Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tidbits from Haiti!

Enjoy this update from Sr. Vicky about her ministry in Haiti. She always provides some interesting bits of news from her experiences and about the lives of the people with whom she works. 

It’s been a very busy month since we got back from our Christmas visit in the states.  As soon as we arrived, we began our preparations for a group of 21 doctors and nurses who came for a week of service among the people. They set up different clinics in different villages each day from Monday through Thursday. People came from villages nearby and far away to receive medical care.  Sadly the doctors told Sr. Jo and me that each year they come—this was their fourth year—the problems seem to become more and more serious.  The most heartbreaking part is that by the time the people with these serious conditions come for help, it’s sometimes too late. They had an 11year old girl with a serious heart condition which was so advanced that there was nothing they could do.  The child died the next day.  The nurses at our clinic are going to work with the health monitors—people in the villages who have been given training in first aid—to encourage people not to wait too long before seeking medical assistance.  However, it’s easier said than done because the people don’t have any money to pay for services. We try to give financial help to those who come to us with serious problems but we, too, are limited in what we can do.   It’s a very humbling experience.

Flanking Sr. Jo (center), members of the visiting medical team, Dr. Paat (left) and the dentist (right) display the large coconuts given to them by the villagers.
People from the village wait to see members of the medical team.
The same week that the medical team was here, the teachers and students in our little St. Rose de Lima School returned from Christmas vacation.  Some of our sisters had sent them candy canes which the children really enjoyed during their first week back.
(Above) First grade class; (Below) Second grade class.

On my way up to the little school one day, I saw a woman cutting another woman’s hair in front of her house.  The villagers all cut one another’s hair.  On the way back, they were still going at it, so I said, “Wap toujou koupe cheviy li.  When they gave me a strange look, I realized that instead of saying, “You’re still cutting her hair (cheve),” as I had intended, I said, “You’re still cutting her ankle (cheviy).”   Becoming proficient in a language takes a while!
As I mentioned in one of my “Tidbits” before Christmas, the Haitian presidential elections as well as the elections for senator, deputy, and magistra (mayor) take place in three different parts. The third and final part of the election process was scheduled to take place on Sunday, January 24.  However, there has been chaos in Port-au-Prince and other places over these elections.  Some claim that the first two parts of the election process were riddled with dishonesty.  They were demanding that the election process be postponed, new officials chosen to count the ballots, and the voting process redone.  There were demonstrations all over the country, many of which  became violent.  As of now, the elections have been put on hold until they can decide what is going to be done.
When Sr. Jo and I arrived back here at the end of December, the weather had changed from hot to warm.  This is Haiti’s winter season which is a lot like our spring season in the states. Last year it never really got cooler so this is just wonderful. This is normally the dry season but in the aftermath of the blizzard up north this past week, we had two straight days and nights of rain which refilled our cisterns and empty water barrels!   Mesi, Bondye, Mesi!


Monday, February 8, 2016

Year Of Mercy: Mercy: The Heart of the Gospel

As I indicated last month, we have a committee of sisters planning reflections for each month during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. The February reflection was prepared by Sr. Joan Dew. We hope you find it helpful for your own prayer and reflection!

Last month we blessed a door in our home to commemorate the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Our awareness of being more in tune with God’s loving mercy towards us calls us to witness his love and mercy to others, especially those most in need.

The season of Lent begins in February.  Pope Francis has recommended that Lent should be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy. The Holy Year of Mercy coincides with “Year C” of the cycle of readings in the Lectionary—a cycle rich with themes of penance, reconciliation, and baptism. On Ash Wednesday Joel 2:12-18 reminds us that “gracious and merciful is God, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”  Throughout this season we encounter God’s love and mercy toward us and our call to be transformed into merciful women of the Church.
The First Sunday of Lent presents Luke’s gospel about Jesus being tempted in the desert.  Throughout this week the readings caution us to resist temptations.  Like Jesus, what are my vulnerabilities?
In the Second Sunday’s gospel about the Transfiguration, Jesus invites us to discipleship as seen throughout the weekly readings.  We can ask ourselves, “How am I called to serve?”
The parable of the withered fig tree read on the Third Sunday of Lent reminds us that God is always at work and caring for us.  How can we bear more fruit in our practice of mercy?
St. Luke‘s gospel of the Prodigal Son on the Fourth Sunday of Lent will be the culmination of the Lenten journey in this Jubilee Year.  We the faithful are reminded that God, the good Father, is abundant in mercy and love for each of us.  In this Lenten season, who has shown me mercy and compassion?
As we pray with the Lenten readings, let us challenge ourselves to see how we can use these teachings in being more aware that “Mercy is the beating heart of The Gospel.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Journey of Faith to the World Meeting of Families--From St. Mary's, Alaska, to Philadelphia!

A number of our sisters were able to be in Philadelphia last fall for Pope Francis' visit. However, undoubtedly, the one who traveled the greatest distance was Sr. Ellen Callaghan who came from St. Mary's, Alaska, with two members of the region where she ministers. We were delighted when she wrote about their experiences during that very special week!

On September 16 I had the joy of traveling to the Philadelphia with Caroline and Anthony Ulak who live in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region of our diocese and were the winners of the Yup'ik Eskimo lottery to participate in the World Meeting of Families (WMOF).  I used air miles and accompanied Caroline and Anthony because my family was hosting them for the 10-day visit. We arrived in Wilmington, Delaware, a few days prior to WMOF so that we could visit and give presentations on our Yup'ik way of life at Assisi House and at two schools. With samples of winter gear, dance fans, headdresses, a small Yup'ik drum, and other traditional items, Anthony and Caroline enthusiastically shared stories about life in Scammon Bay on the Bering Sea and a few unique things about life in Bush Alaska. Those who attended the presentations were most welcoming and very interested in the slides, clothing, and stories. The children loved trying to use the Yup'ik yo-yo, getting dressed in a quspeq, and learning an Eskimo dance to the beat of Anthony’s drumming. The elders were moved to quiet prayer listening to the singing of the Our Father in the Eskimo language. They followed the words on the screen and tried to identify the seven letters of the alphabet not used in the Yup'ik language. On Saturday we took a ferry across the Delaware Bay so Anthony and Caroline could have lunch in New Jersey. On Sunday we participated in a fund-raising dinner in Maryland to add still another state to the east coast trip.
Sharing stories of life among the Yup'ik Eskimos with east coast children
On Monday our hostess, Joan Callaghan,  took us to the train station to catch the rapid rail for our daily commute to Philadelphia Convention Center—another new experience. After a quick hour at the registration center for the 21,000 international visitors, we had time for a double-decker bus tour of central Philadelphia. Magnificent colorful banners lined all the streets and many buildings had huge welcoming signs for the papal visit. Several streets were barricaded in preparation for the pope’s arrival on Saturday. The WMOF Congress took place from noon Tuesday to noon on Friday. Over 120 cardinals and bishops were present for the daily Mass in the huge arena. For two of the Masses, we each ushered one of the 60+ priest to his Communion station. This was a little bit of a challenge in a congregation of over 21,000 people. Caroline and Anthony, along with an elderly couple from Mexico, presented Offertory gifts at Thursday’s Mass. In addition to attending Mass, the keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, we also volunteered for an hour of perpetual adoration and the Catholic Relief Service’s (CSR) Helping Hands Project. The CRS project packed over 205,000 bags of grain meals for families in Burkina Faso, Africa. This was definitely an outstanding experience of joyful service. 
Sr. Ellen, Caroline, and Anthony helped package grain meals for African families.
After a week of daily commutes, we decided to rest on Saturday, stay with our hostess, and watch Pope Francis’ arrival on TV. On Sunday we headed back to Philadelphia for the 4:30 Papal Mass. Many people thought we were crazy to try to get to Philadelphia with its heightened security. However, we were on a mission and went full speed ahead. Up at the crack of dawn, we began our trip at the train station in Wilmington for the express train to Philadelphia.  Only passengers with ID and the special Papal Visit ticket were permitted on any SEPTA train that day.  Both Wilmington and Philadelphia were super prepared for the immense crowd. Within two hours, we passed through Wilmington security with sniffing dogs, were ushered onto the waiting train, walked about two miles to the metal detector at Ben Franklin Parkway, and were sitting in our reserved seats (compliments of our sisters) by 9:15 A.M.  Our journey was quick, smooth, and worry-free with short lines and numerous warm, friendly people all along the way, especially the security personnel.  We had ample time to watch the final decorations being placed in the huge sanctuary; check out the vendors; enjoy our picnic lunch; visit with people in our section; and watch priests, bishops, and cardinals arriving from all directions.  To our total surprise, about 3:45 P.M. the pope mobile was spotted approaching the street two rows behind us! Everyone clapped and shouted with joy. Caroline kept calm enough to take a video of the pope waving to us. Our seats were very close to the altar but at a right angle so we were unable to see anything except on the jumbo screen provided for our section. However, this made everything seem even closer. What a holy experience!  And yes, Holy Father, we will not forget to pray for you.  

During a visit to our motherhouse, Anthony and Caroline stopped to admire our sculpture of St. Francis.
Caroline, Anthony, and I are deeply grateful to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for their scholarship funds, the Black and Indian Missions for their housing donation, and the several parishes of the Y-K Region for their generous donation to offset our incidental expenses and meals. The Alaskan Shepherd gave us diocesan lapel pins which were given to individuals who helped us with directions or engaged us in conversion about life or ministry in Bush Alaska.  Caroline and Anthony made several new friends—from local train conductors to Canadian parish ministers and the bishop who recognized our quspeq to students in Chester, Pennsylvania, with whom we visited and who now want us to come to their first basketball game! “Quyana cakneq” to all for these life-changing experiences during the World Meeting of Families!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Meet Sr. Jean Ustasiewski!

Once again I'd like to introduce you to one of our sisters--Sr. Jean Ustasiewski! Every time I write about one of our sisters--it seems that I'm telling you how busy she is. That is pretty much the reality of who these good women are--busy doing things for others and serving God through their care for those they meet each day!
Growing up in close proximity to the parish convent carries a certain probability that a young girl will come to know the sisters. Such was the case for Sr. Jean Ustasiewski who lived two blocks from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Convent in Baltimore. She was taught by our sisters there and later continued her connection with the sisters at the Catholic High School of Baltimore. Jean was often asked to help out—both in school and in the convent—giving her a glimpse into the sisters’ life—a life that spoke to her and seemed to invite her to be part of it. Ironically Jean’s aunts were Felicians and would have liked her to join their congregation. A trip to the Glen, however, affirmed what Jean had already sensed. “I knew that was where I belonged,” she explained.

During her years in ministry, Jean served on both east and west coasts. In fact, she was one of seven novices who, in 1954, were sent from the Glen to the western novitiate. After profession she continued to minister in the west until 1987. After ministering primarily in education and later as a provincial council member, Jean moved to OLA where she served as director of the Companions in Mission. In 2002 she was asked to assume the role of coordinator of OLA, a position she still holds in addition to her ministry in the Franciscan Spiritual Center. 

As coordinator of OLA, Jean’s goal is to “keep everyone informed of what’s happening and to keep everyone on the same page as well as creating a welcoming environment so that everyone feels at home.” From a practical standpoint, that means coordinating schedules for liturgies and prayers, communicating with various offices to coordinate events, interacting with benefactors, and taking care of emergency situations. Periodically she holds meeting with the contact sisters from the living units and helps process sisters into and out of the various units.  

Sr. Jean sends frequent emails to the contact sisters at OLA informing them of upcoming events, updates on sisters who are hospitalized, and other pertinent information.
Sr. Jean sends voice mail messages to the living units about unexpected changes in schedule.
Jean’s basic function at the Franciscan Spiritual Center is to serve as a hospitality coordinator, particularly at Clare House where she manages registration, maintains calendars, works with the housekeeping staff to coordinator cleaning, and develops and offers programs. One group that she works with is the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ. At other times she coordinates Martha and Mary retreats for the young men from both the TOR and OFM congregation. 

Srs. Julie Keegan and Jean Ustasiewski check the spiritual center website about possible dates for a program.
Sr. Jean recently arranged for hospitality at Clare House for a group of Chinese pilgrims, including a bishop, priests, and sisters who are visiting Catholic parishes and organizations in various parts of the country.
Busy? Very definitely! But in her “free time,” Jean also finds time to visit and shop for family members and to continue her outreach to the folks at St. Ignatius Nursing Home.  
Ministries at both OLA and the spiritual center provide blessings for Jean. At Clare House she rejoices in the “signs of new life in the young persons who come there” and at OLA she “sees how this place provides special healing for some who come here.” In both she also recognizes that liturgy is often the “hub of all that happens.” For Jean that centrality of the Eucharist is what it’s all about—as in her own works she says simply, “Liturgy is my life.”






Friday, January 22, 2016

Of This and That: Recognizing the Giftedness of Our Sisters!

It's always a pleasure to share that many ways our sisters and their efforts are being recognized by folks outside our congregation. These are just a few of the recent acknowledgements some of the sisters have received.

Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer recently received a special award from the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Each year their congregation honors four individuals who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to servant leadership and who have excelled in each area of the congregation’s mission: evangelization, education, eldercare, and ecumenism. Clare was chosen to receive the Fr. Matthew Jankola Lifetime Commitment to Servant Leadership Aware for Evangelization. The letter acknowledged Clare’s work as president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association and her longtime commitment to the healthcare profession. “You have led the organization in lobbying for or against legislation and regulations that have an impact on Catholic healthcare ministries—including protecting the sanctity of life and preserving religious liberty by recognizing the needs of children, the elderly, the poor, and the underserved, including immigrant populations,” the letter read. “Your work…underscores your belief that God calls all of us to be one with him. Pope Francis once said that ‘Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God. It is overcoming our selfishness; it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our breathren as Jesus did.’ That is what you do.”
(l-r)_ Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer; Sr. Michael Ann Orlik, SS.CM., general superior of the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius; and Sr. Romaine Niemeyer, SCC, who, like  Sr. Clare, received a lifetime achievement award.

Congratulations also to Sr. Maggie Gannon who received the Alumni Association Honorary Alumni Award from Neumann University during the university’s homecoming weekend last fall. She is well known to the folks at Neumann because of her work as president of Drexel Neumann Academy. The school, a cosponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis, Neumann University, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and St. Katharine Drexel Parish, became a reality when the last Catholic school in Chester was threatened with closure. Maggie has served as president since the school opened in 2007—leading it to its current status as an independent Catholic School with a Franciscan spirit. The academy provides the children of Chester with the “opportunity to be models of peacemaking in a violent environment and the education for a bright and successful future.”
Sr. Maggie received Neumann University’ Alumni Association Honorary Alumni Award.
Congratulations also to Franciscan Companion in Faith Phyllis Petryk. Phyllis recently published a book of her poetry. Entitled Our Awesome God: Spiritual Poetry and Prose, the book contains the poems she has been writing as part of her journaling since 1980 and is dedicated to her sister Florence whom she describes as “my sister, soulmate, and friend.” The publication also contains a number of beautiful photos—some of them taken at Our Lady of Angels Convent. Be sure to look for a sampling of Phyllis’ poems in our 2016 enewsletters.
Our Awesome God: Spiritual Poetry and Prose by Franciscan Companion in Faith Phyllis Petryk

Remember the article in one of last year’s Community News issues about the surprise party held at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Doylestown to acknowledge Sr. Thomasann Quinn’s 60th jubilee? Presentations by students along with gifts and messages from alumni and friends helped to mark the special occasion. One gift held particular meaning for Sr. Thomasann. She had often remarked that she would like a different statue of Mary to replace the one in front of the school—one that would offer a more gentle, motherly image. During the party, the Home and School Association announced that such a statue would be their gift to Sr. Thomasann. Well, the new statue has arrived and is in place—positioned so that children going to and from school can see the image of that gentle mother Mary. And the new statue is, of course, dedicated to Sr. Thomasann.  
The new statue gracing the grounds of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School is dedicated to Sr. Thomasann.
The January 8 issue of The Dialog, Wilmington’s diocesan newspaper, carried a feature article on Sr. Julie McCole as part of the diocese’s vocation focus. In the article Julie shared her own vocation story, focusing on the fact that it was the spirit of sisterhood that drew her to the Franciscan sisters she met in elementary school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Morton and with whom she continued to maintain a relationship during her high school years. That sense of “being sister” is something that Julie continued to share in her own ministries—whether it be in education, in parish ministry, at Anna’s Place in Chester, or today as director of Emmanuel Dining Room West in Wilmington. Check out the article at   





The January 8 issue of The Dialog, Wilmington’s diocesan newspaper, carried a feature article on Sr. Julie McCole as part of the diocese’s vocation focus. In the article Julie shared her own vocation story, focusing on the fact that it was the spirit of sisterhood that drew her to the Franciscan sisters she met in elementary school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Morton and with whom she continued to maintain a relationship during her high school years. That sense of “being sister” is something that Julie continued to share in her own ministries—whether it be in education, in parish ministry, at Anna’s Place in Chester, or today as director of Emmanuel Dining Room West in Wilmington. Check out the article at   

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pilgrimage to El Salvador: Memories to Touch the Heart

In December four of our sisters—Srs. Maureen Fox, Loretta Schaff, Sara Marks, and Ruth Bernadette O’Connor (as pictured to the right)—had the opportunity to join the 117 people on the SHARE  pilgrimage to El Salvador. The pilgrimage commemorated the 35th anniversary of the assassination of four churchwomen—Maryknoll Srs. Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan. In addition to visiting the sacred site where the women were killed, the group also visited the place where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as well as other sites associated with the struggles of the Salvadoran people. 

Sr. Ruth Bernadette found it hard to capture in words what the trip meant to her. She spoke particularly of the sufferings of the Salvadoran people. “Each day we listened to many stories of the sufferings of these people and their fight for their rights to truth, justice, sovereignty, and sustainability,” she explained. “I was so impressed by their strength and their inspiring stories of survival and hope for a better future for their families.” A visit to the Wall of Remembrance had an especially deep impact on Ruth. “I will never forget the Wall of Remembrance bearing 30,000 names of people martyred or disappeared during those terrible years,” Ruth recalled. “One man wanted to point out for us the name of his father. It was touching to hear him tell his story.” Speaking of the martyrdom of the four churchwomen, Ruth described their witness as “testimony to the power of God to transform madness into hope.”  
The four young church women who were raped and murdered 35 years ago in El Salvador. Top row l-r: Sr. Ita Ford, Jean Donovan; Bottom l-r: SRs. Maura Clarke, Sr. Dorothy Kazel
Burial site of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero
A Salvadoran gentleman indicates the name of his father who is one of the many "disappeared" in El Salvador.

Srs. Loretta Schaff and Maureen Fox shared their remembrance of their experiences in poetry. 
Memories of the experience still surface frequently
and we continue to process our experience
which has been difficult to put into words at times
. . . for the experience was intense and deep
especially at the sites of the Monument of Truth and Memory,
of Oscar Romero's assassination,
the murder of the 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter,
the place of the 4 women's horrific death.
We also were shown the place of the drowning of Sr. Carol Piette
who worked with the women but is little known (outside El Salvador)
except for the people that knew her.
She is included in all their memorials.
The 5 women are very much alive in the spirit of the people.

We were also grateful for the generosity of community
to be able to be generous in all donations that were solicited while there.
Upon our return, the monies that were "left over"
 were given to Fruit Trees and Women's Leadership with CONFRAS
in care of SHARE/El Salvador in Berkeley, CA.

We are forever grateful for this opportunity to experience a small taste of the history and people of El Salvador.
There are parts of us that will never be the same because of this experience.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Adding Faces to Corporate Social Responsibility

Our Corporate Social Responsibility Office does a great deal of work with shareholder advocacy. Another of their tasks involves choosing and following up with recipients of our congregation's social justice grants. In a recent article for our congregational newsletter, Sr. Nora Nash talked about one instance where these two functions coincided. The work done by GoodWeave was something that really impressed me when I was editing the article for publication and I thought you might enjoy it as well. It also gives you some insight into another aspect of our sisters' ministries where we work to put our beliefs into measurable actions!
On September 2, 2015, we learned that Target “has teamed up with GoodWeave in support of their mission to end child labor in the rug industry.” Check out This happens to be double “good news” us because we not only work with Target in shareholder advocacy, but we have also  supported GoodWeave with our social justice grants.  

The executive director of GoodWeave, Nina Smith, wrote a special letter to share this wonderful and exciting news. Summary details of the letter follow. According to GoodWeave, Target is a $72 billion company and the single largest licensee in GoodWeave history.  GoodWeave teams have already spent time together in Target’s source-weaving communities in India as well as their Minneapolis headquarters.  

The most important moment in GoodWeave’s model to end child labor occurs when a company signs a contract with GoodWeave, agreeing to open up all levels of their carpet-making supply chains for random, surprise inspection.  This single act unlocks the doors where children toil in obscurity, deterring producers from exploiting children and ensuring that if a child is hidden away in a subcontracted workshop, GoodWeave will find and protect her.  Companies sign with GoodWeave for a range of reasons: because consumers demand it, to mitigate risk, or to achieve broader corporate responsibility goals.  GoodWeave measures success in this area through market share growth and in 2015 project to reach 7% market share—one step closer to our tipping point estimated at 17%. 

Additionally, for 2014 GoodWeave set a new high for consumer reach—85 million at year-end with earned media coverage in The Huffington Post, NPR, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek,, The New Yorker, and more.  Some of their direct community impact data points include
§  52 children rescued from labor on the looms and provided rehabilitation,
§  39,007 adult workers assisted, including job training and placement,
§  education offered to 2,558 children,
§  approximately 28,000 deterred from entering the workforce. 

GoodWeave’s priority is to implement its expanded standard, phasing into the certification the concept of no forced or bonded labor or trafficking. Their  new standard, combined with their recent ISEAL Alliance membership and ISO65 accreditations, sets GoodWeave apart as one of a handful of organizations with the depth of expertise, capacity, and professionalism to monitor the informal labor sector and related supply chains. 

GoodWeave has been experimenting with social programs that interrupt the cycle of illiteracy and exploitation even earlier.  The idea is to reach a child in her home village before she ever comes face-to-face with an inspector in a factory.  One key effort is the Child Friendly Community (CFC) model.  This project engages teachers, parents, local government officials/panchayats, school administrators, and employers—all to support school enrollment for children.  And it’s working.  In 2013, the baseline household survey in 13 weaving villages identified 912 out-of-school children ages 3-18.  Just over a year later, with the CFC approach, 91% had been enrolled in Motivation and Learning Centers or mainstreamed to government schools. 

Additional Note 
In the spring of 2011, Christian Brothers Investment Services, the Sisters of St, Francis of Philadelphia and a few other ICCR shareholders enabled Macy’s to be the first retail store to support GoodWeave in ending child labor in the rug market.  

To read stories of children who have been rescued from child labor, visit



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