Friday, October 10, 2014

Meet Sr. Mary Teresa Coll!

A few years ago Sr. Mary Teresa Coll completed a congregational form in which she described herself as a “very upbeat person.” She also wrote, “Being a Sister of St. Francis enables me to live in close union with God and his saints in heaven and his saints on Earth, especially the poor—battered women and children living in poverty who get up each day and try and try and try to live a good life.” Each of these quotes captures Sr. Mary Teresa’s sense of mission and ministry—and the interrelatedness of the two concepts. Whether she’s teaching at city schools in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Allentown areas, working at an AIDS hospice or at a shelter for families, Sr. Mary Teresa brings with her both her sense of humor and a sense of mission that grasps that those with whom she ministers are children of the same God whom she serves. Sr. Mary Teresa connected with that sense of mission at an early age when she first met the Sisters of St. Francis at Little Flower School in Baltimore and later at the Catholic High School of Baltimore. The connection became ever closer when her two sisters—Srs. Claretta Joseph and Anna Mae Coll entered the congregation.

Over the years being quick to respond to an immediate need seems to have been a way of life for Sr. Mary Teresa. For example, when she was studying at Washington Theological Union, she saw a notice that Christ House, an organization ministering to men who are homeless, needed a cook. Sr. Mary Teresa took up the challenge—even though she was somewhat unsure of her ability. Similarly she responded to the request of a friend to help on weekends with the Damians—men who had AIDS but who were well enough to work. “It was working with these kind, loving individuals that I learned what love can do to a person that has been scorned by his or her family,” she said.

Some years ago Sr. Mary Teresa joined a group going to El Salvador. There she learned about women who formed a coop for cattle ranching. The experience filled her with determination to be a voice for those whose voice is stifled.

Currently Sr. Mary Teresa volunteers in the Corporate Social Responsibility Office—service she rendered for a number of years. There she assists in reading the requests for social justice grants and forwarding information packets to those groups who meet the criteria. She also reads the completed proposals and does the necessary follow-up.
Sr. Mary Teresa copies information to send to organizations requesting grants.
For a number of years, Sr. Mary Teresa ministered at St. Mary’s Franciscan Shelter in Phoenixville followed by a five-year volunteer stint at a local health clinic. When she turned 80, she decided that perhaps it was time to look for a totally different kind of volunteer work. She prayed for guidance and was intrigued when she saw a sign advertising a “retired horse farm.” “That’s it,” she thought. “God has shown me a way to draw closer to him—working with animals near my age!” She stopped by the farm, was given a tour, and shown what would be required of her. That short visit—and that huge horse—quickly let her know that this was not where God was calling her to serve! What she did find was volunteer work at Main Line Animal Shelter. Although the shelter cares for animals and birds of all kind, Sr. Mary Teresa’s focus is the rabbits. There she cleans their cages, grooms them, and pets them. “I tell them my secrets and know that what I share will not be part of their conversation,” she explained. “Yes, they have ways of listening and then counseling me.”

Sr. Mary Teresa cleans one of the rabbit cages at the animal shelter.

Sr. Mary Teresa tends to one of the sick rabbits.
When Sr. Mary Teresa cares for a dying rabbit, she whispers a line from e.e. Cummings: "I'll carry your heart in my heart."
Sr. Mary Teresa’s manner of dealing with the rabbits reflects her manner and her gift of dealing with everyone. “I try to practice hospitality of the heart, allowing all others—human and animals…as they are—to make themselves at home in my heart.” Then she added, “If only I would have the means to be of service to all. That is my biggest challenge. I listen, I pray. Amen.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This year’s companions retreat and gathering day was held at our motherhouse on September 13 with Sr. Mary Jo Chaves as the presenter. Companions and sisters came from as near as the motherhouse and as fart ad Oregon and Washington. Companions arrived by 9:30 A.M. and, as they socialized and enjoyed a continental breakfast, they were also drawn to the well laden table with two raffle items—a beautifully arranged hand-crafted basket and a well stuffed tote bag—both donated by Nancy Opalski and Pat Langan. The table also contained a supply of t-shirts and other items labeled simply “For a Donation” as well as a supply of free books.


Once the actual program began, Sr. Mary Jo explained the day’s schedule as well as the individual aspects of her presentation’s title: “Sharing Faith, Fun, and Ministry.” As the day progressed, we realized that each of these elements plays an important role in who we are both as Christians and as women and men attempting to live out the gospel message in our lives—just as St. Francis did in his own life. During the course of the day, we had time both for personal prayer and reflection and for small group faith sharing on the following topics:

·       Why is faith sharing as companions and with the sisters important?

·       Which name for God in Francis’ “Praises of God” speaks to your heart?

·       How do you interpret ministry and gospel living as part of being companions?

·       What does being a companion mean to you?

·       How is your daily life and ministry influenced by the Franciscan charism?

·       What is your understanding of living out the Franciscan values of conversion of heart, poverty, contemplation, minority?

Sr. Mary Jo Chaves reviewed various ideas for contemplative prayer, journaling, and faithsharing.

Companion Shirley Soloman found a quiet corner for private reflection.

After a period of private reflection, Sr. Connie Davis and Companion Phyllis Petryk got together for faithsharing. 

At times we joined in song accompanied by music by Monica Brown. AT one point Mary Jo invited us to pray with our bodies as we danced to the  sacred songs.

At one point Sr. Jean Nisley, director of the Companions in Mission program shared a bit about this year’s congregational chapter and invited the sisters present to address their individual reactions to the chapter. Jean also introduced the members of the new leadership team—all of whom had chosen to be part of the retreat day. 

And the “fun” part of the day? Those who helped to organize the retreat had gathered toether a number of board games and card games. We spent about an hour in the afternoon simply relaxing, socializing, and enjoying being together. Some gathered in small groups for games while others enjoyed the time for conversation.

Srs. Maggie Greco, Florence Hee, Jeanne Nisley, and Companion LuAnn Cummings enjoyed a game of Phase 10.
As the day drew toward its close, we gathered again for prayer and to learn who our prayer partners would be for the coming year. We joined the sisters at the motherhouse for the 4 P.M. liturgy during which we prayed the “Companion Prayer” together and received a blessing from all those in chapel. As we departed from this day of prayer and sharing, we were very aware of our connectedness and our relationship both with one another and with the congregation and of the Francis Spirit and charism which we all embrace and share through our varied vocational roles.

What about you, my friends? Do you have a Franciscan heart and spirit? You might be interested in becoming part of our Franciscan Companions in Mission program--a beautiful relationship! Check it out on our website, Or email Or leave me a message on my blog. We'd love to have you join us in prayer or in faith or in ministry!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

People's Climate March

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen this photo of our sisters at the People's Climate March in New York City. Sr. Betty Kane, one of those in attendance, wrote the following article about her experience. I thought it was worth sharing here as well. The link in the first paragraph gives you some inclination of how vast and dense the crowd was. This is only a segment of the faith contingent!

The photo section of the People’s Climate March website has a photo of the faith contingent gathered together at the New York march on September 21. Check out this photo—with magnifying glass in hand—and you’ll be able to see the smattering of Franciscans to the left of the yellow sign indicating “Catholic.” ( We are situated between our Islamic and Jewish sisters and brothers—a few Hindus came into the group as well. If you look hard enough, you will see Patrick Carolan, Janine Walsh, Sonia Rivera, and Rhett Engelking from Franciscan Action Network (FAN) with Br. Keith Warner, OFM. You will also see Sr. Maryanne Mueller, CSSF; Sr. Sandra Lyons, OSF; and some of our own sisters. We gathered with over 400,000 others so our voice for Earth could be heard.

The experience of being with so many people was astounding. We were part of the faith contingent who gathered on 58th Street in Manhattan. We prepared with music played on a double bass—deep tones of deep Earth entered my heart. Then we heard prayers spoken and sung in many tongues. Each religion represented in the throng offered a prayer for Earth and for the children of Earth. And we sang! Do you remember Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary?  He led us in the singing of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Then we sang “We Are Marching in the Light of God” and—after many stanzas—we actually began our walk, merging with the other contingents who gathered on the other Manhattan streets.

Four hundred twenty-five thousand people! And hundreds of others lined the streets where we walked! Some groups cheered us. Most groups waved or held their signs of support. New York’s finest kept the whole organism of hope moving even when we had to stop so traffic could move. All was done with great skill. Amazing! Another reality for which I was grateful is that with all these folks from all parts of the U.S.—there was no trash on the streets! That, too, is amazing. We really were there to voice and act for care of creation. 

One of our sisters who had never been to New York before had a real taste of what the Manhattan subway was like. We were packed in like sardines, unable to grab onto one of the overhead bars so we held on to one another. You couldn’t go too far anyway but you certainly didn’t want to knock someone else down. Then we had to dash for the train once the track was flashed on the board. Luckily no one got hurt!
We were fortunate to have our sisters with us. Sr. Kathleen McCabe came in from California. She met us within that Catholic group! The rest of us—Srs. Nora Nash, Bernie Brazil, Barbara Carr, Maggie Greco, Kathy Dougherty, Marie Lucey, Maria Orlandini, and I, along with Tom McCaney, traveled from Delaware, Maryland, and Aston.  

When you look at the photo above, please be aware that not all of us huddled together. We met other pilgrims along the way who inspired us and some who challenged us—women and men whose lives have been impacted with the forces of nature that we have impacted with our dependence on fossil fuels. This we can change. This we must change for this is the only planet we have. And what a gift it is! 

The National Catholic Reporter ( NCR) caught up with a couple of folks from our contingent—Sr. Kathy Dougherty and Patrick Carolan, executive director of FAN. I believe NCR captured the true reason for our presence when they wrote, “But for Catholic organizers of the march, the solution lies in morality, not politics.Kathy referred to climate change as a life issue. “I certainly feel it’s critical—the way corporate decisions are made that affect the environment—and I feel there’s a need for a change,” she explained. “If we can’t sustain the planet, human life is not going to be sustained. Therefore, it’s very much a life issue.” 

And Patrick Carolan spelled it out more specifically: “I think of [climate change] as a moral issue,” he told NCR. “Part of the problem is we look at it as a moral and ethical issue and we're looking for political solutions. We really need to be looking at moral and ethical solutions. The only solution as Christians is to follow the teachings of Jesus where we look at all of God’s creation as our brother and sister, as St. Francis did.”


Monday, September 22, 2014

Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia: "Voices That Challenge"

Last week I was looking for a hymn/video to use as part of a reflection for my blog. I'd made a list of hymns that I thought might work but when I began searching, nothing seemed to work. Either there was no video, the video had no printed lyrics, or the song was not well performed. Then, in looking through a list of hymns by David Haas, I found one that was not on my list--"Voices That Challenge"--a song that I hadn't heard for quite a while. As I viewed it, I felt as if I were in our community room watching the evening news and experiencing--as I do more and more--the frustration, the pain, the horror, and yes, the anger at the many injustices and crimes against humanity and nature  that comprise the bulk of our news.

Then I went back online and found a copy of the lyrics that I could use for reflection before I actually began writing. As I prayed and tried to take a more positive view of the world situation, I thought of the many ways in which our sisters have, over the years, become "voices that challenge." In the early days of our congregation, the sisters brought the sick who were poor into their homes to care for them and eventually opened our first hospital in Philadelphia. A number of our sisters continue to work in healthcare, serving in pastoral care, in social services, and in medical capacities.

Those early sisters also opened their home to young immigrant women who needed a safe place to live. Today our sisters are present in the halls of justice lobbying for the rights of immigrants or working in social services aiding new arrivals.

For many years our sisters have worked in educating children--not just in the 3 Rs--but also stressing the reality of what it means to live out the reality of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and continue to do so today.

Our Mission Statement (1986) contains a section that calls each of us--regardless of our ministry--to work for justice and to be--in whatever way our individual gifts lead us--to be "voices that challenge."
"As vowed women of the Church, we respond with diverse gifts in a spirit of collaboration and of mutual service to the needs of others, especially the economically poor, the marginal, and the oppressed. Seeking to participate in the Spirit's action in the world, we direct our personal and corporate resources to the promotion of justice, peace, and reconciliation."

Our 1996 Commitment Statement further elucidated that concept.
"We are willing to take the necessary risks to be a healing, compassionate presence in our violent world especially with women, children, and those who have no voice."

I invite you to take a look at our website,, and check out the many ways in which our sisters continue to be "voices that challenge." Look under Justice and Peace and review our efforts in corporate social responsibility, advocacy, environmental initiatives, corporate stands, and immigration. Visit also the section on Ministry and investigate some of the sponsored and cosponsored ministries in which our sisters are engaged!

And now...David Hass' Voices That Challenge!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Bit of This and That About Our Sisters!

Our sisters are always finding ways to share the message of God's love and God's gifts and to share as well our Franciscan spirituality and charism. Below are just a few of the activities in which sisters have been engaged over recent weeks!

Sr. Dominica LoBianco was asked by the group Faith in Public Life to represent the faith groups from the local area to  lobby with SEUI, a union of service workers. The group stayed at the Renaissance Hotel. Both their first evening and the following morning, they were educated on immigration reform issues and trained on points for lobbying. The total group of about 100 people went to the southeast lawn of the Capitol for the prayer service from 10-10:30 A.M.—during which they experienced a severe downpour. Following the prayer service, they proceeded to visit our senators and representatives as a team.

Sr. Dominica and two of the lobbyers.

Between 25 and 30 Portland Companions in Faith enjoyed their 12th year of faith sharing and getting to know our sisters.   They divided their time at their monthly meetings to include faith sharing as a major focus as well as studying the Third Order Rule that the sisters follow in order to getting to know our sisters better.  The sisters explained how living the Third Order Rule forms the fabric of their daily lives in community. The companions also enjoyed the new study guide for companions on the Primacy of Christ—finding creative ways to approach the material as well as to share ways in which it has impacted their lives.  Donations to Drexel Neumann Academy is another way in which the Portland companions give expression to their Gospel vision.  They collect spare change monthly.  In May, after collecting spare change for 10 months, they sent Sr. Maggie Gannon, the president of Drexel Neumann Academy, a check for $300. On July 19, 14 companions gathered for a pot luck picnic at Santa Chiara Convent where Srs. Theresa Lamkin, Celeste Clavel, and Mary Jo Chaves live. After a brief respite in August for planning the coming year, the group will resume their gatherings on September 2—beginning their 13th  year together. Want to know more about our companion program? Visit our website,
Sr. Loretta Francis Mann was recently featured in an article in the Hartford, Connecticut newspaper, The Courant. The article described Loretta’s work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford where she cuddles premature and sick infants. Loretta explained that, while the babies need long-term care, their parents often have other responsibilities that prevent them from being at the hospital full-time. During the time that Loretta volunteers in the unit, she reads to the babies, sings to them, and rocks them to sleep—all after having prayed for them.  The article also outlines Loretta’s earlier ministry experiences and summarizes her rationale for her present work as a volunteer.  Check out the article and the great photos at

Sr. Elaine Thaden is one of our vocation directors. The following is a summary of just one of the activities in which she is involved--the VOCARE program in Spokane, Washington.

From July 7-10 the sisters of the Spokane diocese held our annual vocation awareness experience for young women ages 13 to 18. Thirty-eight excited, interested, great-hearted girls attended from eastern and western Washington, eastern Oregon, and Idaho. Half of these were returning participants for the second and third time. Although they have little or no exposure to sisters in their home areas, it was heartening to see how these young women longed to learn more about religious life. Our team of sisters from various congregations took the “first-year” girls around town on a bus to learn first-hand about the different ministries and community life-styles of our own sisters as well as the Sisters of Providence, the Holy Names, the Missionaries of Charity, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, the Poor Clares, and the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church.

 For the returning participants, we provided new ministry-site visits, a special retreat day, deeper input on the nature of religious life, and an evening when the girls could visit one- on-one with a sister of their choice.  Besides our core team of sisters, 20 other local sisters came to the Diocesan Retreat Center to tell their stories, answer questions, and conference privately with the young ladies. This made it possible to included congregations we could not visit on the bus trip: Carmelites, Dominicans, and Benedictines.  Involving all these sisters was not the only way VOCARE was a community-wide effort. Approximately $6,000 had to be raised to keep the cost at a minimum for the girls. We reached our goal with help from the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Daughters, parish fund raisers, and the Serra Club. In addition, most of the meals were provided by groups such as Home Schooling Parents, Secular Franciscans, a local restaurant owner, the associates of the Holy Names Sisters, the Diocesan Retreat Center, and the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church who reside there.  

The girls’ evaluations indicated that it was well worth the months of preparation, the energy expended during the four days, and the coping with 98-100 degree weather. One typical response was “ I would love to attend again in order to learn more about religious life and to see if it may be my calling, to have a time to get away and have my faith grow and become stronger, and to have fun with all the wonderful sisters and my new friends.” 

At the end of the 2014 school year, Sr. Elizabeth Murphy retired as principal of St. John Vianney School in Orlando. Parishioners and guests from throughout the diocese were invited to a dinner and evening of celebration recognizing Elizabeth’s 28 years of service and dedication –both as teacher and principal. Sr. Donna Desien represented the congregation at the celebration. The invitation encouraged guests—through various levels of sponsorship and as a way to “truly recognize and celebrate her achievements”—to become “part of the legacy that Elizabeth…shared with the…school and parish community.” And Elizabeth’s plans for her “retirement”? She has already agreed to remain in the parish and to serve as the assistant director of development.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Personal Mission Statements

This morning I was reading posts from some of my blogger friends (I have to admit that I've been lax about this lately) and spent some time on one by Ceil at Ceil wrote a beautiful reflection about using a scripture quote as a guide to interpreting a job description. Her post reminded me of something I had almost forgotten I had done a number of years ago. After I first started this job in communications for my religious congregation, we had a workshop based on some of the premises of Stephen Covey. One of the ideas was creating a mission statement. After the workshop a small group of us got together a few times to create our own person mission statements. I had decided to base mine on one of my favorite scripture quotes from Micah: This is what Yahweh asks of you--only this: to live justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God. I don't think it turned out exactly the way it was supposed to but it did turn out the way I wanted it to be!

I have to admit that I haven't looked at it in quite a while. However, Ceil's post nudged me a bit. I check out my computer files and sure enough there it was. I decided it was time to resurrect it and what it stands for--not only in relationship to my job but also as a way to live out our congregation's mission statement in my own life.

Do you have a personal mission statement? If you did, what would it be based on?

Mission Statement

 I am called

 to live justly

 being the woman God made me to be rather than trying to conform to the expectations of others

speaking my truth with gentle conviction

defending the right of each person to speak his/her truth

acknowledging and using the giftedness that is mine

rejoicing in the piece of the world that is mine yet challenging myself to explore beyond its narrow borders

 to love tenderly

 believing in and celebrating the giftedness and “godness” of each person I meet each day

creating an atmosphere where none feel threatened

being a bridge-builder

being able to challenge without breaking

being able to be challenged without being broken

 to walk humbly with my God

 living out of the deep belief that who I am before God is who I am

being always cognizant that each person I meet is walking with that same God

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Franciscan Federation 2014

Our sisters were once again part of the Franciscan Federation’s Annual Conference which was held in St. Louis, Missouri. Sister Marie Angela Presenza was our congregation’s nominee for the annual federation award because of the many ways in which she lives out the conference theme, “Cultivating Kindom Power.” The statement announcing Sr. Angela as this year’s choice summarizes the reasons for her selection: “Marie has spent her life in community and her years in ministry honing her natural skills for hospitality and compassion. Whether exercising leadership in Catholic education, planning programs, contracting with presenters of various faiths, hosting retreats, inviting volunteer participation, connecting with a wide variety of departments to assure the smooth running of programs at the Franciscan Spiritual Center, Marie Angela embodies the relationship that we Franciscan hold as a core value. Her contemplative spirit enables her to live and minister with humility, grace, and enthusiasm, tirelessly and quietly welcoming all wherever she happens to be.”

Sr. Marie Angela Presenza was our congregation’s nominee for the Federation Award.

The conference offered a rich array of presentations and activities. On Friday evening, first time attendees had an opportunity to attend an orientation session prior to the opening ritual and social. On all three days, keynote speakers Margie Will, OSF, and Michael Crosby, OFM, Cap., provided further understanding of the theme as they addressed the topics “Franciscan Life: Contemporary Challenges,” “The Gospel: Reflecting On and Reclaiming Our Core Charism,” and “Kindom Power: How do we cultivate it? How do we communicate it?”   Margie and Michael also addressed a number of the challenges raised at last year’s conference.

Standing (l-r) Srs. Jeanne Nisley, Lynne Patrice Lavin, Annette Lucchese, Marie Angela Presenza, Clare Weckowski, Ruth Bernadette O’Connor, Anne Amati, Kathleen Moffatt, Betty Kane. Kneeling (l-r) Srs. Marie Lucey, Betsy Goodwin, Christa Marie Thompson.

Sr. Dorita Slaughter (right), this year’s lottery winner, chats with Srs. Jeanne Nisley and Kathleen Moffatt during the celebration banquet. 

In addition to time for business meetings, elections, and networking, attendees enjoyed time for optional breakout sessions.
·       Trafficking DVD: The Dark Side of Chocolate
·       Custodians of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition: Collaborative Possibilities
·       Franciscans and Ecology: 35 years into Francis’ Patronage 

The gathering closed on Monday morning following the approval of the JPIC resolution and a commissioning prayer service.



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