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.

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!”




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