’t see visions or hear voices of deceased ancestors calling us to get our act together. And yet, there is in our society and in our world a desperate need for the kind of conversion experienced by both the fictional Simba and the real Francis. At times in our lives, we all need to be reminded that we have forgotten who we are. When we forget who we are, we then forget who God is in our lives. And it is in this forgetting that our world is torn and strafed by violence and our lives dominated by fear.  

It is in forgetting who we are that we resort to war and to terrorism—and the God who is “the Fullness of Good, all good, every good, the true and supreme good” becomes a God in whose name we wreck vengeance and fight “holy wars.”  

It is in forgetting who we are that we turn to violence and abuse—and the God who is “merciful and gentle, delectable and sweet” becomes a harsh taskmaster who rules and controls through fear and domination and abuse of power.  

It is in forgetting who we are that we violate the natural resources of our Earth—and “Sister Water” is polluted with the filth of industrial waste; “Mother Earth” is scarred with pesticides and landmines; “BrotherWind” carries the toxic silent death emitted by nuclear test sites.  

It is in forgetting who we are that we ascribe to corporate greed and to fraud—and the God who is  “moderation” and “all our riches” becomes the god of takeovers and tax games, of stock trading and Ponzi schemes.   

And on a more personal level? It is in forgetting who I am and who God is that causes me to respond with annoyance when my needs are not always met; that leads me to rationalize that the homeless woman on the corner and the inmate on death row are not as deserving of respect and reverence as our hard-working, law-abiding citizens. It is in forgetting who I am that allows me to dwell in apathy rather than to challenge unjust structures;  that makes me hesitate to use the gifts that my loving God has given me because they just might not measure up to someone else’s gifts.  

So where do we find our reminders? Francis prayed before the crucifix: “Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command.” That same short prayer that asks for so much might serve as both request and reminder. Similarly, we might simply pray Francis’question, “Who are You, O God, and who am I?” And if we listen closely, our hearts will hear the whispered call, “You are the beloved child of a loving God.” And who knows? We might even hear it on Broadway!

Sister Ann Marie Slavin, OSF


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.


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